A drive to succeed in real estate has helped Leo Dardha from hockingstuart make it to the top of the industry ladder. He speaks to Real Estate Business about his career and his journey from the bottom rung, as an office intern, to becoming owner of his own office just seven years later
AT ONLY 28 years of age, Leo Dardha may appear young, but his 10-year career in real estate has seen him mature into one of the industry’s high achievers.
The Melbourne-based agent’s foray into real estate began when he was 18 and was introduced to a group of agents at a local restaurant. He was told if he wanted to become an agent he would need to complete a short course at the Real Estate Institute of Victoria (REIV).
Within two weeks he had completed the course and was given a junior position at hockingstuart, working for two directors who managed a network of offices in Yarraville, Altona and Kensington. These men would eventually become his business partners.
For six months, Mr Dardha worked at the Altona office doing whatever he could to get experience in the field.
“I was taking out the mail – that was my weekly chore – looking after reception for an hour a day, doing letter box drops every single day, putting out signs and assisting the other sales team in the office,” he recalls.
“I really wanted to make it in real estate, so I decided to learn and I took it with both hands.”
While his peers earned money from factory work, Mr Dardha was working for free.
His persistence eventually paid off when he was given an opportunity to work for the co-director of hockingstuart Yarraville.
“I worked directly under the director at the time and that was literally doing everything from assisting at auctions, to open for inspections and appraisals. There I really fine-tuned my skills,” he says.
Over three years, Mr Dardha gained further experience in listing and selling properties and was a fully-fledged agent by the time he completed his auctioneers’ certificate.
“At that time, things started to really transpire very quickly for me, and then in my prominent area of Yarraville, I started to get offers from local agents and the wider area asking me to work for them,” he explains.
“I received a handsome offer from a real estate office at that point in time and I had a serious decision to make: Do I take this short-term gain and leave and jump ship to another company, or do I stick with a network that had obviously been the brand that I wanted to work for?
“At that point, the directors [of hockingstuart] weren’t able to match it, but the guarantee was that there was an opportunity for me in the business for the long term – within a 12-month period I could become a partner of three hockingstuart offices: Yarraville, Altona and Kensington.”
With his goal being to open his own office, Mr Dardha stayed with hockingstuart, describing it as the best decision he ever made.
Two years later, aged 23, he was elevated to the role of a junior partner working alongside four other directors in the Yarraville, Altona and Kensington network.
“It enabled me to learn how to run a business,” he says. “I was mentored in the group called YAK and then I got to experience the network to its full potential by engaging in directors’ conferences and really getting to know and understand all the other directors in the network.”
After two years, the partners eventually reached a crossroads, with each director wanting to move in different directions. “We decided it was best if everyone went their separate ways and that’s basically what happened,” he says.
“The Kensington office was retained by one of the partners. Yarraville was retained by myself, wholly, and Altona was retained by two of the other partners.”
With the network of offices splitting, staff members were given choices of where they wanted to work. Ninety per cent of the Yarraville office remained with Mr Dardha.
“That was a humbling factor and I guess it came down to hockingstuart, the brand itself, myself as a director and a leader, and my direction, because one of the partners did venture into another company.”
TAKING THE REINS
This month marks two years since Mr Dardha became sole director of hockingstuart Yarraville.
“The last two years have been wonderful,” he says. “We took off in our first 12 months in real estate and we grew our rental book by 150 properties.
“Increasing our turnover by 20 per cent in our first 12 months of business was a real buzz and it was put down to a few things: hard work, persistence, teamwork, and the strength of a brand that supported me through that period, with the marketing and some of the best training in Melbourne.”
Mr Dardha also attributes his success to regular goal setting and having the right people around him.
“I believe in having goals and reading them every day, every week, every month, and understanding where you want to be in 12 months, two years, five years. If you strive for what you’re after, you will achieve it,” he says.
“With the support of a large network, I’m able to pick up the phone and discuss business, real estate, advise and bounce ideas off colleagues in the real estate industry. This has been imperative and has been one of the big things that have really helped us get to where we are today.”
It has been a rapid decade full of growth and change for Mr Dardha’s career in real estate.
“It was only yesterday that I was in the Altona office saying, ‘What do I do here? What does a real estate agent do?’ Now 10 years later, it’s my show and I’m in charge and I am the present owner and I pay the bills and I lead the troops to battle,” he says.
His goal for the next five to 10 years, he says confidently, is to ensure hockingstuart Yarraville remains the brand of choice and the workplace of choice in Melbourne’s inner west.