Top 20 Real Estate Groups

Real Estate Business’ inaugural Top 20 Real Estate Groups ranking showcases the industry’s leading companies, revealing what it takes to be a successful network in today’s highly competitive market

THERE IS intense competition across every real estate group to attract and retain talent, increase the rent roll and win more listings in what is a challenging market. No one is under any illusion as to what needs to be done to build a successful real estate network; the question is which groups are successfully converting theory into practice?

Until now, that’s been debatable. Financial results talk, yet with the vast majority of this information locked away in head office filing cabinets, it hasbeen impossible to gauge who really is ahead of the pack.

That’s why the Real Estate Business Top 20 Real Estate Groups ranking is so timely and relevant.

Not only does it reveal some of this country’s biggest and best performing operations, it drives deeper to unearth a range of business data and trends shaping the industry.

The leaders of these groups face numerous challenges, many of which would be familiar to an agency principal. Yet managing often geographically diverse groups of offices in tough markets – all the while battling intense competition – heightens the challenge for the leaders of real estate groups.

It’s about keeping an eye on multiple balls – recruiting and managing quality franchises and/or members; maintaining and building market share; keeping existing members and offices well resourced and happy; building a united group that has an engaging culture often across hundreds of offices; through to making the most of the productivity and efficiency gains that technology can now help deliver – and much more.   

Technology is playing a big part in this transformation; empowered consumers are forcing groups to be more responsive and knowledgeable, while a plethora of nimble agents without shopfronts challenge the status quo and squirrel away market share.

And as real estate threatens to become increasingly commoditised, it will be even tougher for the entire industry to justify its value proposition, let alone individual groups.

With increased competition comes pressure to find fresh and innovative ways to build revenue and tap new opportunities that may have once been considered beyond the scope of real estate groups.  This includes moves into adjacent yet complimentary industries, helping create a one-stop shop for time-starved consumers.

Overlay these issues with the more traditional concern of what was, for the most part, a stagnant property market in the 2011/12 financial year, and you can see the mountain that many real estate groups must climb, day in, day out.

The methodology for this report was based on three key areas of any real estate business, namely scale, property management and sales – the latter two included a metric focused on efficiency.

The rationale behind this approach was as follows:

SCALE

In an industry that retains a strong independent streak – an estimated 50 per cent of agencies operate as independents – larger networks, whether they are franchise or cooperative in nature, still hold a large chunk of the market. Moreover, effectively managing a large network of franchisees and/or members while generating strong growth is an achievement in itself, and it’s for this reason that scale was included as one of the ranking metrics.

PROPERTY MANAGEMENT

The key backbone of most real estate agencies, it’s little wonder that most groups that made the Top 20 had large rent rolls.

SALES

The bread and butter for most agencies, this remains the key revenue generator for most groups.

EFFICIENCY

While scale is important, a network’s productivity and efficiency are the real drivers of profit. In this report we looked at each network’s efficiency in terms of their property management and sales divisions, and used this as one of three metrics that determined the final ranking for each of these categories. By doing this we identified a number of mostly smaller operators that punch well above their weight.

All data was submitted by senior management from each group’s head office.

While we can see the benefit in analysing the numbers, we think it’s also critical to take a closer look at the top groups themselves in order to uncover what makes them tick. In the following pages we’ve profiled a number of our Top 20 Real Estate Groups to give you that insight.

We also highlight a number of hybrid business models that have made their presence felt.

We thank all of the groups that participated – and the ones that wanted to but couldn’t for various reasons.

PROPERTY MANAGEMENT

RICHARDSON & WRENCH secured the top ranking in the property management category in this year’s inaugural Real Estate Business Top 20 Real Estate Groups ranking.

The NSW and Qld-based group reported 118 active property management staff, handling a total combined rent roll of 19,849, as at 30 June 2012.  

While efficiency is a big part of the group’s success, this is only possible when employees have clearly defined roles and responsibilities, thereby avoiding duplication of tasks, says Peter Flynn, group franchise director at Richardson & Wrench.

“It means that people who are responsible for revenue generation do just that, leaving non-revenue tasks to other support staff,” he says.

“Technology has a part to play in an efficient operation but it doesn’t help unless you have the fundamentals sorted out. It is no panacea for a lack of leadership.”

Harcourts came in second in terms of the property management ranking, with 400 property management staff handling a combined rent roll of 46,244.

Mike Green, managing director at Harcourts Group Australia, says it’s impossible to define an ideal property manager to properties under management ratio, as it depends very much on the system and structure that works best for each individual business.

“We have two predominant structures across Harcourts – one being the traditional portfolio and the other being a pod system which could be a senior property manager working with a junior property manager or a personal assistant,” he says.

“Some of our larger pods have transformed into full teams where they have accounts, inspection officers and leasing officers within that specific pod.

Some of these pods could manage up to 350 - 400 properties. Our traditional portfolio would have one property manager manage between 130 and 180 properties depending on the general office support in place.”

Ausnet Real Estate Network ranked third in the property management category, reporting a rent roll of 11,500 being handled by 127 active property management staff. This result is at least partly due to a change in how principals now view property management, says Ausnet Real Estate Network managing director, Graeme Hosking.

“Principals are fast becoming much more ‘hands on’ in the management of their property management divisions,” he says.

PM EFFICIENCY

On this metric, NSW and Qld-based group Richardson & Wrench topped the property management ranking chart.

Peter Flynn says an ideal property manager to properties under management ratio can vary depending on numerous factors.

“However, that figure can vary where an office has introduced a business model that delivers greater efficiencies,” he says.

“Effective use of technology is the other key to increased productivity. If they are using their database systems, being proactive rather than reactive in their communications with landlords, offering online payment and accounting systems, and allowing the business development manager to concentrate on organic growth, there is scope to increase the number of properties under management while also offering a superior property management service.”

According to Ausnet Real Estate Network’s Graeme Hosking, many of his group’s members believe 100 is the right property manager to properties under management ratio.

“This is based on the practice whereby each individual property manager undertakes all the responsibilities required to professionally manage their portfolio – undertaking marketing, leasing the property, conducting all the inspections (ingoing, quarterly and final bond) as well as attending to any required maintenance issues and more,” he says.

“Individual property managers are ultimately responsible for every facet of the management of the property - the buck stops with them.”

As at June 30 this year, the Ausnet network – which ranked second in terms of property management staff efficiency - consisted of 30 independent agencies spread across WA. According to the data the group supplied, each property management employee accounted for 91 properties in the last financial year.

Maintaining efficiencies is key to Ausnet, which has recently aligned itself with a specialist property management service company “whose role it will be to provide ‘health checks’ on our members’ property management divisions, to ensure that efficiency, procedures and the fee structure is all up to best standard, [and] to also provide a regular follow up service to ensure that the best standard is maintained”, he adds.

Nick Dowling, CEO at Jellis Craig, says a preferred properties under management to property manager ratio is between 120 to 170.

“Closer to 120 if your property management business has a growth profile, or closer to 170 if it’s a more mature, stable rent roll where you are looking to extract maximum profitability,” he says.

Jellis Craig, which operated 11 offices as at 30 June this year, finished third in our property management efficiency ranking.

“The right staff and culture are 90 per cent of it; the rest is technology, which we are improving but have some way to go. We are currently trialing a number of technological improvements from software providers and banks.”

Mr Dowling says appropriately structured teams, consistent training, highly selective staff recruitment and selective client acquisition help underpin his group’s client service offering.

According to Douglas Driscoll, CEO at Starr Partners, which ranked fifth for property manager efficiency, what makes for an ‘ideal’ property management staff member to properties under management ratio is usually considered around the 100 mark.

“We aren’t necessarily ‘traditional thinkers’ though, as we recognise there are several variables and that no two businesses are the same,” he says, noting that his firm has a ratio of 93 properties per property management staff member.

“Individual property managers are ultimately responsible for every facet of the management of the property - the buck stops with them”

SALES

BARRY PLANT Group took out the overall sales ranking for this year’s list. The group, which had 312 active sales agents as of June 30 2012, and sold 8,105 properties during the most recent financial year, performed consistently across the key metrics in this category.

“Our training and support programs have been integral to our success,” says Mike McCarthy, director and CEO at Barry Plant. “By assisting our principals to grow and develop their teams we have been able to deliver consistent improvement across the group.”

“Salespeople can see that more success around them also helps them achieve their goals.

Mr McCarthy attributes a large part of the group’s sales success to the removal of exclusive territories.

“The fact that our franchisees and salespeople never compete against each other has promoted a culture of support and cooperation across the entire group and the benefits of this are demonstrated in our results,” he says.

“The past year has also seen constant refreshing of our marketing collateral which is also very important to keep everything ‘fresh’.”  

 LJ Hooker, which dominated two of the three metrics in the sales agent category – the most number of sales (26,159) and most number of sales agents (2,387) – wasn’t as potent when it came to efficiency levels.

While it didn’t top this latter category, LJ Hooker CEO Georg Chmiel says it’s customer relationships that dominate their approach.

“Regardless of the market we never lose focus on the importance of the customer relationship in the transaction,” he says.

“At LJ Hooker, our customer first mentality has been a key driver in supporting our sales agents’ success in more recent times. Naturally this approach is strongly supported by our iconic brand, effective marketing platform and intensive training programs.”

Elders was next in the overall sales ranking.

“Mentoring programs and training has been a focus for us,” Brendan Whipps, head of real estate at Elders says of the key reason for their sales success in the most recent financial year. “This has seen more than 500 training days across the country that includes office visits, retreats, webinars, group sessions, business owners meetings and conferences.”

SALES EFFICIENCY

While the gross sales generated and total number of sales are important barometers of a real estate group’s success, it’s a group’s efficiency level that can help drive the biggest profits.

And, as with the property management efficiency category, the smaller groups dominated.

When it came to sales agent efficiency, Positive Real Estate took out the top ranking.

And as real estate models go, you don’t get much more different than Positive Real Estate. The company, which helps Australians and New Zealanders build wealth through property, has a focus on ‘safety’ and systemised strategies that deliver an educative process to selling and buying property.

“If you did a brand exercise we would be the Volvo of the industry,” Sam Saggers, CEO at Positive Real Estate, says. “We are the safe choice."
What’s more, time on market means little to these guys.

“For our model to work we actually condition our vendors to accept that the transaction could take a lot longer than a common shop front agency,” he said.

“We are carving out a niche market. There aren’t too many agencies like us out there.”

Positive Real Estate is based in every capital city in Australia and New Zealand and employ over 65 staff. With just five members focused on selling property (four as of June 30 this year), five focused on listing and just under 20 staff employed to act as educators to buyers.

“There are four main components to selling real estate and by breaking our agents up into a task-based system they are able to write a lot more volume and focus on giving our clients more certainty and awareness about their property choices.”

In second place was Jellis Craig, with Mr Dowling pointing to a number of reasons for this result.

“Increased investment in training, director group very hands on, superior marketing, highly selective staff recruitment,” he says when answering a question on what support their sales agents receive.

More generally, the group helps drive efficiencies in a number of other ways as well.

“Generally teams of two to four across the board [helps] … and strong cultural maintenance of office-to-office referral and support. We have a unique boutique footprint in Melbourne that predominantly operates across the affluent inner suburban areas – office directors and their teams work very well with all other offices, and we are well diversified without being too far spread.”

Starr Partners, which came in third for sale agent efficiency, puts an emphasis on training and accountability, according to CEO, Douglas Driscoll.

“We place a lot of emphasis on our staff’s professional development,” he says. “We meticulously study the sales environment to identify the relevant training needs of our people. This allows us to select the right content and facilitators. Follow-up and integration strategies are also an integral component.

“I am a huge advocate of the use of detailed key performance indicators (KPIs), [and we] encourage our offices to use them wherever possible.

“Metrics and analytics can often highlight areas of profligacy.”

MAINTAINING STANDARDS

hockingstuart finished sixth in this year’s inaugural Real Estate Business Top 20 Real Estate Groups ranking. CEO Nigel O’Neil explains how his group maintains standards across 48 offices

WITH 48 offices across the hockingstuart group, it’s important to ensure that a professional and consistent standard is maintained. We run a ‘general induction’ with all new staff that covers what is expected of each employee in terms of culture: being passionate about what we do, using our innovative tools and acting with integrity.

Once staff are introduced to the hockingstuart way, we direct them towards the intranet and marketing online support platforms which contain more information on our processes and systems.

In addition, new staff attend role specific inductions across sales, property management and administration so they are equipped with basic skills training.

Outside of internal training, we also contact by phone every vendor and buyer at settlement (more than 12,000 per annum in total) to receive feedback on their hockingstuart transaction. The feedback process is conducted in line with the internationally recognised Net Promoter Score (NPS) which provides the group, offices and staff with specific feedback on how likely each party would recommend hockingstuart.

A key thing to remember is to foster a culture of customer service. We  send out constant communication about the offices that are doing this well to help encourage/give ideas to the group as well as by including the NPS in our annual awards.

There are many variables to consider when benchmarking office/staff efficiency. Measuring efficiency can be misleading unless the core elements of how the business operates are known. For example, in property management, the optimal number of properties for each portfolio manager depends on how much support that department has.

BUSINESS MODELS

THIS YEAR’S Real Estate Business Top 20 Real Estate Groups ranking highlighted the strong performance of networks with business models outside the ‘norm’.

INDEPENDENT-BACKED GROUPS

While there are a number of prominent national cooperative-style real estate networks in Australia, there are other options that appeal to independent agencies.

One such approach is that taken by Real Estate Results Network (RERN). Ranked eighth in this year’s list, this group provides its 37 member agencies with an all-encompassing offering that helps deliver business growth.

“We have a detailed ‘Business Success Model’ that is rolled out to each agency as soon as they join the network and an ongoing framework that supports the growth of each agency,” says Michael Sheargold, founder and CEO of RERN.

“Our belief is that ‘none of us is as smart as all of us’. The fundamental belief at the network is based on commitment, not compliance. That means that each principal decides what they are committed to achieving and then our goal is to help and support them with the most effective strategies to achieve their goals.”

According to Mr Sheargold, RERN offers its members more flexibility than other business models can provide.

“The network delivers the best of both worlds - a market specialist who has the freedom to create their brand for their market place plus the back up support of innovations from across Australia and New Zealand from other leading independent agencies.”

Accountability is also critical to RERN.

“We have a number of productivity measures with a quarterly reporting system to identify any progress, as well as issues that our members need support with to continue to move their business forward,” Mr Sheargold says.

In a similar vein, Property Profile Group is more about building close ties among its 40 member agencies, 39 of which are based in Victoria, and one in NSW.  The group, which finished 12th in the ranking, takes great pride in the quality of its membership, which has been built up in the 20 years since it was founded.

“Property Profile has always been about best quality agencies rather than growth at all costs,” says CEO, Rebecca Dunn. “In fact, membership of Property Profile is by invitation only.”

“We measure success on the strength and depth of our membership,” she continues.

“Our success can be attributed to the way we tap into this wealth of knowledge and the unique way we share and support all members to reach their individual business goals.”

Ms Dunn adds that the group is less focused on promoting its brand to consumers.

“What we do find important is that our clients are aware that all members conduct themselves and their business ... our true focus is behind the scenes, ensuring that our members have all available resources, knowledge and expertise to deliver premium results for their clients.”

WA-based Ausnet Real Estate Network is another real estate group that operates in a similar manner.

“Our members naturally retain their independence; their name, their brand, their procedures and operating systems,” says Graeme Hosking.

“We are striving to  supply a ‘buffet table’ of services, if you will, where each member can pick and choose which of those services best suits their business model; no one group or network can ever supply all of the needs or requirements of its entire membership.”

And similar to Property Profile, Ausnet aims to work for its members behind the scenes.

“Because of our membership, we are able to source or secure services and benefits at a lesser cost or greater benefit than if they had to source them independently,” Mr Hosking says.

Mr Hosking adds that independent agencies are now in a stronger position to source their own support services.

“However, our members also like the feel for the ‘group or network’ support that they may have enjoyed previously, hence the continued growth ofthe Ausnet network.

“It’s all well and good to be independent, but independent and isolated can be a lonely place. Ausnet fills the gap.”

BOUTIQUE APPROACH

Identified by many as a growing force within the real estate industry, boutique real estate groups certainly made their presence felt in this first Real Estate Business Top 20 Real Estate Groups ranking.

And what they don’t possess in terms of scale and market reach, they certainly make up for in terms of productivity and ingenuity.

Luton Properties, a seven-office network based in the ACT, was ranked 17th in this year’s list.

Richard Luton, principal at Luton Properties, believes their non-franchised, corporate structure “which is quite a rarity in the real estate world”, has a direct impact on the company’s continuing development, despite its relatively rapid growth, having been included in BRW's Fast 100 early on in its existence.  

“We are led by a CEO who has a broad vision of excellence and a board of directors who are all equity partners working in the business,” he says. “An operational executive guiding each of our key sales, property management, marketing and administration teams supports them in turn.  

“This structure means we are highly focused on our shared goals and able to respond in a timely, strategic and unified way to emerging market needs and trends.”

Local market knowledge is another plus, he adds.

“As a locally born-and-bred company we have deep knowledge of the market we operate in, and work as a single unit in focusing on bringing all of that to deliver consistently record prices for our clients.”

Peard Real Estate, which ranked 15th in this year’s list, operates eight offices in Perth. Company CEO Peter Peard told Real Estate Business in September that a key point of difference between his group and others in WA is how his office network is structured.

At the time of writing, the network was busy building two more offices in Leederville and Ellenbrook, having just opened a new office in Canning Vale, bringing its total number to 10.

While Mr Peard would like to increase this to 15 WA offices, and he has plans to open in Adelaide, finding the right people and locations for new offices takes time.

“We’re not interested in having 40 offices scattered all over the place,” he says. “Our average office sells 30 houses a month. The franchise groups average around four to eight sales a month.”

“We’ll conduct on average four interviews a day for all sorts of different staff,” he says.

“We recruit a good one or two managers, we get them to buy shares in the company, so we set it up so that we own that office … as a shelf company, and then we sell shares in that and we sell up to 49 per cent [of that office]. We retain 51 per cent control.”

“The property sales at Peard offices are much higher because our business structure ensures that our corporate head office has total control of marketing, management systems and the operations of our offices which is a key factor in their success,” Mr Peard adds.

“The ownership structure of the Peard Group means that major decisions are made from the top down – not the bottom up”
Like Luton, Peard Real Estate is geographically focused, although the company has announced plans to expand to Adelaide.

“We have focused on establishing a limited number of ‘super’ offices rather than a large number of small offices which are geographically spread,” Mr Peard continues.

“Having a large number of small offices over large geographic areas – which is typical of franchise groups – makes it more difficult to maintain standards and discipline.”

Rapid-fire decision making is another area Mr Peard believes his smaller operation has over its bigger competitors.

Yet fellow Perth-based boutique real estate group Realmark, which finished 16th and operates 10 offices, says their smaller size isn’t the main reason for their success.

“Size is not the reason but rather the cultural dynamics with those organisations,” Realmark managing director John Percudani tells Real Estate Business.

“The game changer is having the right values foundation and creating a tribal belonging to these, coupled with a strong sense of belonging.”

“Unlike traditional real estate businesses we are not a personality-based but rather a processed-based business model.”

Mr Percudani says, in terms of models and scale, the real estate industry is becoming increasingly polarised.

“Cottage-style business can continue to offer the highly personal and personality-based relationship, however this has serious scalability and sustainability challenges.”

PROPERTY MANAGEMENT FOCUS

While once sales-dominated agencies are now frantically building rent rolls in order to create long-term sustainable value in the company, it appears the same can now be said for some property management-focused companies.

RUN Property, which ranked 13th in this year’s list, manages around $10 billion in properties in Qld, NSW and Victoria.

Administration and accounting software Agent Plus is its fully owned subsidiary.

At the time of writing the company, which is listed on the Australian Stock Exchange (ASX), was the subject of a takeover offer from WA-based RMA Group.

It was a no brainer to expand into sales, according to RUN Property CEO, Rob Farmer.

With an average of 1,200 properties on the rent roll that are sold each year their property management department was a great basis for a strong sales team.

“You can’t have a strong real estate business without one or the other,” says Mr Farmer.

THE TOP 5

No. 5 - Richardson & Wrench

WHILE RICHARDSON & Wrench started operations in 1858, the path to its recent success started just two years ago, the group’s executive director Andrew Cocks says. It was at this point that the group commenced a major rebranding process.

“An integral part of this process was re-engaging with the group and encouraging them to be active participants in their own success,” he says. “We provided the tools and the training that they needed and helped steer them towards making business efficiencies and adapting to changed market conditions and technologies.”

“Reinforcing our brand strengths of integrity and trust was important at a time when the market was challenged by consumer caution.”

Mr Cocks says this trust is enhanced by the group’s longevity.

“We’re a brand that has been around for more than 150 years and many of our principals have been in the real estate business for enough decades to know how to handle the different market cycles – not just the boom times,” he says.

A healthy dose of reality also guides their approach.

“We constantly measure our performance through satisfaction surveys and have a very accurate account of how we are doing,” Mr Cocks adds.

Looking ahead, R&W’s group franchise director Peter Flynn sees growth in areas where they have brand strength, such as metropolitan Sydney.

“We don’t want to be everywhere, in every state, preferring to increase the number of offices in territories where we can maximise our franchisees’ opportunities for success,” Mr Flynn says.

Queensland also remains on their horizon.

Looking ahead to the next 10-20 years, Mr Flynn says additional revenue growth may also come from a move into financial services, “meeting customer demand for a one-stop shop for transacting real estate”.

A new wave of marketing collateral is also set to be launched next year. “Brand maintenance is an-going process; no company can afford to sit back and think the job is done,” Mr Flynn says.

The group also remains firmly focused on its franchisees.

“The strength of any organisation and ours in particular lies in its people and the relationships between them,” Mr Flynn says.

“Our principals and agents genuinely like each other and are willing to share knowledge and leads.”

No. 4 - Barry Plant

WHEN ASKED to pinpoint reasons for their success in the 2011/2012 financial year, Barry Plants’ director and CEO, Mike McCarthy, points to three key factors.

The first was a return to the basics. In what Mr McCarthy emphasises is a simple business – “based on relationships, trust and performance” – he says the group has a training program that includes a boot camp to leadership events.

All of this training has “a particular focus on open and honest communication with our vendors,” he adds.

Secondly is a “strong” top level brand marketing campaign that’s backed up at the local level.

And finally, Mr McCarthy points to the strength of their brand and people. “In a tough market, consumers generally seek trusted, quality brands and people,” he says. “One of the pillars of our growth has been to ensure we maintain a high quality group that reinforces the brand values and proposition to the consumer.”

Franchisee support is also critical to Barry Plant, with four “highly experienced and successful field staff” dedicating to helping each franchisee with their business.

The group also asks their franchisees to rate head office via a Net Promoter Score (NPS) – “our most recent survey resulted in a NPS of +76, an increase of 11 per cent from our previous survey, which was extremely pleasing in a tough market”.

“Our vendors have also rated our franchisees and the most recent surveys have been in the range of +47 to +58 which is also very positive across such a diverse group.”

Training and support programs remain paramount, Mr McCarthy continues, and he sees a large degree of cooperation across the entire group which he attributes to retaining exclusive territories – “this is absolutely one of the keys to our success.”

Mr McCarthy eyes growth within Victoria and interstate.

“Within Melbourne we see two very distinct areas for growth,” Mr McCarthy says, announcing that two new offices are already confirmed with another three “under consideration”.

“The inner east and Bayside; whilst there are some dominant players in these markets, we believe that there is a very clear opportunity for our brand to secure market share in the middle and lower price points in this market.

“The second area of Melbourne is the outer bayside and Mornington Peninsula which are a natural ‘fit’ for our brand at all levels of the market.”

The recruitment of an office in Mildura has also raised hopes of further growth in other regional and rural parts of Victoria, he adds.

Other states are also on the group’s radar. “Our strategy is to either acquire or joint venture an existing brand outside Victoria,” he continues.

Equally important however is growing business from within the existing network, with the group implementing strategies to increase yield (commission) per sale and to grow its share of a slower Melbourne market.

“We are also exploring new revenue opportunities for the group and we recently launched our own mortgage broking division which is now owned by us and branded under the Barry Plant banner as Barry Plant Financial Services,” Mr McCarthy adds.

No. 3 - Harcourts Group Australia

IT ISN’T surprising perhaps that Harcourts, which operates in 10 countries, values teamwork and cohesion. It’s critical for a company of this size and breadth to be headed in the one direction.

Mike Green, managing director of Harcourts Group Australia, is quick to laud the company’s people and culture – “it is hard to quantify or measure, but when you are a part of Team Harcourts, it is something very real and powerful” - as two of three reasons for its success in the past financial year.

The third reason is the company’s systems, tools and resources. “Our technology platform, Harcourts One, has been developed and is maintained by our own in-house technology team,” he says.

“This gives us ultimate control of the development and direction of the product. It is built based on the client, not the property. The system provides a single point of entry to build a client database, attach contact trails to maintain contact with each client, email market to that client database, manage an appraisal, a listing and then the sale through to trust account calculations.”

He adds that the Harcourts Academy, a Registered Training Organisation (RTO) which delivers training programmes for every area of the business, is another benefit the company offers its franchisees.

Head office support also plays a role in their business model, he adds.

“Our corporate team work alongside our business owners, sales consultants and property managers, developing business plans and accountabilities that keep us all focused on activity that achieves results.”

This emphasis on working as one entity also applies to how the group treats its clients.

“Our business model is very simple – we do not have different ‘clients’ in different parts of the business as many other real estate organisations do.

Our sales consultants are not the ‘clients’ of the business owner – as an organisation, we are ‘one team with one client’. And that client is the member of the public entrusting us with their real estate transaction.”

Maintaining standards and measuring their own success comes in the form of surveying every client that completes a transaction with the group. This includes the question, ‘Would you use Harcourts again and/or recommend Harcourts to others?’.

“The percentage who respond ‘yes’ is a key measure of how successful we are at delivering an outstanding client experience,” Mr Green says. “We currently sit at 96.4 per cent.”

Mr Green sees growth coming in three areas. The first is boosting the productivity and profitability of the existing network; the second is growing the group’s footprint; and lastly, growth will come from providing additional services, including mortgages, insurance and conveyancing. This latter focus will not only boost revenue but will seek to attract a new raft of clients.

“We have something pretty amazing planned for conference – it will be huge,” he says.

No. 2 - LJ Hooker

IT’S BEEN a busy year for LJ Hooker on numerous fronts.

Apart from the group’s continuing focus on training and measured recruitment, the company opened its 702nd office in its Australasian network (it has 500 in Australia), undertook a refresh of its brand in March, and launched a $16 million online initiative last year that has reaped strong results.

This latter initiative included a comprehensive launch of more than 600 local office wesbites, incorporating social media and almost as many new mobile websites including agent profile pages and property microsites.

“Our website is the most visited agency website in Australia, with traffic up over 100 per cent in the past year, and many of our offices have seen their web traffic jump over 300 to 400 per cent since then,” says recently appointed CEO, Georg Chmiel.

“The integration of social media into our lead generation programs has seen Facebook already become one of the largest sources of traffic for our office websites, and membership in our online nurturing program myLJHooker.com.au has swelled to over 30,000.”

Mr Chmiel also points to a number of strategic partnerships the group has formed this year.

“Among these partnerships, LJ Hooker-listed properties are now available on China’s largest property website, Juwai.com and Asia Pacific’s number one property portal, iProperty Group,” he says. “An agreement with UK-based Countrywide is already in place with another to be announced soon.”  

While the group remains customer focused, its commitment to its staff also stands out.

“Our philosophy is offering every LJ Hooker employee a comprehensive career path … [so] that our agents have all the tools they need to generate success for their clients and themselves,” he says.

“That’s why more than 500 agents and more than 30 offices joined the LJ Hooker family last year, and also why our salespeople have outperformed the market – with our high performing ‘Captains’ by more than 17 per cent.”

A regionally-based performance team also gives franchisees much needed business support, he adds.

Growth plans centre on the group’s three businesses – real estate sales, property management and lending via LJ Hooker Home Loans – with training and technology of critical importance.

“LJ Hooker will continue to invest heavily in cutting edge training for agents through the LJ Hooker Institute, including special courses for current/future high performers,” he says.

“In addition, LJ Hooker will continue its aggressive push into digital technology and marketing, introducing new mobile productivity applications for our agents as well as social media marketing programs that help our agents meet the needs of savvier real estate consumers.”

No. 1 - Elders Real Estate

ELDERS TOPPED this year’s inaugural ranking on the back of consistently high rankings in scale, property management and sales.

There are few more iconic and well-established brands in the Australian corporate landscape than Elders.

“The Elders brand is a known entity which leads to trust and integrity built over 174 years,” Brendan Whipps, head of real estate at Elders, says.

“Our size and distribution sets us apart with a referral network of more than 2,000 company-employed people in addition to the real estate franchise network.”

Go into many regional centres and it’s easy to see how the real estate operations benefit from being able to leverage off a network of diversified offices across Australia.

“The Elders brand is an important aspect because it doesn’t just represent real estate, but the expertise that extends the entire network of branches across the country,” Mr Whipps says.

“Elders as a business has many revenue streams. The rural services operation, which our company-owned offices are a part of, include the following product and service offerings: farm supplies, livestock, wool, grain, insurance, banking and financial planning.

“Elders also has an international trading business that consists of live export, wool trading, feedlots and operations in China.”

Mr Whipps says the group’s company-owned and franchise operation has been built on six ‘pillars’. These are a focus on “People, Profitability and Wealth; and Sales, People and Cash, respectively”.

“During the year we have invested in these six pillars and implemented a number of initiatives to manage our end-to-end processes,” Mr Whipps says.

“This has led to improvements in top line revenues, efficiencies and a better way to do business. We invest in our people through training, managing performance and providing more support in management.

Only recently, the group moved its franchise offices to a cloud-based information technology system, a shift that has helped drive better efficiencies throughout that part of the network.

The group’s success is very openly measured, being a publicly-listed company on the Australian Stock Exchange (ASX ticker code ELD).
Looking ahead, Mr Whipps says both the company-owned and franchise channels have strategic plans nationally.  

“Our regional footprint and network is unmatched, with a firm focus on attracting the best talent in the industry.  Our door is open for company employees.  The franchise network has 120 strategically targeted locations nationally with a further 250 opportunities for business owners to engage with the brand.”

And while the company boasts a long history, this isn’t enough, says Mr Whipps.

“It is more important on where you are going than where you have been,” he says. Our brand opens many doors – it is then the responsibility of the current incumbents to develop the brand further.”

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