Photos by Marko Shark
By Connie Adair
He talks about great parties and coconut squares made by a colleague’s husband in one breath, and a $148-million listing the next. He chats about real estate with a billionaire in flip-flops and shorts, and later speaks to a jet-setter in Manolo Blahniks. The self-proclaimed “news hog” reads newspapers, takes in numerous podcasts and networks by email and telephone to keep abreast of what’s happening in real estate and the world. He prepares upscale marketing materials specific to each listing, touches base with clients and still has time for charity work and relaxing with friends.
Such is the whirlwind life of Richard K.C. Ling of Harvey Kalles Real Estate in Toronto. Ling has a portfolio that fluctuates between $20 million and $100 million in Ontario and Quebec, as well as a variety of multi-million dollar international properties. Currently, his most expensive listing is an Ontario property worth $18-million. Internationally, he is the exclusive rep for the eastern seaboard for a development in Bora Bora worth about $200-million US.
His five niches are the communities of Forest Hill, Rosedale and Central Toronto; condos; modern loft houses; international properties; and unique country estates.
Ling’s day starts at 6 am, when he heads to a home office that has 30th-floor views of Toronto and Lake Ontario. “It’s great on sunny days, but on bleak days, it can be pretty bleak. But when I’m working, I’m totally focused and sometimes I don’t notice what it’s like outside.”
A trained economist who worked in the banking industry for a decade, Ling reads three newspapers a day, plus the New York Times on the weekend. He also likes watching CNN’s Anderson Cooper, who he says provides insight into modern culture.
He talks to friends and “humbly asks” the opinions of people who make decisions that have an impact on the economy, then processes that information to help clients make the best real estate decisions, he says.
“Last November/December it seemed like the world economy was collapsing. In January it was quiet but a lot of people took the month off and travelled,” he says. Instead of doing the same, Ling continued to network.
“I talked to a lot of people in Vancouver and heard about houses selling in Shaughnessy (the centre of old money in Vancouver). One person bought for $2.1-million and sold for $3.1 million in one day. He bought early in ’07 and sold in early ’09. That was a sign of something happening. I got the sense that (the trend) was going to move to Toronto. I called my clients and got them back into the market. Some were sceptical, but now they are happy they got back into the market.”
To get these buyers to trust you, they have to “know you’re comfortable, knowledgeable and have the network to pull it off internationally,” he says.
To that end, he spends a big part of the day on networking and relationship building.
Ling began networking early in life. Born in Hong Kong, the son of a shipping magnate attended private schools in that city before being educated in California, earning an economics degree at UCLA. In his 20s, he worked for his father’s company and lived in Europe and Africa. He has also lived in Japan and Korea, all the while gathering experience and education in his travels.
In each new city, he would talk to people from all walks of life, moving out of his comfort zone to explore new neighbourhoods. He came to Toronto in the late ’70s. Why Toronto?
“It was a fluke. I was on my way to New York City but decided to visit a family friend in Toronto. My family and friends were mostly in Vancouver.” Throughout his life and travels, “I met people on a friendship basis, but they now hold key positions around the world,” he says.
Ling worked for CIBC and Northern Telecom before making the move to real estate in late 1996. “I started with Kalles and never looked back. Kalles has a very close family atmosphere/corporate culture. We have phenomenal parties and I just had coconut squares baked by one of our top agent’s husband, who is from the Caribbean.”
Another reason he was drawn to the boutique company was the ‘Kalles kids’. “Michael got his MBA. Corinne got her MBA. They’re high net-worth individuals, and so many people like them fall off the wagon. They don’t need to prove themselves, but these two did,” Ling says. The company’s social network and affiliation with the Christie’s Great Estates, and The Board of Regents network were other drawing cards. Harvey Kalles Real Estate has been in business for more than 50 years and has annual sales of more than $1-billion.
Ling’s mornings are also dedicated to marketing. He says he tailors programs for a specific project, whether it’s a $20,000 lot or a $22-million home, creating a unique branding for each.
Ling’s lunches and afternoons are reserved for showings and meetings, but none he readily talks about. Discretion is another important part of high-end real estate.
“Clients may have a private plane or yacht, but you don’t say this person has this or that. They may be dripping in diamonds but have a lifestyle that is low-key. They’ve spent years living low-key and they don’t appreciate people talking about them.”
Yet, it’s important to recognize people’s achievements, he says. “A lot of them are self-made, and it’s impressive. You recognize their achievements, but don’t blab about them.”
Travel, education, life lessons, networking, relationship building – it all goes to helping clients build a comfort level. “They give you their trust (when) five minutes ago they didn’t know you,” he says.
Occasionally Ling goes in to the office, but prefers to work alone at home, with a well-connected assistant off-site. However, over the years, he has worked to get to know everyone in the company, forming teams of the most suitable sales reps for each project as it comes along.
“There are benefits of going to the office – cross traffic and interacting with colleagues. A lot gets done around a bagel and cream cheese. I like the boutique nature of Kalles. I’m pretty high-maintenance, and they keep me happy.”
An afternoon or lunch may be devoted to charity work. Ling has been involved in the Out of the Cold program for eight years and has been on the Mt. Sinai Hospital’s board for a decade.
Despite the harried pace, Ling remembers a high school teacher who told him not to forget to stop and smell the roses. With that in mind, he looks after himself, taking time to work out five times a week, three times with a trainer – a necessity, he says, because he loves to relax over food and wine.
“I love my friends. We hang out, talk about the meaning of life and gripe over good wine,” he says. After all, he has learned, “Take work seriously and take life not so seriously.”
Posted: 2009-12-07 07:38:17
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