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EXCLUSIVE: Seven principal thought leaders share their insights on the real estate industry 

IN AN industry first, Real Estate Business has brought together seven influential principals to discuss, in an open forum, the major issues that confront the industry. The following pages reveal some of the debate, thoughts and opinions from the roundtable, offering essential insights into how the real estate industry is evolving.

Starr Partners Blacktown
BIGGEST AWARD: Starr Partners Customer Service Office of the Year 2012, Ranked 31 in Real Estate Business’ Top 50 Sales Offices 2013

Cunninghams Property 
BIGGEST AWARD: REINSW Large Agency of the Year Excellence Award 2008, Real Estate Results Network Boutique Agency of the Year 2013

CENTURY21 Cordeau Marshall Group 
BIGGEST AWARD: Inducted into the 2003 CENTURY 21 Hall of Fame, Number One CENTURY21 Office in 2011 and 2012

Richardson&Wrench Marrickville/Hurlstone Park
BIGGEST AWARD: Inaugural Directors Award from R&W 2012, Canberra Local Small Business Awards 2011

Morton & Morton 
BIGGEST AWARD: REINSW Large Agency of the Year Excellence Award 2011, 2009, 2007

LJ Hooker Ashfield 
BIGGEST AWARD: Platinum life member of LJ Hooker’s Captains Club, Annual NSW/ACT - Best Business Growth Individual - Number Of Properties Sold

Breakfast Point Realty
BIGGEST AWARD: REINSW Best Small Agency 2011, finalist 2010 and 2012

Q1 How do you ensure sales and property management work seamlessly together?

We treat them as separate profit centres. The way they operate, from reception all the way through to their team, are quite separate and we oversee them in order to link the two together. In our business, which is a smaller, family-type business, my sister takes care of the whole property management side and I take care of the sales team. We have a weekly meeting to assess if there are any issues there.

In our property management department we have a link person to our sales department. That’s our BDM. She attends all our sales meetings and also one of our sales team reps attends the property management meetings, which are held weekly. We have a very strong liaison between them, even though they are separated in the office. We noticed some years ago that the critical nature of our business came from lead generation from sales to property management. So since we’ve done that, lead generation has increased by over 100 per cent. We also have a monthly team meeting with both departments and we use an internal intranet system to make sure we communicate properly and all leads are being followed up. We’re very much linked in our organisation because we see the BDM role as a sales role and the sales team as a feeder to the property management department.

In our marketplace we know that 70 per cent of our owners are landlords, so the integration of the teams is critical. What we do, and it happened by mistake, is sit everybody together. So instead of having property management sitting in one spot and sales sitting somewhere else, we have our sales and new business person and property management team sitting in the same vicinity. 
This serves a number of purposes: when people overhear other people’s conversations about who might be selling and renting and vice versa, they pick up on that. It also means that the two groups appreciate each other’s worlds – the property management team sees the pressure of the sales team, while the sales team sees this pressure on the property management side of things too. It helps to build respect between the two groups.

Q2 Which recruitment strategies have yielded the best staff for your office?

I believe recruitment is a challenge right now – there seems to be a shortage of good candidates around. We’ve just been looking for a property management assistant and a leasing consultant and it’s been quite difficult. In terms of successful recruitment strategies, adverts on Seek have worked quite well for property management, while agents who approach us directly is probably the best way we have found recruits for sales people.

If you can use social media to show some transparency about what happens in your office and make it a desirable place to work, this can be successful too.

We’ve had some really strong success through employment on Facebook. Six of the last eight people we’ve employed have come through that route. We put up our ads on Facebook and it’s basically the networks we are part of that help us. We have 36 people in the office, 32 are on Facebook and they recruit people they know. We post it on our page and share it around our personal networks; we don’t use Seek, or the newspaper. We’ve taken a very different path to making sure that people want to work for us. To me, it’s not about how much we want them, but how much they want to work for us.

We’ve just employed somebody who was working for me for seven years. I thought she’d gone off to do her own thing, we put the post on Facebook and she rang me within the hour and said ‘I want my old job back’. Had I not have posted that on Facebook, I’d have never had the great staff member come back.

In our business we find that connecting to possible Gen Y recruits is easiest through Facebook. That said, we’ve refrained from turning our Facebook page into a bragging exercise. We’ve gone down the path of quietly saying ‘we’re human, we celebrate birthdays, we take photos and put them online’, and at the end of the day, people see us as human beings, not a big faceless corporation.

Q3 Which strategies do you plan to implement to grow your business in the next 12 months?

We’re always looking at implementing new things and hiring young staff who are new to the industry in order to build them up to where they want to be. Once you find a great person you can train them the way you want within the company, which is very important for growth. It could be an 18- or 19 year-old receptionist who goes through to property management, and we teach them our ways and our policies. Culture is very important in our office and we need to keep that same culture all the way through to retain good staff. I think buying rent rolls is very important as well. We’ve bought two big rent rolls over the past 18 months.

Our area has become fairly sophisticated in terms of the average landlord. It’s gone from that working class migrant to a more white-collar, educated and second generation migrant-type person. Rent rolls have probably stayed the same over the last 10 years, but the quality of person has changed and the ability to generate more income off that person, in addition to the rents going up significantly, has meant we’ve generated a lot more income from those rent rolls. So we’re now at a crossroads where we are looking for a rent roll to buy if it’s the right one.

There is definitely a need for diversifying because there’s a lot more people concentrating on residential sales and property management. We’ll be looking in the next 18-24 months to introduce strata and maybe even commercial property to the business. Our core area is quite large and we’re only covering a small portion of that. So if you can diversify and explore other areas, you will bring in more business.

If you look at the real estate industry before I was even in it, it used to be the place to do your banking, your insurance, even your travel. What we’re going back to is getting the core real estate business and then building other businesses around that. Keeping the clients happy is about more than just the money. The only downfall is that if your insurance or lending broker does something wrong, you will lose that client.

We’ve seen the need to diversify our business for a long time. We’ve had brokers work with our office now for close to 15 years. We set up a sub-brokerage with a firm and we’ve been with them for the past six years. They come into our office every sales meeting, so the interaction is quite strong.

Q4 What is different about the way you market your brand?

We have a very funky and different sales brochure. It is an A5 landscape magazine in a beautiful matte stock finish. We have local businesses approaching us wanting to advertise in the brochure and it is updated every three weeks. The cover is always interesting and usually seasonal or property related.

Another major initiative that our office has taken on is the Spring Community Fair. Last year we put on a spring fair and I can put my hand up and say it cost me too much money – it was effectively a full-time staff member for the best part of four months. But I can’t put a dollar on the feedback and the people who have walked into our office, called us, emailed us and talked about us as a result of it. It was something that we did that was very different and I even had competitors come and say how cool the idea was.

All our marketing strategies are community-based. It is a very small catchment area and I am originally from a small country town, so that is how I treat Breakfast Point. I try to get our faces in front of people all the time.

We call it Community Brand Integration and that is our distinct difference. Our brand is synonymous with community and the key to that is participation – you have got to be seen. We are the major sponsor of the local school fair, we support Relay for Life with our stand, and we have guys in our office who coach the rugby teams that we sponsor. So it isn’t just about sponsoring, it’s about being involved.
We are living in a sea of sameness. There are seven brands sitting around this table, which have all been professionally put together, they all use professional photography, have a videographer – 90 per cent of what we do is the same; it is that remaining 10 per cent that can make us different. To us, the key thing in the brand is making it community aware.

Real estate is all about people and if you are not involved in your community through school fetes and sponsorships, you are left out. It is a very good thing to be heavily involved in your local area and that is what we do.

Doing community sponsorships only works if you are doing something you enjoy. I love cricket, tennis and golf, so I participate and support them. You’ve got to do things that you enjoy because otherwise they become work, and if you don’t get a return, you begin to get bitter. We are now putting our banner in front of the major sports we are involved in, which is part of a 10-year plan so we won’t see results straight away.

Q5 Agents continue to be at the bottom of people’s ‘most trusted’ lists. How can the industry improve this image? 

The standards within the industry, in terms of being registered and licensed, are the lowest they have ever been.

The calibre of agents coming into the industry today is the lowest it has ever been. We’ve got people trying to sell bricks and mortar who don’t even know how they were built.

The amount of investigations that the Office of Fair Trading is doing on trust account fraud is quite high and that is worrying. But it is happening because people come into this industry and have no idea what they are doing – the standards are too low.

When we go to speak to a vendor, part of our process is to ask, ‘What do you expect from an agent?’ You see the vendor try to work it out and they say things like, truth, trust and integrity. People want to trust us and many do, but the problem definitely lies in this lack of training.

The consumer experience is really what determines where we sit on the list of trusted advisers. If that consumer doesn’t have a good experience with us then we will remain down at the bottom. The car industry, for example, has really stepped up their consumer experience. You get a car wash, a coffee, a follow-up call from the service manager and someone above them. My opinion and perception of car sales people today compared to 10 years ago is very different. The real estate industry needs to change in this way too.

Q6 Do you see worth in a social media strategy?

Our social media strategy is picking up this year. I now have two Facebook pages – one for me personally and one for work, which I keep very separate. I also do a market update and put it up there on all our social media sites. This is a two-minute video on the market and contains very relevant content, but it will only build traction if you push it out on social media – you can’t just expect people to come to you.

It’s so important that you’re putting content up that’s worth looking at. And if you’re saying too much about your success, people get bored.

About three years ago we started a blog. It wasn’t real estate based, it was community based and all about people in the area. We would write blogs on anything from the local cricket team, or a guy who raised money for charity.

We put up one article a month and if we had a story about our company, like a great price or a funky home, we’d load it onto the blog as well.

We found that the blog started conversation and engaged people in our community. We ask for contributors from the community and at the moment we’ve got a 62 year old lady who is writing about her travels around Europe, and people love reading her posts because she is well known in the area.

But the big eye opener for me has been Twitter. I put one of the guys in the office in charge of our account and I kept saying, ‘Let me see when we make a sale off it, then I’ll embrace it’ and in November last year a buyers’ agent contacted Cameron via Twitter and made a really good sale. I had to eat humble pie and I have been gunning for Twitter ever since.

The biggest challenge I found was when we thought, ‘Hang on, we need to employ someone to do this professionally’.

With the videos for example, I’ve got to do the research and then film it, edit it and upload it to YouTube and the other social media sites – it’s quite time consuming.

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