Profile -- The coastal agent

Living by the beach might be an Australian dream, but selling real estate in coastal areas isn’t always easy. Real Estate Business talks to Denise Jillett, an award-winning coastal agent who reveals how she mixes business with pleasure to record great results

THERE’S NO such thing as ‘just popping out for a quick coffee’ in Yamba, on the NSW far north coast.

“I have to allow 15 to 20 minutes to grab a quick coffee and come back to the office,” Denise Jillett, principal at Raine & Horne Yamba, says.

“I will leave the office and I will pass three vendors, one holidaymaker, two tenants, an ex-landlord and then, on the way back, the same people.

You can’t just put your head down and walk past people in Yamba.

“People expect you to stop and you always do.”

Ask any local and they’ll tell you that Yamba is the perfect place to live. In fact, even the CSIRO and Stanford University in the United States have declared Yamba has the best climate in the world (along with San Diego, California and Bunbury, WA) in which to live, work or play.

Not a bad claim to fame for a tourist town whose population more than doubles during peak holiday season. And it’s not hard to see why: typical summer temperatures vary from 19 to 30 degrees Celsius, while in winter they range from 10 to 20 degrees Celsius. Yamba’s warm ocean currents also allow you to swim all year round.

Not surprisingly, Ms Jillett never has an issue finding staff.

“People love the lifestyle on offer here,” she says. “It is a great area to raise a family because you are part of a small community and you’ve got a lovely, safe community atmosphere.”

BUSINESS CHALLENGES
Despite the area’s obvious appeal, however, running a real estate business in Yamba has its challenges.

Ms Jillett has worked as an agent in the small coastal town for 18 years, taking over the running of Raine & Horne Yamba 15 years ago. With seven staff members – three in sales and four in property management – her office has been awarded the group’s prestigious Chairman’s Award for Excellence.

“My biggest challenge is overcoming the overall drop in consumer confidence,” she says. “There are a lot of people that have the ability to buy property or can afford to holiday. However, the drop of confidence across the board has seen those people be a lot more hesitant, perhaps, to make the commitment.”

Despite the ocean lapping at the town’s eastern side and the perfect climate, Yamba is experiencing a lull in the market. At the moment, days on market sits at 112 for houses and 140 for units, well above the average of years gone by.

“Another challenge is educating people on the current market,” Ms Jillett says. “It is hard for people to hear that the days on market has grown, that they are facing some stiff competition or, for a seller, that they’ve got a lot of competition at the moment. It really is a buyer’s market.”

Ms Jillett currently has 86 properties listed for sale, ranging from houses and units that start at $240,000 through to waterfront homes that can reach over $1.5 million.

“Our days on market have grown a fair bit in the latter half of 2011 and 2012, and they are longer than what they have been in quite some time,” she says. “Properties that are priced right are still selling, but one of the biggest challenges we have at the moment is to educate people on current market conditions.”

BRANDING
In a small coastal town like Yamba, promoting your brand is paramount to having a successful real estate business, says Ms Jillett.

“We do all the things you would expect us to do, including direct mail to our established client base,” she says.

“We have 10 websites that we maintain as part of our marketing and promotion, and we do have the ability to have online short-notice holiday bookings.

“We have also integrated Facebook and Twitter into our marketing and promotions, and we still do the tried and true methods of print [advertising] in local newspapers.

“Having said that, it is quite often the case that the best marketing we have is word of mouth and promoting ourselves as a brand. You have to look at it as a complete package, but I don’t think any of the technology-based marketing is as valuable to me as our word-of-mouth reputation.”  

With a population of just over 6,000, Ms Jillett says it is her personalised service that sets her apart from her competition in Yamba.

“Working in a small regional or coastal town you must make sure you are doing everything you can to build the best reputation,” she says. “You want to be the ‘go to’ person in that town.

“I work really hard on building long-term relationships because I know that in the smaller towns word of mouth is just so important. You’ve really only got one chance to build a reputation – there is nowhere to hide in a small town. You really want to make sure you are doing everything you can to build a reputation that you can be proud of.”

PROPERTY MANAGEMENT
One example of the personalised service that Ms Jillett offers is the limitations she has in place on her rent roll. She will only take on 300 properties at any one time, with holiday letting taking up just 15 per cent of that number.

“We give a personalised service with our rent roll, both permanent and holiday,” she explains.

“We are quite particular in what we do take on, in terms of the quality of the property, the conditions of the property and the owner’s expectations.

“We like to offer things the other agents can’t offer, but you can only do that if you limit a bit how far you stretch yourself.”

With holiday letting, she includes gifts on arrival, explaining that it is small gestures like this that see occupants coming back year after year.

“We have had the same holiday tenants come back to the same unit in the same building for over 20 years,” she says.

Holiday letting does, however, come with its challenges.

“During the peak times you are riding the high, you are getting a great rental rate and renting properties at a premium price,” she says. “In the winter months you have to work harder to maintain the occupancy rate, and you may have to be prepared to negotiate on your rate.”

Despite the challenges that Ms Jillett faces in working in a coastal town, she wouldn’t have it any other way.

“I remember falling in love with the area when I first came to Yamba,” she says, “and nothing has changed.”

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