Rego Realty’s on a mission to disrupt real estateJackie Gill - August 9, 2019
Walk into Cliff Rego’s realty office and you might not realize you were stepping into a brokerage.
It’s a friendly little café. A recording studio. A yoga room. An event hub. A startup workspace. No sectioned-off offices like you might expect, not even up on the second floor where his agents sit.
The reason it’s built that way? Because when Cliff started out, he didn’t know anything about running a real estate business. He was a former manager at a men’s retail shop who built a business that made sense to him.
“I felt like, if I can provide the same service to a client who’s buying a pair of pants to buying a property, it’ll work out,” says the founder and broker of record at Rego Realty.
He’s spent the last 16 years breaking free from real estate tradition and doing things his own way, getting rid of the traditional real estate team structure, inviting the community into his world through a public real estate lounge, and giving local tech room to grow.
In other words, “I want to be the Uber of real estate.” And he must be doing something right, he says, if his business is closing 600 transactions a year.
From fashion to passion
How exactly does a manager at a men’s retail store make the leap into real estate – without knowing the business?
Although Cliff loves fashion, he loves customer service even more, something that helped him build a huge network while he was selling suits during his eight-year rise from part-time sales associate to manager at Stars Men’s Shop in Cambridge, Ont. “I was dressing half of the city,” he jokes.
Then, his father-in-law had an idea: why not take that network and turn it into a real estate business? The idea stuck.
Cliff’s first instinct was that running a solo shop wouldn’t work. After all, at Stars, he had a whole team of people helping out on the floor. “We had a tailor, we had a cashier, we had buyers, we had truck drivers, we had merchants, people merchandising mannequins dressing them up. It’s a team, it’s a collaboration,” he says.
But real estate traditionally runs on a team of independent agents. In fact, before he renovated his new headquarters, it looked very much like a traditional office. Think green carpet and floor-to-ceiling walls isolating every agent in his or her own space.
“You have to start off with a location where agents can come in, they’re comfortable, and there’s nothing hidden. I wanted to bring that feel of when I walk into someone’s home.”
– Cliff Rego, Founder and broker of record at Rego Realty
That wasn’t how we wanted to run his business. He wanted a crew that played off of each others’ skills. So he knocked down the walls – quite literally in this case – and built a team of specialists who are experts in the four divisions they serve.
(That’s residential resale homes, luxury homes, commercial and income properties, and new developments, by the way.)
“We’re a hybrid of a team and a brokerage,” Cliff says. “The success has been the entire team. We have probably the best team from A-to-Z, from admin to sales agents, because we really feel that we have a fit in every department.”
Finding the right home
Rego’s first office opened in Cambridge, Ont. in 2003. As his team grew, Cliff knew he wanted to create a space with a different vibe: laid-back and welcoming, much like the tech companies in Kitchener-Waterloo.
His search started out looking at smaller spaces, around 1,500 to 2,000 sq. ft. Nothing clicked.
But three years later, when he saw this 10,000 sq. ft. building on King Street in a fast-developing area near Google’s offices and the new light rail line, “I knew this was it.”
The only problem – it was 50 per cent bigger than what he needed. What to do with that extra space on the main level?
“At that point I said, I can either rent out some spaces or do something crazy,” he says.
Cliff opted for “something crazy.” Without much fanfare, he hired a team of designers and architects to tear down the office walls, rip out the green carpet and expose the block behind the walls. Then he built space for a coffee shop.
“When we asked about lending money, my bank walked through going, ‘are there any comparables?’ I said no. ‘Have you ever seen this model?’ I said no. Don’t ask me again because there isn’t anything like it.’”
– Cliff Rego
And a few months later, through a partnership with Monigram Coffee Roasters, they opened their doors to the public.
This area is now their real estate lounge, a place where the community can come in, grab their custom macchiato or a fresh pain-au-chocolat, and relax. It has a sunny patio, a small library of books and ample seating for a quick catch-up with a friend or a laid-back business meeting.
Most importantly, it’s packed with real estate information. From Android tablets that come pre-loaded with information about the local market to a media wall cycling through answers to his clients’ most commonly asked questions, it’s a self-serve way for the curious to learn more without an agent approaching them.
“More and more, I think consumers want the service level,” says Cliff. “They want content, they want to add the tech wing to it. That’s what we’re doing here.”
Giving space to new tech
If building his own real estate lounge and a team of 35 specialists wasn’t enough, Cliff’s busy building up other businesses too.
To the left of the café, you’ll find desks set up for local startups who want to dabble in the real estate business. Then he goes deeper. “We can help them launch their product or provide them with content that they need,” he says.
That’s an important foot-in-the-door in an industry that’s notoriously difficult to break into. Plus, new technology helps the Rego team, too.
“If someone’s founded something that is going to enhance the experience, and it’s going to help the buyer or seller, I just want to enhance that experience. So if I know about this technology, I want to be the first one involved,” he adds.
“The future of real estate will be a completely different approach in the next two to three years or so. I want to be ahead of the curve.”
– Cliff Rego
That explains why, during his limited free time, he sits on the board of iGUIDE, a tech company that offers virtual 3D tours of properties. In fact, his brokerage was among their first users.
As for what’s next on his path of Uber-izing real estate, Cliff isn’t sure – that’s why he’s in the field, helping develop the next generation of real estate tech.
“This new office was cool. What’s next? I don’t know,” he says. “There’s going to be someone disturbing this market. I just want to do it myself.”
- Name: Rego Realty
- Solution: Real estate brokerage that offers expertise in residential resale, commercial properties, luxury estates and new developments
- Owners: Cliff Rego, founder and broker of record
- Employees: 35
- Headquarters: Kitchener, Ont.
- Founded: 2003
- Contact: [email protected]