Tony Joe, RE/MAX Camosun

Tony Joe has been a realtor half his life. And, judging by the cache of decorations, awards, and accolades attached to his name, a very successful one at that.

But the 41-year-old has seen the same sort of productivity even when he isn’t hammering a “sold” sign into another lawn. His “other” profile is just as influential, thanks to his work as community leader and volunteer.

Whether it’s as a director of the Victoria Dragon Boat Festival Society, with the Victoria Chinese Commerce Association, as a member of service groups like Rotary, Knights of Columbus, and Oddfellows, or addressing poverty and housing by co-chairing the Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness, Joe’s side gigs are his way of turning realty into reality.

“It’s sad that our town is so prosperous, but there’s this big gap on the other side,” he says. “And I really love Victoria.”

Real estate has been a rewarding career for Joe. It’s all he’s ever done. He got his licence to sell in 1991. Four years out of high school the Mt. Doug grad joined Ocean City Realty.

His first thought was “Who would buy a house from a 19-year-old?”

The answer could be measured in the thousands. Well, almost, anyway.

“I don’t know if I’m at 1,000 (homes sold) yet, but I’m well past 700 and something,” he says.

Growing up in Victoria has certainly helped. The contacts were all in place. All it took was getting those contacts to give him the go-ahead to sell their homes.

“A lot of people took the leap of faith that I could get the job done,” Joe recalls.

Since 1993 he’s sold for RE/MAX Camosun, assembling his own team of Tony Joe & Associates. His reputation and results have led to multiple real estate honours — like a Lifetime Achievement Award. But Joe just shrugs when it’s brought up.

“That one was based on monetary productivity. If you’re around long enough you’re likely to get it,”
he explains.

“Awards aren’t necessarily indicative of what you’ve done. There’s a lot of realtors in other towns who sell a lot of houses, but I don’t know if you’d want to deal with them. It doesn’t take much for someone to upset a client and it’s costly on a business you’ve built up for years … people just need to understand the payoff can be high, but there’s a tremendous cost to the business and demands on realtors’ lives.”

{advertisement} Why did you become a realtor?

I never thought about it before. I was a waiter at The Keg when I was a teenager. I migrated to the car business and sold Hondas when I was 18. And I wasn’t good at it.

How has the business of selling a home changed since you started out 20 years ago?
I mean, you do podcasts now.

In those days we were the gatekeepers of information — the old MLS catalogues. Before the Internet, consumers didn’t have access to that. Now they do. And we feared we’d all be out of a job if we put all that information out there in cyberspace. We’ve learned that it’s not the information. We’re counselors now instead of information providers.

Most realtors are lone guns, one of many working for a firm. You’ve got a team. Is that a winning strategy?

A lot of real estate teams are just mini offices. They’re all jacks-of-all-trades so it’s just a matter of shift work. In our team, we specialize. I have two buyer agents and staff for paperwork. A weakness for me is paperwork. I just take care of sellers. You know, this team thing, I couldn’t do all the community stuff if I didn’t have a team.

When you were president of the Victoria Real Estate Board, you tried to drive a green program where energy ratings would be put on all homes sold. What happened to
that initiative?

We were going down a really good path with energy labelling. It made sense that realtors know about the energy efficiency in houses they’re selling, but we had a lot of resistance. Subsequent boards haven’t made it a priority, and it saddens me we haven’t gotten further on it sooner, but it’s not a
dead project.

Is the bubble about to burst on Victoria’s housing market?

I spent a lot of time thinking about the basic fundamentals. Net migration is 3,500-plus people a year. We’re not a one-industry town. We have two universities [plus Camosun College], the military, and government employers. I think Victoria losing its attraction is slim unless three or four of those things change at once.

Should business people with a high profile be expected to get behind social issues like you have?

In my opinion, yes. It’s good for business, too. We probably have a lot to offer with connections in the community, so why not offer that? But that’s just me.

Tell me about your involvement in the 
Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness.

I got interested through the real estate board and a policy of providing housing for all. When you drive down Pandora and see Ground Zero it’s hard to sell that to someone coming into Victoria from another town. I’ve since come to understand it’s a big issue and I understand the cost to the community if nothing is done. The Mayor’s Task Force said the numbers of homeless were likely to increase by up
to 400 a year if nothing was done. That swelling has stopped and now it’s a matter of taking care of
those people.

We hear the refrain from City Hall that homelessness isn’t a municipal problem, 
that the resolve for the situation has to come from senior government. How do you respond?

We’ve got the right people at the table, but I have some frustration. Things take a long time. It’s been interesting to see the province come forward. Look at the purchase of the Traveller’s Inn properties. The city took the risk. It’s like the province needs to see initiative from the city. They need to see skin in the game before they’ll come forward.

Why isn’t the coalition lobbying the province or Ottawa for money?

When Victoria yells and screams, they’re speaking from a standpoint of 80,000 people rather than 350,000 people in the region. The City of Victoria is bearing the brunt of this even though it’s a regional issue. There are homeless communities in Saanich and Sooke. All of the municipalities
need to be engaged.

Why isn’t there more of an effort to build affordable housing in Victoria?

It’s been a good 20 years since anyone built purpose-built rental housing. It’s the perfect storm for that right now. Here we are in the best place in Canada to live, property values are high, vacancy rates are so low landlords want A-plus, five-star quality tenants, and those things all contribute to a housing shortage for the working poor.

Your résumé would look good in politics. And, hey, Victoria City Councillor Charlayne Thornton-Joe is your cousin. Have you thought about running?

(Hesitates) … Oh, geez. I don’t think it’s for me. I don’t think I have a thick enough skin to endure the ire of people I know because I had to make a tough decision. I can say that the time I’ve spent with elected officials, I have a lot of respect for them.