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How an advertising career helped Michael Clarke settle $294 million

By Tamikah Bretzke
20 February 2017 | 24 minute read
MichaelClarke web

In this episode of the Secrets of the Top 100 Agents podcast, host Tim Neary talks to number four ranked agent Michael Clarke, who settled over $294 million in property last year. Michael reveals how his former career in advertising helped him increase listings and draw more buyers in, but warns that the journey to success is still often a long one!

In this episode find out:

  • Why reputation is everything
  • Why there are no shortcuts to hard work
  • Why agents should never compromise their integrity to get a deal done

Tune in to hear all of this and much, much more in Secrets of the Top 100 Agents!


Full transcript

Tim Neary: Good day everyone. Tim Neary here. I am the editor of Real Estate Business and the host of the Secrets of the Top 100 Agents show. Thanks for tuning in.

This is a show where we bring in and chat to the best agents in Australia. Very excited about our guest today. He's one of the top tier real estate agents in the country, ranked in the top 5 of the REB Top 100 agents ranking for 2016, in at number 4, it's Michael Clarke. Hello Michael and welcome to the show.

Michael Clarke: Thanks very much. Nice to be here.

Tim Neary: Michael, just to get started... Let's start at the beginning. When did you start in real estate and how did you get into the business?

Michael Clarke: Started back in 2005. Got into the business in an unusual way. My background originally was advertising. I'd been to New York and I came back. Won several scholarships back in Australia. I wasn't particularly enjoying it. My girlfriend, at the time, suggested that I read a book on real estate and thought I'd be good at it. I read the book primarily or initially to humour her and then I loved it. I thought the book was brilliant. I ditched advertising and got a job in real estate.

Tim Neary: That's fantastic. Actually we see that quite a lot. In the podcast, we talk to the top agents in the top 100 and we see a lot that people start with something else. People start with something else, found out they're not enjoying it, and found their way into real estate because they enjoy the business of real estate. What is it about real estate that you liked and got you to stay?

Michael Clarke: The thing I remember reading about that I found intoxicating initially was the fact that it didn't matter what background you had or education. It had a huge amount to do with how prepared you were to work hard and work on yourself. I thought to myself that if I could get into an industry where the sky is the limit and it's just based off of how much I was prepared to learn and grow myself and work extremely hard, that sounded like a great idea.

Tim Neary: Obviously, you didn't start at the top. Just in terms of working hard, what was the breakthrough and when was the breakthrough? How did that happen or was it just a steady growth from the beginning?

Michael Clarke: No, the beginning was crap. Well I mean parts of it were crap. I was learning a huge amount, but rock bottom, I remember, was at the same time as the break through pretty much. That was about eight months into it, I pulled over into a service station and, to cut a long story short, ran out of petrol at the petrol station and didn't have enough money in my bank to be able to fill up the tank.

Tim Neary: Right.

Michael Clarke: I had to walk home that time. That wasn't a lot of fun, but that also... Right around about that time, I was searching for a way to become successful more quickly and I realised that working hard wasn't going to be enough. I sat down with my then girlfriend, Cherie, and we worked out a plan to find the best agents in the industry at the time and I'd pester them until they catch up with me. That's exactly what I did. They were all generous with their time. I was smart enough to be done dumb enough to do exactly what they did until it started working.

Tim Neary: I love the way you said "smart enough to be dumb enough", but there is another common denominator that we see there. Also from the top is that people connect with other leaders, other winners in the industry. Not only ask the right questions, "Can you help me", but what we're also finding is that those at the top, and that's probably where you are now, are generous with their time and are keen to talk to keen up-and-coming agents about how they can get better.

Michael Clarke: To be frank, that's the whole reason why I'm here today. I couldn't believe, when I got into this industry, that people could be so generous and giving of their success. If they're prepared to give back, then I thought to myself, well look if shall I ever be fortunate enough to get into a position to be able to give back where anything I had to say was worthwhile listening to, than I'd do that too.

Tim Neary: Mate, nice to hear that. That's fantastic. In terms of giving back, let's just talk a little bit about that. In terms of your business now, what are some of the things that you never do in the business? It's sort of the golden rule. What do you never do?

Michael Clarke: You never compromise your integrity to get a deal. Ever. That's one of the biggest things because listings come and go and sales come and go, but you're always creating momentum in real estate and it's either positive or it's negative. Anyone can be a superstar for a year or two, but if you're going out there, even if you're selling a property for big money, if you're leaving a trail of destruction behind you because there is one buyer who might be happy and 19 others who are upset, then people talk. We work extremely hard to make sure that the record results or whatever the kind of results that we get, that the people who buy it and sell it are delighted with the result. Even the people who miss out. Even if they're upset with the fact that they missed out, that they knew it was a fair and a transparent process. Never compromise your integrity for a deal.

Tim Neary: Fantastic. I like the way that you put that. If I'm hearing you correctly, it's about reputation and it's about brand. You start to build your own personal brand. Obviously the branding of the group that you work for, if you're with one of the groups, but then it's your own brand, your own personal integrity in that catchment area that you work in.

Michael Clarke: The branding and the reputation and things like that... I heard it explained to me once by one of the top agents way back when. It's like pushing a huge boulder. You exert a huge amount of energy for bugger all awards initially, but if you keep pushing in the same direction and exerting all your energy in that one bushoot than slowly the stone starts to roll and then as you get more and more momentum, it's a lot easier to maintain. I heard it said once that it's a lot easier to sell four a month than one a month. It's easy to sell eight a month than four a month. That's exactly right. It's momentum and reputation is no different.

Tim Neary: Yeah mate that makes a lot of sense. That comes back to what you were saying when started around. It's real hard work in the beginning, but once you get that boulder rolling, it just starts to roll itself. The momentum takes over.

Michael Clarke: And that's the other issue-

Tim Neary: As long as you keep it on track, I suppose that's the integrity that you were talking about.

Michael Clarke: Yeah because it can take 10 years to build up a good reputation and one second to smash it. I don't know whether that's coming from a small country town like Orange, where everybody knows everyone. I was always taught to believe the only thing we every own in our entire live was our good name. I wanted to make sure when I first started that I was looking to try and find the right people who would do it the right way so that when I was building a business, I was building it to last, not just something that would be a flash in the pan.

Tim Neary: I think that in a small country town, they talk about that everybody knows everybody's business. I think the same applies in a big city like Sydney. Just do something wrong and all of a sudden you'll see how much people know about what you're doing.

Michael Clarke: That's the thing that is interesting about our industry as well. I know a stack of real estate agents and just about all of them that I know – they're good, hard-working, honest people. The industry itself doesn't have such a wonderful rep. It doesn't take much for a real estate agent to do something even ever-so-slightly not straight up and down for the negative perceptions and the negative stereotypes to be reinforced.

Tim Neary: That's a good point because there's that preconceived idea that's there and if it's a half a gap, the general public just going to jump on and say, "There. Told you."

Michael Clarke: That's right, but the upside of it is what a great opportunity when you're doing the right thing consistently, as I believe most real estate agents do, then it's a great opportunity to be able to prove that this industry is something that is not only unbelievable to be a part of, but we provide genuine service and we can help people change their lives.

Tim Neary: At Real Estate Business we agree with that 100%. Just moving on then, you talked about the thing you never do, what about the things that you always do? What are the cornerstones of your business?

Michael Clarke: Work hard. Constantly look to grow personally. I found that the only limit you have in this industry is your own personal growth. Exercise is critical because it's extremely stressful and I workshop everything that I do with my wife and business partner Cherie.

Tim Neary: You know what I love about doing this podcast is we talk to all the best real estate agents in the country and the common denominators are always there. One of the thing that comes up over and over again is this continual improvement. Even those of you that at the top of your game, you're still looking to improve, never sitting back and going "I'm there. I'll just let it go from here". I think that's really good advice for people who are wanting to move up and continue.

Michael Clarke: I think it's a bit like with the Australian Open playing at the moment, it's fascinating for me to watch people like Federer and all the best tennis players. If you have a look, as the years progress, Federer, when he first came into the arena, was considered the best tennis player ever. He didn't have a week. Sure enough, then Nadal came along. It's always changing. Then Djokovic etc. etc. I'm not the biggest tennis fan in the world, but it's fascinating for me to watch how those guys are consistently trying to tweak parts of their games and trying to get better and better. I think real estate is no different.

Tim Neary: I think that's a very good point. At the time, recording now, they've just played the quarter finals. Federer playing last night. In the interview he said exactly that. He was talking about how the games have changed over the years and how he has to reinvent his own game in order to stay relevant. Those are good lessons aren't they? We can learn a lot. In terms of putting it all together, balance ... Is there such a thing as balance and how do you bring balance into your life because I think there is such a thing as burn out?

Michael Clarke: There's definitely a thing such as burn out. Balance is a continual struggle. I'm really lucky. My wife is my business partner, my best mate, and my greatest mentor. The two of us workshop everything together. We both pulling in the same direction all the time. Right from the very beginning. It was Cherie that prompted me to get into real estate and we workshopped every little part of the whole process. The ability for the two of us to work in the same direction with the kids and family and things like that, it means we've got a couple of interests. One is real estate and the other one is our family, which can make me entirely one-dimensional, but, on the other hand, I'm loving life and I think that balance is something that you work at every single day because you don't have one day where you magically just wake up and say I'm balanced and zen. It's trying to, "Okay well this day didn't work and why didn't that work? And this day did work. And part of this day work and why is that?" Then becoming more and more organised. The more organised we are and the more organised I get, the more likely I am to have balance in that day or that week.

Tim Neary: That makes a lot of sense. It's not just something you have to talk about. It's something you have to do and live.

Michael Clarke: To get any idea of how balanced you are, take a look at your week. What have you spent your time on?

Tim Neary: It's good point. Just on that point as well. A lot of our listeners are going to be young real estate agents, starting on the business, looking to get tips and looking to develop their own careers. Just in terms of that, if you could give advice to people starting out, what is the nub of it? What makes a good real estate agent? What should people be doing now? Real estate agents be doing now in order to progress into the future?

Michael Clarke: I think the person who learns the most and implements the most in combination with a massively high work ethic is unbeatable. There's no shortcuts at all. There's a lot of training materials and things out there. It's all at your fingertips. It's one thing to listen to it and learn about it. It's another thing to implement that. What I've found is throughout every period of my personal growth, during my period of personal growth, it wasn't fun. In fact, people talk about learning and growth and how wonderful it is. My experience has been, when I'm looking back, I feel hey that's wonderful that I've learned and grown, but while it's happening, it's crap.

Tim Neary: It's painful.

Michael Clarke: Yes it is because you're going through a transition that is uncomfortable and it's out of your comfort zone. I think that we're in an unbelievable industry where I'm experienced and I'm potentially an example of the fact that you can get into an industry, know nothing and no one. I didn't have the faintest idea when I started and to be able to learn from people who are so generous, who are prepared to give back. Then to work extremely hard to implement what I've learned. It means that anyone can do it, but you have to have the ability and the willingness without ego to learn what people who are better than you are doing and then do it.

Tim Neary: Without ego. I think that's a very important point. I mean there is that generosity that exists within the industry...no ego. It's an industry that as with those at top want those that are coming up and aspiring, want them to succeed. It's an industry where people want everybody to succeed and do well.

Michael Clarke: It's one of those things where I've experienced firsthand from people who've been so much better than I perhaps every will be is that there are only two type of people in the world: those who will celebrate your success and those who will be intimidated by your success. We are fortunate that this industry is very much one where most people celebrate their success, which is great.

Tim Neary: That generosity exists. I've seen it over and over again. Mate, we're coming to the end of the show and I just wanted, in terms of success, to get the Michael Clarke top tips. The business is around listing and selling and connecting with your network. Just in terms of your top tip for selling, what do you do to get your listings?

Michael Clarke: I think the first thing is, you have to be extremely prepared so when you're walking into that presentation you need to sweat enough in practice so that you're not about to bleed in battle. The other thing is you can give yourself permission to have drop the ball or to lose a listing in a whole range of different ways, but you should never give yourself the permission to be unenthused in a listing. Enthusiasm require zero skills and zero aptitude. If you can't be enthusiastic about being across the table from somebody where you're asking them permission to handle their greatest asset, I think you really need to be careful about that.

Tim Neary: I like the way you put that. If you're going to get beaten, get beaten by somebody that's better than you, but don't get beaten because you're not keen enough.

Michael Clarke: 100%.

Tim Neary: Top tip for marketing. How do you get more buyers?

Michael Clarke: For me, marketing advertising was a lot easier. In fact, for me, it was probably the easiest bit in real estate because that was my background in advertising. I've always had the fundamental belief that the best way to get the highest price for a vendor is to get more buyers who are competitively fighting for it. As a result, my belief is it's not our job to sell a property because a property could sell itself for whatever. It's our job to maximise the sale price and as a result, the best way to maximise the sale price is to have more buyers fighting for it. Therefore, it was a very logical thought. It happened for me at least. The better you market and advertise a home, the more likely you're going to get more buyers and therefore the greater opportunity you're going to have to sell for more.

Tim Neary: That makes a lot of sense. It comes back to when you were talking about a little earlier. Also, about momentum and building momentum. I know we've been talking about branding and reputation, but this is pretty much the same thing. It builds on its own momentum.

Michael Clarke: That's the thing. The chicken and the egg stuff. The most remarkable thing I've found in the whole industry is that the harder I work on myself, the better my vendors would go and the better my vendors would go, the better I would and my family would go. It was a self-fulfilling, self-perpetuating cycle. What a great industry. You work on yourself, become a better human, earn more, and have a better life. Giddy up.

Tim Neary: Absolutely. Your top tip for improving efficiencies. We're seeing more and more these days that certain social media is coming into play and big data is becoming an issue. Technology is infiltrating itself into our world more and more. How do you incorporate tech into your business?

Michael Clarke: I kind of see technology as a natural extension of our industry. Whether that is looking at the Facebook, Arena, or other areas of social media or whether it's looking at the new latest or greatest app on getting buyers on open homes or things like that. I think where the beneficiaries of technology allowing us to list a lot more property. As a result, we need to be nimble enough and open minded enough to understand that that exact same technology sphere that had allow us to list and sell so many more property, is the thing that we're going to also need to continue to embrace so that we can continue to do our job and remain relevant in an industry that's ever-changing.

Tim Neary: I love the way that's put there. That sort of brings us to the end of the show as well. I just like to thank you for coming in. The takeaways that I can take away from this is be sincere, be real, never compromise your standards, work hard, and do something that you love. The rest of it will all fall into place.

Michael Clarke: Absolutely.

Tim Neary: I think that's great advice. I really appreciate you coming in today mate. Thanks very much.

Michael Clarke: More than welcome. Thanks for having me.

Tim Neary: Remember us. To follow us on all the social media stuff: Twitter, Facebook, and Linkedin. You can follow me on @timothyneary if you want to do that. Remember also to tune in next week realestatebusiness.com.au is where you'll find us. Plenty of stories there on the business of real estate across the whole of Australia and on my guest today Michael Clarke. Thanks again for tuning in, we'll see you next week. Good bye.



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