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Scott McGillivray: Empowering Aspiring Investors to Succeed

Photo courtesy of Scott McGillivray.

Scott McGillivray has achieved incredible success as a real estate investor and has imparted his knowledge to help scores of others.

Keyspire — the company co-founded with his business partner — offers training and education to those yearning to make it big in real estate investing. While attending university in his early twenties, Scott purchased his first property, and today, some two decades later, he owns hundreds of properties across North America.

Television viewers know Scott as a much-loved HGTV personality; since 2008, he has appeared in more than 400 episodes on shows that include Income Property, Scott’s House Call, Moving The McGillivrays, Buyer’s Bootcamp, Scott’s Vacation House Rules, and Buying In. Scott has also been nominated for and won numerous Canadian Screen Awards.

On top of everything else, Scott is CEO of McGillivray Group. This company builds and elevates brands by focusing on talent development, marketing, and media production services.

The Edge, A Leader’s Magazine had the chance to sit down with Scott to hear his story and garner some great advice for today’s real estate market.

At 21, you purchased and renovated your first rental property, which came about from a school project on income properties. What were some of the expectations and surprises you experienced while becoming a business owner?

There are almost too many to count! But I think what stuck out for me was how many opportunities exist if you’re willing to look at what other people overlook, or if you’re eager to do the work that other people aren’t.

There was nothing extraordinary about what I did: I used my student loan to put a down payment on a property, renovated it myself, and then rented it out to friends. It was a lot of hard work, but it wasn’t rocket science. I was just willing to take the chance when other people weren’t. That has stayed with me all these years.

What’s something typical about a home repair that most people neglect but should prioritize?

There are a couple of things. One is regular, consistent maintenance. It may not be as sexy as some of the big, exciting projects you can do, but it’s undoubtedly the most important. I’ve heard of people having to do significant renovations because they ignored simple maintenance work, like filling cracks or fixing a leak. 

The other is taking the time — and money — to do something correctly the first time. Some people try to cut corners to save money, but in the end, it costs more. I’m thinking of properly waterproofing behind shower walls or putting an underlayment beneath your floor. Initially, these things add some money upfront, but they ensure that your renovation or repairs last longer.

I think these principles can apply to all areas of business. Invest wisely and maintain things properly — they’ll serve you a lot better in the long run!

As a recognized influencer and digital innovator, how do you manage to engage daily with your million-plus followers?

Social media is such a great way to connect with people, and because of that, it’s an incredible business tool. My businesses would not exist in the same way without it. Take my digital series Scott’s House Call and Buying In, for example; without social media, those digital content series would never have come to fruition. Going through a television network is a very different animal. While it’s still the best way to reach specific audiences, going digital allowed us to do more things with our partners without the limitations of broadcast.

Social media has also had a massive impact on my broadcast shows. I used to live-tweet each and every episode of my show in the old days. It allowed me to speak to the audience in real-time and get their honest feedback. Suggestions people made during those live tweets impacted what we did in future episodes. To this day, I still try to read every comment that comes through. If people take the time to write something, I feel like I owe them the time to read it.

A lot of your programs disseminate on TV and online. How has the internet helped grow your empire over the last few years? Was there any downside during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Like everyone, I was nervous when COVID started. We had a lot of things on the go, and we were dealing with a massive unknown. But honestly, I’ve been fortunate. I can’t say there’s been no downside because COVID has been devastating for so many people, but I feel lucky that my businesses prospered. We launched a show about vacation properties right as the market started to boom. We couldn’t film shows for a while, so we created a podcast. We couldn’t do live events, so we pivoted and made everything digital. Honestly, I doubled down during COVID and took a lot of risks. I’m happy to say that my business is better for it.

Considering the current volatility of the real estate market, what pre-planning advice would you give first-time homebuyers or anyone looking to buy a property? 

“Volatility” is the perfect word for the current market — it’s constantly shifting and evolving! First and foremost, I’d recommend that anyone looking to buy in this market — whether a first-time homebuyer or a seasoned investor — work with an experienced real estate agent. Make sure you’re working with someone who knows that particular market well and has experience and expertise to help you make the most informed buying decision. Over the years, I’ve built an exclusive network of top-performing real estate agents who represent several different markets across Canada. I’d highly recommend any of my Trusted Agents to anyone looking to buy, sell, or invest — you can visit my website to find one in your area.

You work closely with lead designer Debra Salmoni on the Scott’s Vacation House Rules series. What lessons have you learnt about the strength of team playing and leadership?

Teamwork makes the dream work! Seriously, I believe in surrounding myself with people who are the best at what they do. As much as I’d love to do everything myself, I don’t have the time or the expertise in all facets of my business. It’s the same reason why I started the Trusted Agent and Trusted Professionals programs — because everyone should work with experts to get the best results. As far as leadership goes, when you surround yourself with hardworking people who share the same vision as you, it’s easy.

What did you have to learn during TV production that proved a challenge when you began? What’s one of the biggest challenges of performing on television? A learning curve, perhaps?

As a renovator, television timelines were a bit of a shock to me. I was used to doing things that made sense for the renovation, but I quickly learned that everything had to make sense for the cameras. So, if I worked too fast, I might have to remove something so I could do it again for the cameras. Or, sometimes, the opposite was true, and they needed to capture something I hadn’t done yet, so I had to readjust my strategy. Television timelines are incredibly tight. I’m used to it now, but I can see the shock in the eyes of any new contractor who comes to work on one of my shows.

Despite some of the challenges, I took to TV production pretty fast. I didn’t want to be the face in front of the camera. I wanted more control, and I saw great potential in the business of TV. So within a year, I started my own production company: McGillivray Entertainment Media. We’ve got some big shows in production right now — there’s never a dull moment!

What are some of the essential characteristics of a great real estate agent?

First, market knowledge: you always want to work with an agent with a wealth of real estate knowledge and expertise, but you especially want to work with someone who knows the area well. They’ll have insider intel to make or break your buying or selling experience. Second, customer service: choose an agent with a stellar reputation for putting their clients first. Third, marketing know-how: if you’re selling or leasing a property, your agent should have a strong marketing strategy to create demand and get your home sold (or rented) for top dollar. Finally, experience: An experienced agent has years of industry know-how. They’ll also have extensive networks they can tap into to help you find the perfect property or buyer. If you’re looking to buy, sell, or invest, be sure to use one of my McGillivray Trusted Agents! You can head to my website and select your applicable market to be matched with a Trusted Agent at ScottMcGillivray.com.

Whether buyer or seller, what are some realtor red flags that might indicate it’s time to step away?

Be wary of any agent that doesn’t listen to your needs, tries to severely over- or under-price your home, works as a part-time agent, knows nothing about the area, is a poor negotiator, or behaves unprofessionally. Your real estate agent should be highly experienced and knowledgeable about the buying and selling process and have your best interests at heart. Working with the right real estate agent is essential, and I recommend interviewing a few agents before making your choice.

In real estate or not, how often do you think entrepreneurs should change their paradigms to achieve success or pursue their goals?

Constantly. I’ve never been one for the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality. I’m constantly changing the way I do things to make them better, more efficient, more successful, more interesting — whatever the case may be. The root of my business is real estate investing, but that doesn’t just mean buying and selling properties. I’ve turned it into tv shows, podcasts, and courses. I’ve recently launched a real estate investment fund focused on residential development projects in Ontario. I did this because, for the last 20 years, people have been asking me how they can invest like me or with me. Up until now, I didn’t have an answer. But now, with this fund, people can invest passively alongside my team and share in the same experience. It’s an exciting venture that has already exceeded my expectations.

How can someone learn more about your investment programs, courses, and workshops through your real estate investing education company, Keyspire?

If you’re interested in learning more about real estate investing and networking with like-minded people, check out Keyspire.com. And if you’re interested in learning more about my real estate fund, visit ScottMcGillivrayRealEstateFund.com. But do it soon — we’ve almost reached our target capital raise goal, and we’ll be closing the fund to new investments soon!

Can you share any upcoming projects with the family and how they’re enjoying the powerhouse you built together?

My family loves the cottages, including the powerhouse. But, of course, the girls’ favourite spot is the playhouse. It was a great adventure for our family working on those properties, and I love that my kids are enjoying the same type of cottage experience that I had growing up. As far as what’s next for us, you’ll have to wait and see!

Jennifer M. Williams | Editor-in-Chief

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