As a teen growing up in Italy, Vince Tersigni was approaching his time for compulsory military service when his father gave him another option. He could go to Canada, where his father had been working on and off for about 10 years in the lumber trade, sending money back home to support his family.
The young Tersigni chose the latter, though initially he wasn’t sure he’d made the right decision.
“Believe me, the first six months I prayed to go back every day. The cold, we came in fall, leaving your friends, the way of living was completely different,” says Tersigni.
“I used to go for walks there (in Italy), the bar, the movies. Here it’s a culture shock. Saturday and Sunday…what do I do, where do I go?” And the Greek and Latin he studied in high school in Italy was no help in English-speaking Canada.
Decades later, he’s still here and thriving in a successful real estate career. Tersigni is a broker at Royal LePage Elite Realty in Mississauga, Ont. This month, he’s celebrating 50 years in the business.
Tersigni got his start in the industry after leaving the tool and dye trade, to follow in the footsteps of a cousin who convinced him to get into real estate. That was in December 1971. “I was a young guy, naive…” he says.
He entered the field when technological innovations were archaic by today’s standards. Machines that most people rarely use anymore or are taken for granted were a big deal back then.
“I remember when the fax machine came out. Everyone thought that’d be the end of real estate,” says Tersigni. Losing the interaction with people seemed unfathomable.
As for the arrival of the photocopy machine, Tersigni described it as an “unbelievable” improvement from the old way of doing things. “We used to have a sheet of paper and put a film between the paper and the thing you were copying. That was the technology,” he says. The need to type up six copies of a document with carbon paper was now gone, along with ink-stained hands and the need to start all over again every time you made a typo.
From the early 1970s to the late 1980s, a typical day involved knocking on doors and working the phones looking for clients. Phone calls were typically made from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Monday to Friday. “We used to do at least 75 to 100 a day,” Tersigni says. “Can you imagine doing that now at dinner time?”
Without the benefit of a push-button phone, the work was agonizingly slow. “It was a rotary dial phone and your index finger would get numb after a while, and then you’d use another finger.
“And you’d be surprised how many wrong numbers we use to dial,” he says. But he didn’t let that finger workout go to waste. “Even if you dial a wrong number, we still gave the same spiel to whoever we got on the line.”
Tersigni says he would identify himself and his company and ask the homeowner if they were thinking of selling their house.
“In those days they used to listen and be very cordial and say, ‘not for now but maybe in the next while.’ There wasn’t pure rejection, they didn’t slam the phone down. I never had that.”
The introduction of the do-not-call registry list has restricted the number of homeowners that salespeople can reach out to now. Door knocking is also disappearing. “People don’t want to be bothered…they used to open doors and now they don’t. They’re afraid. They don’t know who you are,” Tersigni says.
He remembers one unpleasant incident from the mid 1970s that still stands out in his mind. He arrived at a home, and an older British lady answered the door. She told him in no uncertain terms that she would never hire him because he is Italian.
Undeterred, Tersigni says he learned not to make a big deal of rejection and continued prospecting.
Then there were the late nights dealing with offers.
“You had to go personally to present the offer and most of the time, you didn’t do it in one shot,” says Tersigni, adding it wasn’t unusual for the negotiation to last until three or four in the morning.
If your client was in Hamilton and the buyer in Burlington, you physically had to go to Hamilton and talk to the seller. They’d give you a countersign and you had to go back to Burlington and convince them to take the countersign. “Sometimes the buyer doesn’t want this and wants to put more in and you go back to Hamilton. You can’t imagine” it today, he says.
Electronic signatures and negotiating via phone were still far in the future. “You had to go face to face, you’d need their signature. We were discouraged from discussing things on the phone.”
All those late nights, the cold calling and rejections, would prompt some to change careers. Yet Tersigni says he loves the business.
“It’s still as exciting as the first day. It’s a job I love, a profession, it’s like a drug,” he says.
He reminds REM of a story we did a few years ago about an agent in his office, Daniel Gargarella, who was 95 at the time (now 97) and is still selling real estate.
Will Tersigni continue working into his 90s? “If I live that long it’d be nice,” he says. “I’ve said to people around here, I will never retire.”
Diane Slawych is a contributing writer for REM.