He has one of the most recognizable faces in Edmonton. It’s blown up on billboards and buses around the city. His cut-out head erupts from benches. His arms are sometimes crossed, sometimes sky-high, but always strapped in suspenders. Now the pitch: “Terry Paranych sells homes!”
Shocker number one: Terry Paranych doesn’t sell homes. He hasn’t shown one in years. Look closely at the advertisement and note a carefully wedged “.com” or “Group” below the name that allows him to slip through the regulatory loopholes prohibiting agents from making such promises.
Shocker number two: He’s not even an agent. Yeah, he’s licensed. Yeah, he lists homes. But he’s more of a real estate investor, developer, brand and mogul, though he’ll also accept “real estate wolverine” or “real estate jackhammer” or, simply, a “RealPreneur.”
Shocker number three: He doesn’t wear suspenders.
Paranych isn’t just unrepentant about his advertising; he’s adamant that it sets himself apart, and he hopes it’ll teach other budding realtors to do the same
On a balmy May afternoon, the 50-year-old Paranych arrives in strawberry-coloured sneakers and Lululemon everything else to the southside location of Re/Max Elite. He founded the brokerage in 2001 and sold it in 2012, but still keeps an office there for the 25 employees of Terry Paranych Group. Paranych has invited me here to go “Driving for Dollars” with him; that’s when he prowls Edmonton for properties to buy and sell. I want to know how he became, at one point, the top Re/Max seller in Canada (and eighth in the world). He claims to be worth more than $30 million and, in 2013, was named the fifth member of the Re/Max Luminary of Distinction club, which consists of agents who top $20 million in commissions.
“Ask any one of my team members,” he says, sitting at his desk. “People are just like, ‘Terry, you’re amazing!’” He’s surrounded by a moat of his brand of audiobooks and DVDs, plus framed clippings on the wall from his heyday, when he was at least 40 pounds heavier. There are stacks of self-help books and four shelves of trophies displayed outside his office door, including one shaped like him – suspenders and all – and several more in unpacked boxes. “There’s probably another 100 at my northside office,” he says.
That northside office, which he has since sold, was a carbon copy – same layout, colour, desk, chair and shelves – of the southside location, because “repetition is the mother of success,” Paranych says. He rises to his feet and remains standing for the next 80 minutes, pacing, cycling his hands, talking frenetically. “Once you repeat something, over and over and over again, then there’s the Law of Familiarity,” he says.
Paranych carries motivational quips like business cards. But this one in particular? This law? That’s his secret sauce. Blast the public with your face and name, spend half a million dollars on advertising, produce your own podcast, web TV show and magazine (Homes in Edmonton). Be loud and brash. Be arrogant. Make yourself known and they will come to you.
But nobody gets to the top without making a few enemies. Among them, agents disapproving of how Paranych uses a team of co-listers to skew the rankings in his favour, and the independent governing authority, the Real Estate Council of Alberta (RECA), which has penalized him numerous times for “false and misleading” and “reckless” claims.
What does Paranych think of this? “They’re just trying to ruin the industry,” he says. “They’re trying to govern it too much. I don’t believe in any of that bullshit.”
He takes a breath.
“So, Driving for Dollars…”
We hop in his black Escalade, zip down 101 Avenue and up Wayne Gretzky Drive exit to the city’s northside. “This is where I made a name for myself,” he says, passing a 1950s neighbourhood east of Northgate Mall. “Belvedere, Delwood, Balwin, Londonderry, Steele Heights, Kilkenny – northeast Edmonton. I made it selling here. Bungalows, with suites. I was a turtle in fifth gear. If I stayed on the same path, I’d get to the top of the hill, as long as I sold the same thing.”
This is also where he grew up in a pretty bungalow with big trees, a long walkway and social housing projects on either side of the street. “You can imagine the kinds of kids I had to deal with,” he says, “the number of fights I was in.” Crawling past a lawn decorated with barbecues and tipped-over trikes, Paranych lifts up his shirt to show me a scar across the side of his abdomen. “But I’m very proud of my northside roots. And as they say, once a Northsider, always a Northsider.”
At Balwin School, teenage Paranych was less a student than a daydreamer. “Sports and makin’ money,” he says, were on his mind – the former fuelling his competitiveness and the latter his ambition. But he inherited his fantasy of wealth from his parents, an often-unemployed draftsman and a farm girl who, like many in the 1970s, were swept up in the Amway phenomenon. The Paranyches travelled to the company’s fast-money conferences and converted their greenhouse into a seminar room. “I remember our entire basement being full of the checkered suits and my dad writing on the chalkboard,” he says. “It gave me a lot of self-confidence.” In high school, friends were getting jobs as welders. “I said, ‘That’s great, but I’m going to be a millionaire.’”
Paranych honed his obsessiveness while working at a sporting goods store, where he pored over brochures for shoes to learn everything he could about heel strike, toe strike, supination, pronation, the outsole, midsole, ethylene-vinyl acetate. “I became an expert at selling running shoes,” he says. One customer was so impressed he hired the 19-year-old to work on his car lot. “I became a top dealer,” he says. But the money wasn’t coming fast enough. He took up franchising a water filtration company and multi-level marketing scheme not unlike Amway, and obsessed about that for a while. Then used cars. Then duplexes and fourplexes. He couldn’t find his gear.
Being a real estate agent appealed to Paranych because it was commission-based work with as much money to be made as there are minutes in a day. But he hated the system. In the early 1990s, agents were expected to pass around business cards, beg for leads and knock on doors with a memorized script that began with “Are you planning on buying or selling a home in the near future?” and usually ended with “Get off my doorstep.”
“I associated so much pain to that experience, that I decided to create a Reverse Prospecting Model,” he says, emphatically. That is, he made people call him. And how could they not? Every week, they were getting another flyer from the Jheri-curled Terry “Superman” Paranych, posing on roofs with a gigantic cellphone pinned between his ear and shoulders, on mock dollar bills, in childhood photos making his “first cold call.”
He was making a name for himself, but he wanted a brand. Inspired by Michael Douglas’s character in Wall Street, Paranych strolled over to Henry Singer and bought himself two pairs of black suspenders.
In his first year, Paranych says he sold 66 houses, and by his third, he was Edmonton’s top seller. By comparison, full-time agents in Canada and the U.S. make 20 annual transactions, which is why 75 per cent of them are gone after three years, says Geneva Tetreault, president of the Realtors Association of Edmonton. “We see a lot of people come in and then exit because there’s an assumption that it’s easy money,” she says. “They come in thinking they have that motivation, but it has to be next-level. You have to psych yourself up to the max.”
For Paranych, that meant programming himself. He says he wore slacks and suspenders for 20 years, even on Sundays. He drove the same route to the office and stopped by the same Tim Hortons every morning. “I was extremely focused,” he says. “The problem is, I got into a lot of bad habits. Working too hard. Attending too many social and charitable events, and burning a candle at both ends. So it became, not excessive, but I did everything at 160 miles per hour.” By his 10th year, he was drinking heavily and almost 40 pounds heavier than when he started.
Though he has since mellowed out, he’s still an irrepressible force, especially on the stage during his two-day, $4,000 Super Star Agent bootcamps, where budding realtors come from across the continent and leave with a glossary of Terryisms: Driving for Dollars, Rounders, Rapid Response Flyer Program, RealPreneur.
But the one that’s earned him the most attention – and trouble – is the Terry Paranych Guaranteed Home-Selling System, his well-known promise to buy your home if he can’t sell it in 90 days. (For the record: Paranych says people rarely take him up on his priced-down offers.) Shortly after he started pitching it in 1997, his brokerage, Re/Max Real Estate (Edmonton) cried foul, accusing him of offering “inducements” that weren’t allowed within its policies. His Re/Max contract was terminated.
Paranych countersued. His licence was reinstated, and soon Re/Max was allowing such guarantees, so long as it complied with provincial standards, which mandate that only companies as a whole, but not individual agents, can offer them. Not a problem, thought Paranych. He’d just start his own company, and name it after himself.
Two years later, Terry Paranych the Agent was in trouble because the Terry Paranych Group was acting as a “vehicle” for him to make a host of unsubstantiated claims, according to RECA. He’d racked up six violations in three years and was fined $4,000. “Look, I made $1.5 million a year. Do you think I (care) about $4,000?” Paranych asked an Edmonton Journal reporter in 2000. “It’s nothing. I made that today already.”
It’s not difficult to get smacked with a RECA fine if you’re making even a modest living as an agent or broker. One could even pay up for benignly sending an email without the name of his or her brokerage company in the signature. But Paranych thinks the council is making an example out of him. It continues to takes umbrage and fine him for claims like “Nobody Sells More Homes” and “I’ll sell your home for top dollar!”
I ask Charles Stevenson, RECA’s director of professional standards, generally speaking, how can one rewrite that copy to meet its advertising guidelines? “If you said, ‘I’m the number one real estate agent in the world,’ you can’t substantiate that,” he explains. “But if I say, ‘I sold more houses in Mill Woods last month than any other real estate professional in Edmonton, and the source of my information is the Realtors Association of Edmonton database, and it was the 30-day period from April 1 to April 30,’ now that’s something I can sink my teeth into.”
But try fitting that on a bus bench.
On our tour of Edmonton we circumnavigate downtown to admire Paranych’s most recent purchases, an apartment and a six-suiter in the shadows of the new arena that cost him just over $500,000. (It needs some work, such as adding an executive parking stall for a certain suspendered season ticket holder.) To my surprise, we’re skipping the ’burbs and going no further west than Crestwood, a mature neighbourhood with wealthy homeowners. His advice for new homebuyers is “stay away from the urban sprawl” and buy somewhere within 10 or 15 minutes of downtown.
“People get caught up in new developments,” he says. “They get caught up walking into a showroom and smelling the new home and seeing the new kitchen and the gorgeous master bedroom and en suite, and they make an emotional decision.” Then the sensation wears off and they find themselves clocking two hours on the road every day. “That’s why infill has become so popular, because people are tired of driving,” he says. It’s what happened to Paranych when he impulsively abandoned a character house he owned in a mature neighbourhood for a new one in the suburbs with a walkout onto a man-made lake.
With the commute adding to his already-long days, Paranych’s bad habits were exacerbated. He was overindulging in alcohol; his tailored suits hardly fit him. Though he had a streak as Canada’s top seller, he had to “break the cycle.” Shortly after he and his wife Heidi, who runs their infill homebuilding company, Plex, had their first of two children, he got a personal trainer and they moved closer to the centre. Paranych is back down to 190 pounds again, his weight when he started 25 years ago, and he’s sober but for the occasional beer with chums. He works part-time and enjoys driving errands again – so long as he can also be Driving For Dollars.
We’re scouring mature neighbourhoods, not unlike a bobblehead, for small houses on big lots that he can buy, subdivide and replace with skinny homes or hulking million-dollar houses for millionaire clients. Those include no fewer than four members of the Edmonton Oilers “and Terry Paranych’s home, too, on 146th Street,” he says. Not for long, though. His new dream house is under construction on another lot three blocks away.
He stomps on the brakes. “Look at this, look at this!” Paranych is writhing in his seat, ogling a stucco bungalow no bigger than 900 square feet outside the driver’s window. “That’s sex. That’s sex on a beach!” While he thinks he can buy it for $180,000 – tops – the 50-by-150 lot means he could build an infill home worth four or five times that.
So Terry Paranych does still technically sell homes. But it’s not 400, 600 or, his record, 855 a year. That’s his team’s work. The way it goes is, you list your home with him, but a “co-lister” (licenced staff) sells it. As one agent who spoke to me on the condition of anonymity put it, “Terry gets the goal, they get the assist.” The agent adds, “That pisses off a lot of people. This guy hasn’t even shown property in how many years? Customers think they’re getting Terry Paranych, but they’re getting this random guy.”
What is the appeal for said random guy? Volume. Leads. Risk aversion in a cutthroat commission-based sales job. “But once you work for Terry, you stand no chance whatsoever of creating a brand for yourself,” says the agent. It also means carrying a brand that’s toxic to some.
Paranych’s aggression is no secret to anyone who follows him on social media, where it’s not unusual for him to call RECA “pricks” and “lying cowards.” Some of his beefs have nothing to do with real estate. Last winter, he called out a rookie city councillor over a snow-plowing experiment in Paranych’s neighbourhood. He trolled him with pictures of unpaid parking tickets, called his experiment “idiotic,” and called him “lame” and “The Great Pretender,” and when they finally met to clear the air, Paranych told him, “… if my kid got killed, I’m putting it on you,” according to the Edmonton Journal.
Regrets? He has a few, and he says he’s determined to be a better person than he used to be and take the high road more. “I’m one of those guys that, when I feel I’m crossed, I pull out all the stops to win.” He adds, “I’ve mellowed.”
But then I raise the RECA hearing scheduled for this November, when he’ll be tried before a jury of his peers for failing “to adjust (his) practices” and advertising information that “undermines the integrity of the industry.” Paranych isn’t just unrepentant about his advertising; he’s adamant that it sets him apart, and he hopes it’ll teach other budding realtors to do the same.
“It’s a witch hunt,” he shouts while breathlessly pacing in front of the southside office after our drive. “They don’t like me, because I’m smarter and I’m always ahead of them.” He removes his sunglasses to show his wide brown eyes. “I play like it’s overtime in the Stanley Cup Finals every day. I play to win. Period.”