With the advent of the reality series, television has made celebrities and successes out of some pretty ordinary people. But Tatiana Londono, owner of the Londono Realty Group, was on a meteoric trajectory, way before HGTV’s “The Property Shop” introduced her trademark curls and feisty personality to viewers. Learn how a robust work ethic and an innate talent for selling things turned this call center representative into a hotshot realtor and TV hostess.
Hello Tatiana and welcome to The Deal Reveal. Can you share a bit of your background with us – how did you get started in business?
It actually started when I was young. My mom and dad didn’t have a lot of available income to give my brother and me, so we would come up with ways to make money. I know this sounds cliché but we set up lemonade and ice cream stands. We marketed it as “homemade,” even though my mom was buying the lemonade and ice cream at Food City. I couldn’t have been more than eight and my brother five, but we understood the whole idea of marketing. We made my mom come through the back door, because we knew that if someone saw her coming through the front door, they would know that it wasn’t really homemade.
After working at a flea market, as a lifeguard and at an amusement park, I joined the army at 19. I was a member of the Canadian Forces for about a year. My brother then suggested I get into the call center business. My brother and father were the catalysts to a lot of the big decisions I’ve made. On the first day, I made 10 sales, selling a medical directory. That’s where I learned to “shoot”—I perfected a sales pitch. I became a manager in six months and was making six figures at 21. That was a pivotal moment.
I then opened my own call center. But when the FTC became very strict in the states, keeping up the due diligence was too expensive. So we closed down the call center.
Where did your career take a hard turn into real estate?
After closing the call center, my husband and I were unemployed and my children were both babies at the time. My father, who was a realtor, asked me what I was going to do with my life. I was panicked. He said, “The way you sell and the way you manage these businesses, you could be a fantastic realtor.” In 2004, I did my real estate course and started working with him at RE/MAX.
Not even three months into it, my father was screaming at me, “I’m not your secretary! Maybe we shouldn’t work together.” That was what I was waiting for. I left RE/MAX and went to work for another broker, called Sutton. I was the Number 1 salesperson there, just three years into my career. But at that point, I’m bored. I know how to sell houses; I’m making a good living … what’s next? My new goal is I’m going to become a chartered real estate agent and open my own company.
How did “The Property Shop” come about?
Producers Debbie Travis and Hans Rosenstein got the biggest order in the history of HGTV to fulfill I don’t know how many episodes of “Buy Me.” They picked me for two episodes. I thought I was special and these people called me because I was talented and I had the look, but little did I know that they were calling every Tom, Dick and Harry on the map because no one, except the seller, wasn’t getting paid for it. The realtor had to do it for free.
I took to the show like a fish to water. I didn’t care that the cameras were there. I didn’t bite my tongue. If the seller didn’t like me, I told them to “leave me alone” and “shove it” and the producers liked that about me. They asked me to do another episode.
The producer of “Property Virgins” saw that episode and I was given the opportunity to host their show. But because “Property Virgins” was being filmed in Toronto (I live in Montreal) and they wanted me four days a week, I decided not to take it. But I went to the “Buy Me” people and told them that I was the new hostess of “Property Virgins.” It wasn’t true but I told them that. Debbie Travis and Hans Rosenstein said, “Wait, we discovered you!” I asked them what they had to offer. Hans said, “If you stay, Tatiana, you will be the star of our next show.”
Two months later, they came to me and said they had an idea for a new show and wanted me to be the star. Their idea was to follow condo projects. I said, “That is boring. How long of a life span could a show like this have?” Instead, I suggested that they follow me as I opened my own agency. We did the demo and the people at HGTV loved it.
Has it been smooth sailing ever since?
After the first season, HGTV-Canada did not renew for a second season. It wasn’t because of the ratings. It was because they didn’t have the money. I went to visit every single HGTV executive in Canada. I wanted them to see that I still wanted this. I’ve never been one to hold my horses. I even went to Freddy James, the SVP of program development at HGTV, and I got big, big crap for that. But I still stand by what I did.
God bless America, HGTV-USA ended up buying the show. They’ve now signed up for Season 3.
Do you think the show has been the entire catalyst for your success as a realtor?
The show didn’t air for a year (after we filmed the first season), but agents suddenly started calling me, wanting to join my agency. They would see all my listings on MLS with Londono Realty Group – I’ve always been a good salesman and had a lot of listings – and say, “This girl has a huge part of the market; let me join her team.” So one after another, they started joining me and soon I’m at 15 agents.
My show hasn’t aired in Canada for a year now, but my company, Londono Realty Group, is now at 60 agents, 80 by the end of the January. So I own this success. I own what I have achieved here. In January, HGTV-Canada will air the Canadian content from Season 2. Can you imagine the kind of year I’ll have in 2010?! I can’t wait!
How is the Londono Realty Group different?
I carved out a niche for myself. I want to be the Walmart of real estate. I want to cater to everyone, to the “people” – $200,000 up to a million dollar homes. Guess what? There are few of those people who have their money in the stock market (to really feel the down turn of the economy). What they have left is their real estate.
Has the economy affected your business strategy? Have you made any changes to your marketing?
During this economy, I was lucky and the business kept coming in. So you reduce commissions a bit and you work harder. For me, it’s about work ethic.
And while everyone was crying about the economy, I was promoting. I got myself a radio show. I was the positive spokesperson and gave people little tips about how to save their money, how to get out of trouble, how the credit card companies work, etc.
Did the business model succeed as originally envisioned, or what changes had to occur?
You have to change what isn’t working. For example, I was hiring agents but I wasn’t giving them yearly contracts. Because my training was so special, they were coming to work for me, being trained by the best, and then leaving to go to places that were more convenient. The business model was too much work and the high turnover could’ve been a recipe for disaster. I implemented a one-year contract with a penalty. If the agent leaves before a year, they have to pay a three-month penalty to at least cover my training.
Time for the Deal Reveal – Was it a decision, event, action or luck that took your business from startup to success? Tell us why this was significant.
I believe we make our own luck. But there’s something about being in the right place at the right time. There’s something about me opening the agency and having the opportunity to have my own TV show. I only did two episodes out of about 150 (of “Buy Me”). Why did that lady watch that one episode and think to herself that I would be a great hostess of her show? Does luck come into play?
I have to say I’ve always been a pretty lucky person but I also believe in seizing the moment. People don’t do that. We get opportunities all day. It’s about choosing the right ones and going forth with what comes out of the opportunity.
To answer your question, in short, I believe it was all four: decision, event, action and luck.
Are there any resources you would suggest to entrepreneurs who may be struggling with finding success? Anything that helped you in particular? Books, videos, websites, etc.?
The Secret (by Rhonda Byrne) is an amazing book. It’s about getting rid of negativity in your life, not wallowing in your sorrows. The word “failure” doesn’t exist for me. It’s not even an option. I believe that is the kind of mentality that struggling entrepreneurs have to have. You have to keep going.
Outliers (by Malcolm Gladwell) is also a fantastic book.
Would you like to do a follow-up interview with us so we can hear about your progress?
Absolutely, this was easy and fun! It was my pleasure.