IN A competitive real estate market, Robinson Property, which has been in operation for over 40 years, has performed strongly.
This is shown by the Newcastle-based agency’s sales figures for 2012, which were $313,275,400 from 697 sales – figures that, if they had entered, would have ranked them highly in the recent Top 50 Sales Offices ranking.
The family-run business has grown significantly from its early days as a boutique agency with five staff to three offices in The Junction, Nelson Bay and Shoal Bay.
General manager of Robinson Property, Matthew Waddell, tells Real Estate Business that the strength of the brand is in the independence it provides staff.
“Our philosophy is that they’re running their own business under our banner,” he says. “We give them all the tools and we give them all the training … but they’re the ones out there running the business.
“If everyone is enjoying what they are doing and feeling that they are an integral part of the company, it makes for a successful business,” adds Robinson Property director, Guy Robinson.
With two of the agency’s agents making last year’s Real Estate Business Top 100 Agents ranking – Ben Robinson and Michael Flook – the approach has obvious merit. But it’s not a team of individuals working in isolation from each other. Mr Robinson is keen to emphasise how quick each team member is to help each other with sales.
Moreover, the way the company is structured sees Mr Waddell and Mr Robinson, for the most part, not handling sales. This allows them to work ‘outside’ the business, giving them the benefit of being able to look at the entire business strategically, keeping their eyes firmly on the big picture.
Mr Robinson also describes his business model as one that is change-orientated.
“We’ve got staff who are very used to changing and can adapt to change very quickly,” he says.
Moreover, it’s a diversified business.
“We have diversified into many areas, including residential property management, residential sales, land subdivisions, development feasibility and marketing, holiday accommodation, finance and we’re now looking at doing more commercial management,” he continues.
“We are always looking at what areas complement our existing business, and having diversity makes the business more resilient.”
Mr Robinson says embracing property management has been vital to the sustainability of their business.
“Property management is the constant and the reliable cash flow that allows you to grow your business with confidence. We manage nearly 3,000 residential properties and are always looking to grow, whether by acquiring existing business or organic growth,” he says.
The office’s property management department has been set up with what the team believes is a more efficient and landlord-friendly structure.
“We don’t really have property managers in that sense,” Mr Robinson says. “We don’t run a portfolio-type situation. We’ve got specialised leasing offices, a specialised inspection team, tenancy services, units, repairs.”
The company has specialised staff to look after everything from inspections to repairs, as well as a liaison for clients.
“The vast majority of our owners love it because they’ll talk to the leasing consultant that just did the open house,” Mr Robinson says. “They know exactly what’s going on and they build a relationship over time with the different people.
“If the owner needs to ring up, they’ll ring the liaison first. Depending on the extent of it … we’d actually get them to speak directly to the inspection person ... There is an opportunity to go to the source, so to speak.”
Additionally, Mr Waddell says the benefit of having a liaison employee is that they are always in the office.
“If you ring up, you’re going to get them most of the time, whereas under the old system the property manager and the property officer would always be out doing something.”
The agency prides itself on being professional and transparent with its clients.
“We are working really hard to get a lot more transparency around all the transactions that happen,” Mr Robinson says. “We’re not into any of the tricks. When we say tricks, we mean underquoting and over-quoting.
“We know why agents are doing it but it’s just frustrating, non-transparent and tricky, and it obviously doesn’t show the industry in a good light.”
He adds that another issue he feels strongly about is not putting a price on properties.
“There’s always going to be a certain case where you get special properties that you want to do a particularly special treatment on because they’re so unique,” he says. But that’s generally the exception, they say.
To ensure a stress-free transaction, Robinson Property gives information brochures to buyers to explain clearly what agents’ roles are.
“We’ve got an information booklet that we give to all our buyers, which we’ve made up ourselves,” says Mr Waddell. “It’s just telling people the process from a buyer’s point of view and we’re trying to convert those people into sellers, obviously.”
One of the key elements is the company’s database, which consists of over 15,000 records and is a means by which the business keeps in regular communication with clients and customers.
Established in 1998, the database is now managed by a full-time member of staff, Ami Hynds.
“We have a whole lot of benefits for people who are registered with us. [Ami] specifically runs the database, and manages people in and out [of the database],” says Mr Waddell.
While many in the real estate industry consider social media to be a vital part in reaching customers, Mr Robinson and Mr Waddell are still undecided on its value.
“We see a lot of agents just do it as ‘I’ve just listed’ or ‘I’ve just sold’. People hate that,” Mr Waddell says. “It’s just an ad. Our whole thing about social media is it’s got to be social and relevant. It’s not just agents saying what they’re doing.”
Mr Robinson says agencies need to consider whether social media is a distraction from the goal of selling and renting properties, and keeping clients happy.
He adds that the internet is useful for educating consumers and the best platform is the company website.
“If there are different hints and tips that you can put on there, or different things on the philosophy about how you do your business and that sort of stuff, that’s what we want to put on there,” he says.
Mr Robinson says the company is always looking for opportunities for growth, whether it be hiring the best agents or opening an office in a location to gain market share.
“The obvious growth locations for us would be Maitland and Lake Macquarie, and we are always looking at what opportunities there are,” he says.
In terms of staffing, the company has only recruited one new member in three years. Mr Robinson says the company has not needed to recruit much, as staff retention has been strong.
“Most of the guys have been here for more than 10 years. We look after them really well, as they do us,” he says.
“As we get bigger we’re certainly going to have to turn our minds to [graduate recruitment], but it would have to be a long gestation period.”
Putting aside their own agency’s plans, the two quickly return to a passion they share, and that’s the image of the broader real estate industry, and the consumer cynicism that can flow from the poor behaviour of some agents.
As part of this the two say they are excited about nominating for the upcoming Australian Real Estate Awards, to be held in August, and as part of their desire for a stronger and more transparent industry, they hoped a large number of agents nominated as well.
Improving the industry is as important to them as growing their own business, and they see the two as complimentary goals.