Numbers matter in real estate.
In Peter Sissons’ case, however, it’s not necessarily the number of properties his Brisbane-based agency Sissons Real Estate has sold over the years, as impressive as that is – particularly in one year, when he sold more than 500.
Sitting with him at his inner-city Red Hill office, it’s apparent that Mr Sissons takes as much pride in telling you about the properties he’s decided not to list – usually because of vendors with overly-ambitious price expectations – rather than the ones he has sold.
Nor is it the number of years he has spent in the industry – 30 and counting – or the number of Real Estate Institute of Queensland (REIQ) Agency of the Year Awards for Excellence that his firm has won (seven over the past 11 years).
No, the number that stands out is three.
That’s the number of Real Estate Institute of Australia (REIA) Best Agency Awards for Excellence the agency has won – over three consecutive years – which, in turn, led to its induction into the Real REIA Hall of Fame.
“We are now one of only two agencies nationwide to have ever attained this honour,” he says.
Peter Sissons was born in Yorkshire, England and his first occupation was with the British armed services. While that might have been a world away, the lessons learned in those early days still resonate with him today.
“During that part of my life I learned very quickly that near enough was not good enough, and that if a job needs doing, it should be done well,” he says.
Following his time in the military, he entered the hospitality industry – a known breeding ground for real estate professionals – specifically, managing hotels in Brisbane. Mr Sissons’ parents had owned pubs in England and as he points out, grinning clearly, “in the armed services we were quite proficient in going into a lot of licensed establishments – and we travelled all over the world inspecting them as well.
“Then, I picked up an ad one day that said, ‘Earn $100,000 a year in real estate’. So, I thought I might give that a crack.”
The people skills he had honed in the hospitality industry translated well to the real estate sector. “Both industries are a people business,” he says.
“It’s about people, and it’s about being able to handle personally very inhospitable hours.”
Mr Sissons has recruited many people in his 30 years in the industry, 20 of which as principal at Sissons Real Estate. One of the key things he checks before employing someone is not just what they think about the varied and long hours they’ll need to work each week, but what their partners feel about this aspect of the role.
And the long hours are essential if agents want to do well, says the manager of nine staff members.
“A buyer rings you up at 5pm on Saturday afternoon and they’d like to put an offer in,” he says. “Well, you’ve got two types of people: you’ve got one who says, ‘I can meet you at 6.30pm’ because making the sale is very important to them and then you’ve got the type of person who says,
‘Well, would you like to drop into my office at 10am on Monday?’
“There’s a massive difference between the people who are going to get the sales and those that are not,” he says.
But if his staff are willing to do those sorts of hours so too is Mr Sissons himself.
“A leader should never ask a team member to do anything they would not do themselves,” he says. “I believe in leading from in front, and always being available for my staff to provide support and advice. I work an open door policy: I think it is of paramount importance that a leader be available to support and encourage all team members every day.”
Work hours aside, he believes a successful sales agent is one who does three things well: “Prospecting, prospecting and prospecting.”
SETTING THE BENCHMARK
Mr Sissons is clear on how he conducts business.
“There are still principals in Brisbane that are saying, ‘the market is fantastic, we’ve just had our best month ever…’ and they tend to be principals under the age of 35 who believe that the educated marketplace will believe that.
“It’s not happening.”
Honesty is paramount to Mr Sissons, so much so that he recently wrote an opinion piece for Real Estate Business saying that agents must be more upfront with vendors about what their property is worth.
“We provide honest and accurate market appraisals, so if the seller does decide to list with us, we know we can sell their property,” he says. “Put simply, we don’t do ‘hit and miss’ [appraisals] and we have a hard-earned reputation for being able to do what we say we can do.”
Flat markets don’t alter that approach.
“I personally feel the old-fashioned way of overpricing a property to win the listing and then submitting the seller to ‘vendor conditioning’ is old hat,” he says. “I feel it is better to be honest about current market value to sellers, which enables them to make educated decisions when it comes to whether they list their property for sale.
“This one thing would make a huge difference to the way our industry is perceived by the general public.”
Another aspect of his business about which Mr Sissons feels strongly is the quality of marketing.
Years spent working in project marketing large residential developments heightened his appreciation for polished promotional materials, and ultimately inspired his decision to get into brokerage real estate.
“If brokerage real estate was approached with the same professionalism as a developer would do, it would have a massive impact on the industry,” he recalls thinking before shifting his career focus.
His appreciation of marketing led him to become one of the first Brisbane agents to list online and also to engage a copywriter. “Everything [at that time] was adjective-based. Everything was ‘huge’ and ‘big’ and ‘massive’,” he recalls with a chuckle. He also brought in a professional photographer well before many others.
Much of Mr Sissons’ marketing is templated, including his brochures and signage, ensuring consistency.
Floor plans are also an integral part of his listings. “There are still a number of agents who think that $195 of a vendor’s money spent on a floor plan is a waste of money,” he laments.
The net results, according to Mr Sissons, are an average conversion rate in excess of 90 per cent of his agency’s listings to settled sales (over a number of years), while one in every three of his firm’s clients has been referred by a previous client, or are repeat sellers, buyers or landlords.
THE INTERNET AGE
Mr Sissons believes the internet will shake up the real estate industry in a way that has never before been experienced.
“A star performer in an office can now – [considering] the marketing of real estate is predominately internet-based – leave an office and set up the persona of a real estate business on the internet from their lounge room.
“There are real estate businesses in Brisbane that are running from people’s lounge rooms that look just as good on the internet as businesses that have got the infrastructure around them.
“Where we go now is totally internet-driven,” he says. “The interaction between human beings is dropping very, very quickly.” Particularly for the younger generations, he adds.
But before the industry takes on the challenges and opportunities of the future, it’s time it took notice of the past regarding agent qualifications, Mr Sissons believes.
“When I first entered the industry you had to earn your stripes,” he recalls. “Things were rote learned, and not nearly as hit and miss as they are today. Interestingly, at that time, you had to be a licensed salesperson for a minimum of five years before you could even apply for a principal’s licence. It was in effect just the same as an apprenticeship.
“Today, it is just too easy to get the licence and as a result, we have people with the bit of paper but none of the experience of working with people.”
It’s obvious that for Mr Sissons, real estate isn’t just about getting the sale; there’s a proper way to do business and vendors in particular must be treated with respect.
So, perhaps those most qualified to judge Mr Sissons’ standing are the people that matter most in real estate, and that’s the clients. One testimonial, from a couple who used Sissons Real Estate to sell their property, stands out from a number that Mr Sissons includes in his listing kit.
Without fanfare, they say: “It is a relief to deal with an agent who knows his market and is honourable, an old-fashioned word for a trait rarely found in business.”
Yes, numbers do count in real estate. After all, you assume Mr Sissons did get the price this couple wanted. But, as their note suggests, numbers aren’t everything.