Talk about hitting the ground running. When Allison Mifsud, principal and sales executive at First National Epping Central, found out 15 months ago that her previous employer was about to leave the First National group, she took immediate action. Not only did the 10 year-plus real estate veteran of Sydney’s inner north-western suburb of Epping take up the option of setting up a new First National agency, she began selling hard. Very hard, as it turns out.
In its first year, between two agents the office completed 82 sales, making five out of the top eight sales in Epping in its first eight months. Granted, Ms Mifsud had worked for the previous operator for nine years, so she had the advantage of being familiar with the area. Yet her ability to rack up such strong sales suggests she knows how to meet her customers’ needs.
Ms Mifsud’s approach obviously works: she has collected numerous sales-related trophies including First National’s top sales representative in 2005, as well as several of its Diamond Elite awards from 2003 onwards.
Keeping it regular
Ms Mifsud says she has always strived to cover all the bases when it comes to dealing with clients and generating new business. “Regular client follow-up by phone, email and simple real estate fundamentals are still valid,” she says. “This is all done through our database and attaching tasks to all clients.” A ‘task’ is simply a reminder placed in her database about when she should next contact a potential seller depending on their likely buying timeframe.
More than just keeping in touch, Ms Mifsud says the “buyer-matching system” that her office uses ensures potential purchasers are kept up to date with listings targeted to their specific buying criteria. “Our Utopia database automates the process but gives our customers control,” she says. “It even allows them to join or leave via our website, plus we can set the timeframe by which it checks back with them to make sure they’re still looking. That way our buyer lists are always fresh and accurate.
“It saves hours of phone work contacting buyers. When we list a new property, it matches, emails and SMSs our clients in minutes.”
Ms Mifsud says the company database allows them to communicate with over 3,000 potential buyers at least twice a week. A template system also simplifies the company’s advertising program. Social media is not yet a focus of her marketing effort, she adds, but is likely to become much more important to her business in the future.
The agency has a Facebook page and she is planning to issue more regular updates over the next 12 months. She also pays close attention to her firm’s website, while First National assists with search engine optimisation strategies to help ensure her firm ranks highly when buyers use an internet search engine to find an agent to use in her area.
Emphasising the influence of customers, Ms Mifsud estimates that 50 per cent of the agency’s business is either repeat or referral work. Regarding referrals, she says she has had a long-term relationship with a couple of mortgage brokers and local solicitors.
“When referring a solicitor to a potential seller or buyer, I just give them two or three to call and they decide,” she says. “They do the same when they are seeing a client who is about to go onto the market. There are no referral fees – it’s just to help each other out.”
She emphasises that she would not recommend to a client a professional she wouldn’t use herself. Ms Mifsud ensures she has constant interaction with her professional referral partners.
“We chat on a regular basis so I can get a feel for how they are finding the market with the amount of transactions they are doing,” she says.
Epping, which has one of Sydney’s largest Chinese populations, has experienced a sharp rise in its average sale price when compared to surrounding suburbs. Ms Mifsud attributes this to the proximity of Macquarie University, the new Epping to Chatswood rail link, highly sought-after local schools and the increase in employment in the nearby North Ryde business park.
“There are a lot of beautifully restored period-style homes on generous blocks within a walk to the rail station that are considered the top end of the market, and these are priced between $1.2 million and $1.6 million,” she says.
“The Asian market seems to be more attracted to the knock-down/ rebuild properties as they prefer the more modern homes.
“A knock-down within a walk of the rail station can sell in a range of about $850,000 to $1.1 million.”
When marketing to Chinese buyers, she sometimes uses one of the Chinese newspapers that are published across Sydney. Advertisements are submitted in English and translated by the newspaper.
“I target the wording in the advertising text to appeal to them if I feel it is a style of house that will appeal,” she says.
Gas-cooking facilities and proximity to good schools and universities are two items that generally attract interest amongst Chinese buyers, she adds, while swimming pools and non-brick houses leave them cold.
A new revenue stream
Ms Mifsud has only recently established a property management division within her firm, and is keen to purchase a rent roll in the near future. She says that setting up a management arm wasn’t initially a priority as it wasn’t something in which she had expertise.
“My focus when starting the office was sales, due to my experience in sales and to build up the cash flow.”
Now the firm has adequate cash flow, she hopes the acquisition of a rent roll will help give the business stable income over the long term.
“Sales can fluctuate depending on the market but property management is guaranteed income,” she says.
Moreover, it is essential in building up the value of her business, as a real estate agency is generally valued on the income that property management delivers.
Mifsud cites continuing training as something she feels passionately about when quizzed on issues that affect the real estate agent industry.
“I support the value of ongoing professional development and the benefits it delivers to consumers,” she says. “It’s important that the industry continues to lift its standards and not do away with initiatives that enhance its credibility in the eyes of consumers.”