YOU PURCHASED WENTWORTH IN DECEMBER 2011. HOW HAS THE BUSINESS BEEN INTEGRATED WITHIN THE CENTURY 21 AUSTRALIA BUSINESS?
It’s all rebranded with CENTURY 21.
Corporatising of property management is what this exercise was all about under the Wentworth banner.
I still think property management is a very personal business, and a very ‘shop front’ business, in terms of people wanting to deal with a local agent.
[But] now, I don’t believe necessarily that’s a good thing. I’ve always thought in everything we’ve done in sales, one of the mantras is, if I build a relationship, the conditions become negotiable. But when I look at property management now, seven or eight months down the line, I’m not comfortable with that position, that property managers should be building relationships with landlords or tenants.
I believe that the relationship should be built with the business, not with individuals. And that’s something I’ve discovered in the industry having come back into it, not just from a franchisor point of view, but from an ownership point of view, it’s very, very risky. This is completely opposite to the way I used to look at the business.
And this is the same whether it’s an average property manager or a very good property manager. If you’ve got a really good property manager and they go on holidays for four or six weeks, and you get a temp in or another person in the office to handle the managements, well, overnight, the relationship that landlord has with that property manager could cause damage because that person’s not there.
I’m rewriting a technology platform to bolt into the middle, between our landlords and tenants, our software, and our office, so that we can create an environment, to work within this electronic platform … where the relationship is with the business.
HOW DO THE FORMER WENTWORTH OFFICES FIT IN WITH THE C21 NETWORK?
A couple of them were in locations where we were. I’ve managed to merge those franchisees into the business.
We’ve achieved that in six of the 10 offices, and we have applications for two more in Victoria to do exactly the same. That was a big thing for me, to develop the sales side of the business. That’s a hard part because you lose managements – and people will sell – and if you’re just perceived as a property management company you won’t get the [sales] call.
DO YOU STILL WANT TO HAVE SOME PERSONAL RELATIONSHIPS?
You do need to have the personal relationship; however, there is a significant amount of information that a landlord or tenant requires most of the time. As an investor myself, when I sit down to do my work on properties, it’s generally when the property manager is asleep, or it’s on a Sunday when they don’t work.
It’s amazing when you open up an envelope which you may have received, or an email, and you see something that doesn’t make sense. Well, guess what? You can’t contact the person you want to contact. You end up leaving voicemails, sending emails, and some people don’t get back to you.
IS THIS NOT DISSIMILAR FROM HOW WE NOW DEAL WITH BANKS?
That’s a very good analogy. I can’t remember the last time I walked down to the bank and stood in a queue to find out what my bank balance was – because that’s what it used to be like.
The [property management] industry itself hasn’t moved with its own technology, it’s stayed back [with] those older ways of doing things.
Technology has continued to move forward and we haven’t taken advantage of it … as an individual investor I would want to have control of my property, and to be able to do things without having to lean on a person, or wait for a person to get back to me.
All of our software over the years I’ve ‘specked’ out myself, personally. It’s basically built on alerts and reminders to keep everybody in touch at crucial times, giving a landlord complete flexibility to do whatever they want to do with their property and their money, and giving a tenant the opportunity to engage with the agent to see what else is on the market.
DOES THIS FREE UP TIME FOR THESE OFFICES TO BE DOING OTHER THINGS?
Yes – to grow. And they can do their job better, they can do their inspections, they can do more inspections and take time with their inspections instead of being in a constant rush.
So, this is designed to completely free them up to do what they really should be doing – not chasing a cheque or chasing a payment to somebody or chasing a plumber who hasn’t done a job. The technology can notify that plumber and keep everybody on alert in real time. If the plumbers and suppliers don’t want to get involved in this, then they won’t get our business.
WHY ARE SHOP FRONTS STILL IMPORTANT?
I’m a big believer in remaining part of the community, and I think when you remove your businesses upstairs, all of a sudden – unless you’re in the city [CBD] of Sydney where it doesn’t matter – you don’t have the people who are walking past and looking in real estate windows. In those local areas one of the big things is belonging to the community, and if you’re away from the community the only time they see you is on the internet or on your signs, and you don’t have that shop front.
Another one of those reasons is it gives exposure to the brand, and [futhermore], commercial leasing space has become quite negotiable over the past few years. Some people might think it’s old fashioned, but I think the more of those shop fronts you see out there, the stronger you think the company you’re dealing with is.