Lunch with Bob Rennie

Condo marketing king Bob Rennie attributes his success in real estate ?marketing to lucky timing and being born a boomer.

Bob Rennie | BCBusiness

Condo marketing king Bob Rennie attributes his success in real estate 
marketing to lucky timing and being born a boomer.

An Americano coffee in hand, Bob Rennie slips into “his seat” – a curved bench commanding a strategic view of fellow diners at the Campagnolo, a tastefully reclaimed space sandwiched between a four-storey SRO and the Ivanhoe Hotel on Main Street. True to the condo-marketing guru’s reputation as a societal broker who eats daily with clients and city movers, he later works the room, saying hello to former NDP cabinet minister Bob Williams as well as to the café’s manager.

As the principal of Rennie Marketing Systems explains, this type of “street talk” is part of the reason for his success over a 36-year career. Rising at 4:30 a.m. to prepare for the day helps too, as does “cherishing” people’s trust: “Developers let me get in their amazing sandbox and play with their toys – and if someone lets you, then you don’t break them,” he asserts. “I always say that nobody can work as hard as me.”

While he’s known as the king of condo marketing, Rennie gives no spin to his personal PR. He unabashedly orders an entrée of spaghetti, which he proceeds to eat as extra topping on his pizza. (“Obscene,” the spry 55-year-old acknowledges, laughing.) In fact, Rennie professes to thinking he’s actually “quite boring.” Fiddling with his trademark black spectacles, he explains further: “I’m just lazy. It goes with honesty. If I don’t lie, then I don’t have to remember anything I said.” 

He even plays down his reign at the top of the real-estate “sport” in this city. After growing up in east Vancouver and quitting school before Grade 12, he is at pains to point out that his whole career is about fortuitous timing. “Everybody likes to stand on pedestals of knowledge and genius,” he says, “but my birth date caused me to come through the baby-boomer years of buying and the real-estate explosion in Vancouver. If I had my business in Miami or Las Vegas, for example, I would be your waiter today, and I’m really aware of that.”

Not that he entertains thoughts of early retirement when he needs to stoke his other passion: a private art collection reported to be the country’s third-largest. “I make people money – I don’t necessarily make as much as people would think,” he says succinctly.

Today, of course, as the man charged with marketing the initially troubled Olympic Village, he knows those halcyon days have shifted here, too. The 46- to 65-year-olds are more conservative, he continues, “and not fuelling the economy the way we are used to.” So, if his company signed off on a project three years ago, then it is completely changing it for 2012’s requirements, Rennie explains. His advice for first-time buyers, for example? “Perhaps make accommodation the priority, buy under their means to allow for an increase in interest rates and leave putting in granite and stainless steel for the second home,” opines Rennie, who lives on the west side of Vancouver with partner Carey Fouks and has three grown-up children with his former wife Mieko Izumi.

Still, his freefalling encyclopedic knowledge of real-estate statistics does show signs of optimism: Vancouver had 3,300 new condos built in 2007 and only 604 in 2011, he says, yet 94,000 people are due to move to Vancouver in the next 15 years. “That’s 35,000 new homes in Vancouver, so figure it out,” he concludes. 

Rennie applauds the ongoing development around the Downtown Eastside, where his office and gallery, the Rennie Collection at Wing Sang, are situated. “Everybody is worried about gentrification, and they should be, but this isn’t Yaletown,” he says, adding that housing must be properly zoned and protected by legislation. “I have a belief that we all have to live in diversified communities.”

Which is where his art comes into play. It’s a way of giving back and “stabilizing that area culturally,” says Rennie, who is also chair of the North American Acquisitions Committee for London’s Tate Modern. All part, he adds while finishing another Americano, of his lifelong – and certainly lunch-long – mantra: “We survive on our similarities but in the end we’re only going to be known for our differences.”