Aline Zafirian | Building a Real Estate Empire with Purpose

On Resiliency, Giving Back and Finding her inner light

Introducing the Canadian force, one and only, Aline Zafirian. An expert in real estate, Aline is recognized foremost as a Real Estate Investment Specialist, Highly Driven Sales Professional and one of Canada’s Top Commercial and Residential Brokers. Reaching the ranks of the top 2% of brokers in Canada under the Royal LePage umbrella, her unparalleled service has given her a stellar reputation over the years. 

Today she moves on to bigger projects, with a builder’s license completed, innovative services for multi-residential property owners and tackling developments in the Laurentians up north of Montreal. Her mission is to bridge the gap for women in the “boys club” industry of commercial real estate, all whilst giving back and inspiring generations to follow. Aline’s goal is      to inspire women to stand out, follow their dreams and break glass ceilings in any male-dominated industries so they can live their dream life. She is building a real estate business beyond brokerage, from A to Z and wants to give-back to build greater communities round her.  Here is her success journey! 

Photography by Eva Ricci

I wanted to begin with getting to know you a bit better, and especially for our readers and followers. As the saying goes, we often need to connect the dots backwards. So, what did you want to do when you were growing up? What career did you want to pursue? 

At a very young age, I would say probably around 8 or 9, I saw my first architectural drawings for a cottage that my family was renovating, and I just fell in love with the design, the precision of architecture.  And that’s what I wanted to do as a young kid.  At seventeen, I worked for an architectural firm in Montreal, and they ALL discouraged me from pursuing the profession.  At a young age, that was enough to influence me and hence I did not pursue that dream.  

And you’ve also had a very diverse and interesting career. Can you briefly share some of the highlights and choice of direction over the years? 

Absolutely. My background before coming into real estate was corporate sales. I worked for many of the great Fortune 500 companies like TD Bank, Rogers and major corporations and in several industries such as telecom, learning & development and even tourism. I had the privilege of learning from the best-in-class sales trainings, and it was a career that was very fulfilling because it’s a career for those who are die-hard salespeople where every day is different. It’s always a challenge. We thrive on those challenges. Through it all, I got amazing coaching, guidance and mentoring.

Amazing. Considering your talents, it seems like you could have chosen many different industries. Why did you choose real estate and how did you end up here? 

Choosing real estate was kind of by design but also by chance. In 2014, when I chose real estate at the time, I was working for an amazing company in the tourism industry, and it didn’t allow me to have the opportunity to really thrive as an entrepreneur, I was still an employee. My father worked for KLM for 40 years. He was an employee all his life, and always encouraged me to work for myself. It was always something that I had in the back of my mind, even though I, myself, had beautiful jobs, but I often called them golden handcuffs because I felt that I was in handcuffs because it wasn’t what I felt I was meant to do, but at the same time, it was comfortable. 

They were great companies, great careers, colleagues, and people to work with. When I said by design, I meant that I definitely wanted to pursue something where I was an entrepreneur and I would be working for myself and at the same time by chance, because I knew nothing about real estate. I didn’t know a single contact, and especially in the commercial sector. I didn’t know a single lender, any notaries, landlords, developers, how it worked, you know, the dynamic between brokers and between landlords. I really, really jumped in a certain way without a parachute in an industry that I knew nothing about, but I knew that it would offer me tremendous opportunity and possibilities. Mixed with my love for architecture, I was getting closer to the world of construction and architecture and ultimately entrepreneurship.

You chose commercial real estate specifically. Can you share with our audience about your experiences so far in the industry and especially as a woman? 

Yes! I chose it specifically because my background was always in corporate sales. I had worked with many high level strategic accounts, c-suite decision makers and in fortune 500 companies as my clients. And so, the business conversation was the one that was not only natural to me, but also interesting, and that’s what I thrive on.  I have very strong business acumen so there’s always been an ease in having a business conversation versus a residential conversation that is more emotional and subjective. 

My experience as a woman has been very diverse. It is an industry that is very male-centric for sure and I often work primarily with men. Not only as my colleagues and the deals that I’m making, but also the clients.  My clients are primarily men. I work a lot in the investment world, and we are fortunately seeing more and more women invest in commercial real estate, and I’m starting to work with more and more women, which is exciting and makes me happy. But the reality is that we still have a long way to go. I’ve had some uncomfortable conversations with men when I first started.  I clearly remember an interview where it was even pointed out to me that this is a male-dominated industry and how would I be able to compete in that world.  And so, these hurdles for women still exist. But I wouldn’t say that it is the norm, and I would say that there is a growing inclusion for women,  and  men are seeing the value and diversity that we bring, because we, as women, have qualities that men don’t have. Just like we don’t have the same qualities they do, and we bring a complementarity to a business that, as a woman, is actually a lot of fun because we get to work with men and it makes for a great dynamic. 

In those situations, it takes a lot of courage to make the changes that you’ve made at the time that you made them. So, where did you draw your courage from, and who has been your inspiration? 

I would say, without a doubt, it was my mother. She might be surprised to hear this and read this one day, but my mother started her life over in a certain way, in her early 40s, went back to school and got the university degree that she wanted, and she did it as a single mom with two kids. I do not have children. So, fortunately I didn’t have that responsibility, but I did jump into a new career in my 40s, starting from scratch, and having to start from scratch in many other ways because one of the driving factors of choosing commercial real estate specifically was a financial decision. Early in my career and early 30’s when I was starting to do very well financially, I was poorly guided financially and mislead for my investments, which led to a big financial mishap, a financial disaster really. Losing everything in my early 40’s. There were quite a few of us. 

We were sold a bill of goods, about 400 of us, and this investment went very, very poorly. I knew that in my 40’s, I would have to rebuild financially. Commercial real estate was a big gamble because, as many know in this business, you can either do very well or you can starve, and it can be very challenging and cyclical. I chose to bet on myself and so did my mother. She was my support and helped in many ways, mentally as well as financially for me to get back on my feet. And she had that help in her 40s as well, and she passed that on to me. I’m very grateful to her because today I can have the career, the entrepreneurial freedom that I have, and I’ve been able to, through very hard work. I didn’t get here by chance. I did work hard to get here; I was able to rebuild and create a whole new life for myself the way she did. Starting over one’s life and career middle-age is not easy.  Many have done it and will concur.  But so worth it.

On that note, how would you say that real estate and going into that career path has changed or enhanced your life, and what has it taught you? 

I would say real estate has completely transformed my life because real estate, not only does it allow the obvious, which most people will think of, which can be wealth, it also allows for a community that is wealth conscious and wealth minded. What I mean by wealth minded is people who thrive on success, on working hard, on achievement in personal and in professional ways, being driven to do better, whether it’s in sports or to take care of their bodies, or to take care of their mind. 

That was an environment that I always sought, that inspires me and that I find very motivating. I love to see people win. I’m always amazed by people who succeed at very high levels. It’s something that, yeah, inspires me and motivates me. Absolutely. So, the world of real estate introduced me to a mindset that I wasn’t necessarily very much surrounded by. I was surrounded by great people. I was surrounded by people that were happy, especially in the travel industry, which is a very happy industry. There’s no doubt about it because we were selling dreams, and good times.  But there’s no doubt that it’s not the same mindset. The world of real estate has opened that up to me and completely changed the way I view the world, the way I view my life, and how I live my life. I am very grateful for that.

How do you see your future in the real estate industry with all the changes we are facing in the world, the economy, our lifestyles, and other variables that are constantly evolving in this industry?

Even though we do have a lot of factors right now that are uncertain and there’s a lot of instability in the world, I would say that my goal when I started in real estate continues to be the same, which is to build partnerships with my clients and see them grow. My sales expertise and my diverse business experience, I think are my biggest weapons and my greatest gifts that I have for my clients. There are many brokers that have more experience than I do, that know the brokerage business perhaps better than I do. But I do believe that I have a huge advantage when it comes to selling. What I mean by selling is not about selling to people something they don’t need, but being a great salesperson. And my father was one of the great salespeople out there, and it’s funny because, you know, sometimes we do get passed on certain things from our parents, and that’s definitely a trait I got from father. 

Being a great salesperson is someone who cares, who listens, who understands, who seeks      to be a part of something bigger than just for themselves. And regardless of what’s happening right now, I hope to continue to build partnerships with my clients where I see them grow. And I have. I’ve helped some clients come from very small, or sometimes nothing, to achieving great things, and obviously it’s done the same for me because through their trust, I’ve been able to grow. That fulfills me a lot. And so, with what’s happening in the world, I hope to continue to be that trusted advisor to them, so that as things evolve and change, I can still be someone that guides them and that they can trust me to take them in the right direction. And      that’s what I love doing.  I believe in doing well and being successful and passing that on and doing good.  That is what drives me and working with clients who want to do the same. 

I believe you’re currently working on getting other certifications. Can you tell us more about those?

Absolutely. So, I’m very excited about this because this will bring me closer and closer to my love of architecture & construction. I completed my RBQ license exams during 2022 during Covid confinement.  I am also trying to complete an online in Interior Design certification – a bit less time than during Covid! Those two will lead to building a resort & cottage development up in the Laurentians, which I’ve conceptualized from the branding, to the architecture, to the services & the financial strategy.  Eventually, I will be looking for investors, partners, seeing how we’re going to bring this project to life. Everything is designed on paper and is a concept that will come to life – in due time. These certifications allow me to do better work,  to be more skilled in my profession,  and will continue to add tools to my toolbox for my current clients and future clients. I work a lot with investors and with many clients who will buy a property, renovate it, change the configuration and layouts of the units. My experience has allowed me to learn how to do that very well, and when I find a building I can identify the opportunities quickly. Having these additional certifications give me an added edge to be able to help property owners increase the value and potential income of their property which is what all investors and owners are looking for today.  For me, real estate goes beyond brokerage now and I am building a business of various real estate solutions, from A to Z as are my initials!  

I want to know about what kind of partners or investors are you looking for primarily if they’re reading this?

Thank you.  I’m looking for partners who are looking to not only succeed financially in good projects but looking for partners that want to do good for our communities. I believe right now the world is in crisis, and there is plenty of wealth to go around to find solutions. I’m looking for people who want to do great things with their wealth to be able to enhance our communities. This resort & cottage concept will have an aspect that is of community.  I hope it also leads towards the ultimate project I’d like to create, which is a philanthropic project, again, in the objective of doing good, mainly for youth. In terms of what type of investors, I am leaning towards inspiring women, and also open to good people, men & women, who want to create a better world for themselves and others. I encourage women, especially with me being in commercial real estate, for us to start being more involved and more present in the real estate investment world. And so, there’s no doubt that I welcome women to be able to be a part of this journey. 

Are you looking more for financial partners or partners that can add value (builders, architects, designers, etc).

Of course.  It would be as much on the financial side as it would be on the skill side because, you know, I am building this dream team. It’s going to take a village to be able to create this village and this concept. And, as you know, choosing the right partners is key in bringing a dream to life.  Carefully choosing a small yet focused group that is passionate about what we’re doing is definitely in my goals.

Can you talk to us a bit more about what the project will entail? Are you building one cottage? Are you building a bunch? Does it depend on the projects? 

Well, I do want to build several, there’s no doubt. The concept will definitely have that aspect of community I mentioned. I personally recently owned a property up north, and that balance of being able to come up north, be in nature, disconnect from the craziness of the city is something that I was privileged to know as a kid as well. I didn’t appreciate it probably the same way, and recently now have been able to do it in the last few years, and I want to bring that to more people and in a way that is hassle free and financially beneficial. We want to be able to create something that will give that quick access to people to buy something, get into it quickly, enjoy it quickly and benefit from it for themselves and their families. And most importantly, create a great community doing that.  Everything is thought out.  I will not say more. Time will tell when it is unveiled! 

We talked a lot about obviously being a strong voice for women. Why do women inspire you so much? 

Well, as I mentioned, I spoke about my mother, she was a single mom. And, you know, when we see women who juggle so many aspects, especially working moms, that have great partners and husbands and spouses at home, there is something about women and having an additional task and additional weight on women’s shoulders.  I think it’s remarkable how more and more women are just stepping out, taking big risks and achieving greatness. They’re doing it very often with class and in collaboration. And that’s what I’m starting to see more and more. There is a stigma around women being catty, bitchy or competitive. I would say from being in the commercial world with many men, the competition between men is fierce. I’ve always said that I’m a dolphin in a shark tank, even when I was in other businesses. Early on in my career, I was given this book, La Stratégie du Dauphin, which I’m sure is a translation in English, but I had read it at the time in French, and it’s exactly how I work. I work like a dolphin, I’m strategic, and I believe in working as a group and as a team. That’s how women are in their natural habitat. That’s how we are: we’re nurturing, we’re caring.  These are the qualities of women, and I think it’s remarkable to be able to do that in a world that keeps wanting to push us towards competition and towards being more aggressive, and it’s not necessary. I think it’s very possible to win, and to win big, by doing it in a kind and caring way. You just have to be smart, you just have to know what you’re talking about, and to be perseverant, and that’s why women definitely inspire me. 

You’ve already done so much, but it feels like you still want to do so much more. Are there any long term plans that you want to accomplish that you can tell us about? 

I’ve talked to you a little bit about the resort & cottages. But my greatest accomplish will be my foundation and a special project that I too have already designed.  And so, I’m not going to say much more, but there’s no doubt that I was born to lead. I had great bosses in my life, many of which today are friends and that years and years after we’ve stopped working together have become dear friends. But I know myself. I am an entrepreneur at heart, I am very creative and full of ideas. Now that I have the foundation in terms of the network, the wisdom, and the experience, I can now really start putting together my life’s work. And for some that begins at 30, some at 40, and when I turned 50, it all began for me. And it really feels like I’ve only just begun.  I truly feel like I am at my mid-point in life, or maybe even less.

Photography – Shaune Thompson

You’re just getting started. You come up as someone who wants to approach your work in your life with a positive and balanced mindset. Is this accurate? And if so, how would you advise people to approach their everyday lives to find success, happiness, and fulfillment? 

I’ve always been someone who loves to play. I ski, play tennis, cycle, love to travel, spend endless hours with my 9-year-old Goldendoodle Bailey.  I am an introvert and love my books. I am a life lover.  Even though I was most of my life a good student, I always wanted to play, and I would leave things to the last minute when it came to schoolwork. So, it’s part of my nature to like to play, and I just think that it is so important to find a way to make life playful. I learned a word that was explained to me in detail at a Deepak Chopra conference a few summers ago, here in Mont-Tremblant, and the word is Lila. Lila in Sanskrit, simply means the play of life. If one investigates spirituality, our life is a play, and we choose to be actors in a certain way, and we can choose to have a character in a drama series, in an action movie, in a comedy, and that play is up to us to design it. It’s taken me a lot of years to get to this point. I’m not saying that I was there, you know, in my 20s and 30s. But I would say that the best thing I did, and real estate opened my eyes to that, or the people that I met in real estate opened my eyes to that, is to work on myself, invest in myself when I was broke and to do a lot of inner work and to be able to deal with whatever I had to deal with to become that person that enjoys life, and that has a life that is balanced and fulfilled. The more I connect to that, and I stay present to living that way, the easier life gets, the more opportunities come my way, the more I’m having fun, and the better I am for others, because if we’re that person for ourselves, we can be that person to our families, our friends, our colleagues, and our communities. And that’s definitely something that I try to live by. We attract the energy that we are. Another difficult lesson of losing everything. But all worth it. 

Now something that we didn’t really talk about, but you did mention it already in being your big project is the field of philanthropy. Why is it such an important value to you and how do you plan on making a change in the future?

Well, again, I’m going to quote my mom, but as a young age, I remember being in the car and her having to stop at Steinberg at the time in our area and picking up perishable goods and baked goods that were going to waste from the grocery store and bringing them to the church to donate. These were things and activities that very early on in my life I was surrounded by and exposed to often. Even until this day, my mom just turned 81, and she has a – I will call it – “a business” because she is running a small operation where she helps refugees and collects furniture and the essentials as they arrive in the country with nothing.  She helps them move and coordinates it all, and still until this day, this is something that she does, that she’s passionate about. Everyone in our area knows about her and knows what she does, and it’s just become something  to me that is normal. I’m a very blessed and fortunate person. It’s not always been an easy life, but I certainly know that it is a blessed life, and it’s just part of, you know, doing what I need to do to do to help, just like brushing my teeth. I fundraise and am very involved with the Royal LePage Shelter Foundation, a cause that is very near and dear to most Royal LePagers across the country. For 25 years, we helped raise for $43M for women and children living with domestic violence. 

Our office specifically does a really cool walk where men walk in red high heel shoes, stiletto shoes, and they walk a mile, a whole mile, 1.6 kilometres in N.D.G. to raise funds and awareness.  This has been a cause that I’ve been fundraising funds for the past 7 years and we’ve raised over $30,000. In the last year, I have been working closely with investors and organizations to help youth with the housing crisis.  This is no doubt an important focus of mine in my real estate business and my philanthropic endeavors.  To me this is just scratching the surface of what I want to do in terms of giving back because, ultimately, all the wealth and the work that I’m putting into my real estate business and everything career-wise, it’s for a goal of creating a foundation and giving back. When I hear multimillionaires and billionaires choosing to give their fortunes, such as Patagonia, and what Patagonia is going to be doing with their fortune, this is to me what life is. If you work all your life to be able to build something great and have the passion for that, and then once you’re ready to exit the business world, you start thinking of how to give it back, then that is a life well lived. 

“Let’s do this”. 

For me, I definitely want to be an inspiration to people that are stuck or aren’t sure if it’s time or they want to move or they should be making a change. I want to really encourage people to take chances and jump and take action. And so, let’s do this for me is just a fun way to say, come on, like let’s try this. There’s nothing to lose. We think we have so much to lose and really there isn’t. There’s more to lose in not trying. So, it’s taking action, and that’s what I want to encourage your readers and anyone who’s going to read this article or any others about women that have taken chances and taken leaps of faith and jumped without parachutes to just do it and see where they land, and I’m sure it’s going to be some place great.

Cover Photography – Shaune Thompson

For more information on listings, and to work with Aline visit her website

Follow @AlineZafirianRealEstate on Instagram.

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