You recently returned from the annual Century21 Australasian Conference in New Zealand. How important are events like these?
It’s a very important part of the culture. We run quarterly events based on cities and states that culminate in a national conference. There’s also an international conference that is held in Las Vegas and attended by 10,000 agents from around the world. At this conference, we recognise our top agents so a person sitting in a suburb in any capital city or any country town in Australia has the opportunity to go on stage in front of a large crowd and receive an accolade.
What differences have you seen in the New Zealand and Australian markets?
At the end of the day, we are all dealing with people who want to sell and buy property and the techniques or the way we get there are not dissimilar. Our marketplaces are in different places right now though. Parts of New Zealand are quite overheated compared to where [they were] previously, with Auckland doing very, very well.
When the global financial crisis hit, the New Zealand market had a big crash. They dropped 11.4 per cent in one year whereas the Australian market only dropped 3.9 per cent that same year, so we have actually progressively gone backwards over the last three years whereas New Zealand got slammed in that one particular time. Their recovery is well and truly underway whereas the Australian recovery is underway in parts of the country and is still yet to be seen in others.
WHAT ARE YOUR PLANS FOR GROWTH IN THE AUSTRALIAN AND NEW ZEALAND MARKETS?
As [their marketplaces are] in two different stages now ... the approach is very, very different in both regions. If I look at Auckland, I see a lot of opportunity [there]. We really don’t have the strong representation that we might have in a city like Sydney. There might be 120 offices in greater Sydney, so our growth in that area is limited by the number of suburbs we can now service.
In the Wollongong areas and the north coastal areas and parts of Sydney, there’s an opportunity for another 25 offices, whereas in Auckland, there’s opportunity for another 50 offices. Our focus on growth is there all the time and we never stop looking to grow.
HOW DO YOU ‘STRATEGISE FOR GROWTH’?
Growth is an unusual mechanism inside franchising: there’s plenty of ways that it can happen, but normally you’d expect growth when the market is tighter. When the market is tougher, real estate agents will look to other ways of getting support, and generally a franchise can offer that support. When the market is buoyant, a lot of agents will sit back and say, ‘Well, I don’t really need anything’.
As the market gets more buoyant, the activity and franchise growth actually slows down. It’ll change as the cycles change. There are always new people coming out of the ranks – people who have grown up in the industry looking to grow to the next level. If they’ve been part of an organisation, that’s generally where they’ll stay. Our growth will focus on that over the next few years, so I’ll be working with the people within the organisation to either expand their businesses or open their own business.
DO YOU SEE MORE ROOM FOR AGENTS IN AUSTRALIA AND NEW ZEALAND TO DIVERSIFY INTO FINANCE AND OTHER DIFFERENT WAYS TO OFFER MORE ROUNDED SERVICE?
If you go back to when I first started, real estate agents had insurance brokerage businesses in their offices as well as travel agencies in their offices, which was quite an unusual process. They were diversifying many, many years ago but over time the industry has moved on from that.
For us, we believe that they are a big part of our business, whether it’s for insurance purposes or for home loans. In fact, our home loans business, when you look at it on the record, is in the top 10 in Australia, according to Australian Finance Group.
We’re very much entrenched in it. The real estate practitioners and the franchisees within our organisation have started to understand the value of diversifying so they are building a trail for themselves and earning upfront commissions from that real estate transaction. By building these referrals they have an opportunity to earn extra revenue.
SO WHAT OTHER INITIATIVES DOES CENTURY 21 HAVE COMING UP?
Our latest development is a landlord platform we’ve developed with RP Data to build a relationship between the landlord and the office. This is different because most relationships are with the property manager and not the business, which is a great risk to the owner of that business. That development is being rolled out in September and will allow a landlord to do up to 90 per cent or more of the tasks that they might normally be doing by trying to contact the property manager or the office.
It’s an important part of an ongoing service for our landlords and we plan to extend this to tenants and maintenance people.
We’ve also recently launched a web-based platform that connects our offices directly to RP Data. If an agent is sitting at a seller’s home, they can enter information on their iPad and this is fed straight into our database and automatically filters all the way back into RP data. _ is populates our database with more information than you could possibly imagine all in real time so an office has that listing ready to go.