Chris Chopik prides himself on being professional. So when he found himself red-faced and dripping with sweat at a recent meeting about green building issues with the Ontario Ministry of Finance, despite being in a business suit, he was a little embarrassed.
"I was making a presentation using a whiteboard, and I felt a drip of sweat slide off my chin," he recalls. The lesson: "I learned then that if I am going to ride my bike somewhere and I don't want to be red-faced and soaked with sweat, I need to give myself extra recovery time."
Mr. Chopik, 36, now in his fourth year with Toronto's Bosley Real Estate Ltd., is a forerunner in his industry: a bike-riding real-estate agent.
With gas prices up, air quality down and saving the planet on everyone's mind, agents across Canada and in the United States are scrapping cars, long considered a business necessity, to bike, walk and use public transit. And some are finding it's paying off as they fill a green niche with environmentally concerned clients.
Mr. Chopik is a successful member of the Chairman's Club at his company, with listings as high as $2-million.
He also hosts the environmental website evolutiongreen.com. Last December, he merged his two passions and ditched his standard Honda Civic LX for a silver-grey, made-in-Canada Rocky Mountain bike. He doesn't regret the decision. Sales, he says, have stayed on target, while expenses have gone down. And he's fit like never before.
"I have 24 gears and I use them all," he says. "I live north of St. Clair and can get to the core areas where I do business - Leslieville, Parkdale, Cedarvale - in 20 minutes."
Many clients gravitate to him, he believes, because they are similarly motivated. And cycling, he's found, lends itself to selling houses. "I can meet people at a house or we can bike together," he says. "It really is better to see a neighbourhood on a bike. You can assess the ambient atmosphere. You can smell the freshly cut grass in a park, and see if the residents smile at you."
Some agents say this is a case of the real-estate industry catching up to the lifestyles of urban house hunters. At open houses in Vancouver, according to cycling real-estate agent Patricia Houlihan of Macdonald Realty Inc., bikes will often be piled up in front as would-be buyers check out the property. "Successful people in Vancouver wear sweats," she says. "It's a bike-oriented culture. Lots of my clients ride bikes to showings."
James Rodgers of Dexter Associates Realty of Vancouver keeps a supply of bicycles for his clients to use when they check out properties of 1,000-plus acres near Kootenay. "A property might cover an entire watershed including recreationally forested property," he notes. "The clients bike with me if they are comfortable doing that."
However, Ms. Houlihan notes that bike-riding agents can be a surprise for some. "Last summer, a client of mine and I rode up a small mountain, Mount Seymour near the Seymour River, to see a house," she recalls. "When we knocked on the door, the seller could not get over the fact that we had ridden our bikes to get there. Proves that you should warn your seller ahead of time."
Those aren't the only challenges, she says.
Ms. Houlihan, who is pregnant, is driving full-time at the moment. But she says she has always relied on her car, a Toyota Prius, at least some of the time. "I do not believe that I could do a high volume of business like mine solely on a bicycle," she says.
And she cautions that some clients still have preconceptions when an agent pulls up on two wheels. "The public has not grasped that it's okay not to wear a suit and expensive shoes while doing a showing."
Indeed, many cycling agents opt for a more business-casual look. "I usually wear shorts and short-sleeve button-up shirts," Mr. Rodgers says. He says it doesn't get in the way of business. "The only minor difficulty I have is when I'm running late, and because I had to speed up, I arrive red-faced and out of breath."
Of course, Canada's wide weather swings mean many real-estate agents can't bike 100 per cent of the time. Even Louise Edwards, who has conducted business by bike since the early eighties and usually cycles year-round, says she considered waving the white flag this past winter in Toronto. (She sidestepped the problem by heading to India on vacation.)
Still, the ReMax Hallmark Realty agent says she can't imagine giving up her bicycle, though she flirted with the idea a few years ago. "I didn't learn to drive until 2003, when I took lessons, followed through and bought a car," she says. "But I didn't like being in traffic jams and I didn't like the fact that you have to be able to talk to people when you're driving. I'm on my bike again now."