Over 90 and still selling: Meet the REALTORS® who refuse to slow down

When Harry Backlin left Vancouver for a new career in 1975, the then 46-year-old held on tightly to his parting gift: a decorative sign with the words “Grow old with me—the best is yet to be” etched into it.

It was uncertain times for the businessman; he was about to take a leap of faith to Prince George, British Columbia, alongside his wife, Maybelle. After all, he knew the potential the mid-size city had, but did others?

Nearly 45 years later, Backlin, now 90, can comfortably say he lived his best years helping shape a northern destination as a commercial real estate salesperson for half his life.

Harry Backlin
Harry Backlin.

“Here I am today: I’m in good health, my cell phone is available seven days a week, I love what I’m doing and I will not stop promoting Prince George because everything you could ever want is here in town,” he says in such an excitable tone, you can almost hear his smile through the phone.

The real estate industry was much more primitive when Backlin first started, but some of his techniques remain unchanged. He avoids online conversations at all costs— “I learned a long time ago that direct, face-to-face communication goes a long way”—and all his forms are pinned to his wall, rather than stored in a folder on his computer.

"Do this job if you love making your community a better place and want to help others achieve their goals."

- Harry Backlin

His method works, though. Out of 192 city council applications for commercial development, Backlin says he can count on one hand how many weren’t approved. He’s helped bring economic giants like Costco, Dunkley Lumber and the Sandman Hotel to town, but also dozens and dozens of other mom and pop businesses. In fact, he was able to help land the Moxie’s Grill and Bar where he recently celebrated his 90th birthday with 80 of his closest friends, family members, business contacts and politicians.

“Age means nothing when you’re in an absolutely wonderful profession. That’s what I tell all the young men and women in the office: do this job if you love making your community a better place and want to help others achieve their goals.”

Before landing with Royal LePage Prince George earlier this year, Backlin had worked for Coldwell Banker and Century 21. In 1981, he earned the Century 21 Centurion Award for topping sales in the $5 to $7.5-million category. Outside of the office, he is a 45-year member of the St. George Ukrainian Catholic Church, consistently gives back to his community and was once an accomplished painter.

Backlin’s vast experience in real estate and life often comes in handy around the office.

“I’m out there sharing and caring the best I can, because at the end of the day I want to go to sleep like a Mississippi mule,” he says, using one of his popular phrases to preface the following philosophy: “To make it in this business, you got to remember yesterday is a canceled cheque—it ain’t worth a damn. Tomorrow is a promissory note—who knows what you’ll get. But today, today is cash—use it wisely.

“If you can do that, you’ll be 95-years-old driving a Lamborghini.”

Daniel Gargerella
Daniel Gargarella.

At 95, Daniel Gargarella is still selling homes and although he may not own a Lamborghini, he’s quick to point out he’s been steering his life from the driver’s seat ever since committing to a real estate career in 1948.

“I’ll leave that one up to your imagination,” he says with a chuckle when asked about any exotic car collections in his garage.

Just like Backlin, Gargarella draws on decades of real estate experience to pass onto his younger colleagues at the Royal LePage Elite Realty office in Mississauga, Ontario.

“I tell the agents here, whatever you do, just look after your client properly. Build a good relationship with them, serve them professionally and with integrity and, above all, honestly,” he says. “Also, work with your fellow comrades and associate with them.”

Gargarella got into real estate after spending a few years in the army and the Ontario Provincial Police, however, as he says, the salary was too low.

“We were getting paid $60 a week,” he says, explaining it wasn’t enough to support himself, wife Evelyn and the first of their three children.

He worked his way up the real estate ladder and eventually opened his own brokerage in Etobicoke, Ontario. There, he became the top-selling REALTOR® and salesperson in an up-and-coming Central Etobicoke area.

“Age is nothing. Doing something you love gives you all the strength to go on. Right now, at 95, I feel like I’m at the peak of my career.”

- Daniel Gargarella

“He was the undisputable No. 1 REALTOR® in the community, dominating the market for many, many years,” says Vince Tersigni, Broker of Record at Royal LePage Elite Realty and a long-time friend of Gargarella’s.

He served as a Director for the Toronto Real Estate Board for four years in the 1970s and once chaired the Professional Standards Committee.

Following the death of his wife in 1980, Gargarella had to juggle a busy career and caring for his three children.

“(He) never gave up,” Tersigni says. “He took the challenge of helping his children and working at the same time. I recall he had breakfast with his son every morning until his passing in his late 40s.

“He’s been an example to the real estate industry and his colleagues alike.”

Gargarella isn’t afraid of embracing trends and boasts about being in-tune with technology. He praises the work the Canadian Real Estate Association (CREA) does to support its members and says the new-look REALTOR.ca is quite the asset.

“We get great reports from CREA, the Toronto board [TREB] and the provincial board [OREA] to help us along, because the industry is so far advanced now,” he said.

Long gone are the days of selling a family home in Toronto for $35,000 or mailing documents to clients; if you want to make it, he says, you must continually build on your skills.

“Attend classes, go to conferences, don’t be afraid of technology… I’m going to continue to do all that and carry on for as long as the good Lord permits me.

“Age is nothing. Doing something you love gives you all the strength to go on. Right now, at 95, I feel like I’m at the peak of my career.”

Matt Day brings his experience as a nationally-recognized multimedia journalist to the Canadian Real Estate Association as a Communications Advisor. Matt provides professional writing, digital media and communications support to CREA and assists in developing engaging social media content. He is regularly featured in the CREA Café where he provides interesting and entertaining content for REALTORS® to enjoy. Matt is a professional photographer but has dreams of becoming a rock star. He also enjoys mountain biking, skiing, hiking, and using the Oxford comma.

One thought on “Over 90 and still selling: Meet the REALTORS® who refuse to slow down”

  1. Inspiring. I became a licensed agent in 2011 and broker in 2014. Getting my real estate license seemed like a natural progression after creating two major subdivisions on Pelican Lake with my husband. I have been promoting the Pelican Lake area of SW Manitoba in which I live for 20 years now. Your highlighted quotes are ‘spot on’. I doubt if I will stay licensed until I am 90 but my children are involved the family business and I hope they continue to flourish, grow the business and our community.

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