by Karen Elgersma | photo by Janis Jean Photography –
Michele Holmes is the owner of Holmes Realty on the Saanich Peninsula. Her story of how she became a top-selling realtor, a successful female business owner and a passionate philanthropist is truly inspiring. She’s brave, gutsy and wise. Michele isn’t just a woman to watch, she’s a woman to listen to. But be warned: her moxie is infectious and you may find yourself busting open a dream after reading this.
You grew up in central Vancouver Island. What was your childhood like and how did your parents inspire you to truly follow your dreams, especially as a woman?
I grew up in Port Alberni, the oldest of five. I had a wonderful childhood; I was very close to my family and still am. My dad had a huge influence on me as a young woman – he worked for the Crown, and many of his clients were battered women and single moms who needed help to get financial support from their children’s fathers. It really impacted him and he taught me and my sisters how important it is to have our own careers and to have financial independence. My dad is also the one who taught me how to curl my hair, hem a dress and bake a cake, so I didn’t grow up believing that women and men had to have a “role.” Both my parents encouraged us to follow our dreams and they never treated the girls differently than the boys. They always believed in me and their confidence in me has been a huge source of inspiration.
You went to the University of Victoria and went on to become a teacher; share with us what that career was like for you?
I graduated with a teacher’s certificate in 1977 and went on to teach in a variety of schools in small communities throughout B.C. I always preferred living and working in smaller towns where you could really get to know people and feel like you were part of the community. When I moved to Sidney, I immediately loved the sense of community here. Unfortunately, there weren’t too many teaching jobs, so I began to explore my interests in real estate. My dad always encouraged me to look at real estate as a career, and I entered the training program at Century 21, earning my real estate license through the University of British Columbia in 1985.
What inspired you to start your own real estate business and buy your own building?
I purchased Pemberton Holmes Sidney Ltd. with a partner in 1987. When we decided to go separate ways in 1999, I bought the entire company and opened the doors as Holmes Realty.
I decided to buy the building my office is in now, and at the time, everyone told me not to buy it. But John Salvador, who owned the building, encouraged me to go for it and he actually made it possible for me to buy it – offering me vendor financing. I paid the mortgage off as quickly as I could and it’s one of the best financial decisions of my career. No matter what was going on in the world of real estate, I could ride it out because I owned my building.
As an entrepreneur and realtor you have had to deal with so many ups and downs over the years – from recessions, to crazy interest rates, to pandemics. What is the secret to not just surviving adversity but thriving?
I always asked myself “what is the worst that can happen?” When I first became a realtor, I thought, “if this doesn’t work out, I can always go back to teaching,” so I just went for it! I kept that philosophy throughout my career; I have a determined approach to business. There will always be good years and bad years, but if you are patient and you believe in yourself, you will always land back on your feet. So many people quit too soon – if you do the work, and invest in your clients, your business, your team and yourself, you will reap the rewards, but it will take time.
As a female business owner, what are some of the issues you have faced and how did you deal with them?
I remember when I went to buy a new car, the bank asked me how much money my husband made. I answered: “I make more than my husband; why don’t you ask me how much money I make?” That experience was horrible – women still get treated differently when it comes to getting a business loan or mortgage.
This past year has been filled with so many challenges for business owners – one of them was the death of George Floyd that sparked a powerful movement. As a female entrepreneur and philanthropist, what was your response to the Black Lives Matter Movement?
I get very emotional about this. I just can’t believe that after all of these years, we are still dealing with this kind of hatred, racism and violence. It’s one of the reasons I am so committed to philanthropy and community work. I try to make a difference by giving back and doing what I can to make the world kinder.
Your passion for community and philanthropy is remarkable. Share with us some of the projects Holmes Realty and you have been involved in over the years.
I have always believed in giving back. My parents taught us the value of volunteering and supporting causes that matter. One of the commitments I made when I started Holmes Realty was that my team and I would give a portion of every commission to local and global charities. One of the organizations we supported was the Canadian Wheelchair Foundation. I had the opportunity to go to South America with Rotary and distribute wheelchairs to people who desperately needed them in remote villages that didn’t have access to medical equipment. It was transformative for me. Children and teens who lack mobility are unable to attend school. Adults are reduced to crawling for lack of a wheelchair, sometimes confined to a bed or corner of the house when family members can’t lift them. It’s amazing how one wheelchair can transform a life.
Locally we have supported several programs at Sidney Elementary School – from an outdoor classroom, to an irrigation system, a new kitchen, and an agricultural and breakfast program. We’re also sponsors of O.R.C.C.A. Dental Clinic Society (Oral Care for Children and Adolescents), an amazing organization located at Sidney Elementary that provides children and adolescents under 19 years of age from low-income families access to oral care.
We also donate to the Sidney Lions Food Bank, the Saanich Peninsula Hospital & Healthcare Foundation and other local charities. I am a long-time member of Sidney by the Sea Rotary Club, which has given to so many charities locally and globally. The ability to give back is my favourite part about owning my business.
What wisdom would you offer a woman who is starting her own business or beginning a new career or chapter in her life?
Don’t listen to “the noise” around you, and there will always be a lot of noise. Just focus on what you want and go for it! Be patient, it takes time to build a business, and don’t let fear dictate what you should do with your life. There will be challenges, but if you do the work, you treat your team and your clients well, and you show up every day, you will be successful. I have seen so many realtors quit too soon, before they were able to reap the awards of their hard work.
This has been a heck of a year. What inspiration would you offer women who are feeling overwhelmed or anxious about their business
I would encourage them to trust the process, and lean on friends, family and community for support. I’ve been selling real estate for over 35 years. Myself and my valued team members have worked hard to build this company into the successful real estate agency it is today. It hasn’t been easy, but it’s certainly been exciting and fulfilling.