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James Tostevin reveals his 'qualifying period' for success

10 July 2017 Tamikah Bretzke
James Tostevin

In this episode of Secrets of the Top 100 Agents, editor Tim Neary talks to Marshall White's James Tostevin who placed second in this year’s ranking.

Despite his numerous achievements, James says he’s far from an overnight success story. Tune in to hear why it took this agent the best part of a decade to find his footing and how high energy levels, effective time management and an appetite for success drove him to grow his business.

In this episode, find out:

  • How James changed gears to find a work/life balance
  • Why asking for feedback was critical to improving his work
  • The importance of establishing your point of difference in the industry

Make sure you never miss an episode by subscribing to us now on iTunes!

Full transcript

Tim Neary: Oh, g'day everyone. It's Tim Neary here. I am editor of Real Estate Business and 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 very best agents in Australia. Look, we've got a very special guest on the show today. He's ranked number two in the REB Top 100 Agents ranking for 2017, from Marshall White in Victoria, it's James Tostevin. Hello James, and welcome to the show. Congratulations James – a consistent top performer in the REB Top 100 ranking.

James Tostevin: Thank you.

Tim Neary: So, how do you do it James? What's your secret?

James Tostevin:  I think the energy levels, my energy levels have always been exceptionally high, and I guess there's an appetite for success. I'm a very driven person, and I think consistency's probably one of the things I'd be proudest about if you look at my career overall. I've maintained a high level of performance over a long period of time, and look, I guess once you achieve certain things, it's difficult to say that you're suddenly happy to achieve a lot less than that. But some people, as we know in life, once they achieve a degree of success in any field, suddenly get a bit complacent. But I guess that's never been my personality. I enjoy being successful, I enjoy what comes from that success in terms of the accolades, like this, the financial ones, all the obvious things.

But yeah, so I guess when you enjoy something, I'm being cliché, but it doesn't feel like work. I love walking into the doors every day. Having said that, I'm like anyone, I love having my holidays as well. I think the main things are that, but I think that's probably oversimplifying it. I think my ability to keep in touch with people, a lot of people, over a long period of time, has always really separated me from most of my competitors. Not saying all, but a healthy percentage, and that's something I've always really worked exceptionally hard at doing, and really demonstrated my enthusiasm to help people over a period of time.

Tim Neary: Hey James, you make some good points there, and a couple of things I just want to pull out there. One, you said consistency, the other one you talked about was being ambitious and enjoying the work and it not feeling like work to you. I wanted to just drill down a little bit more into that. I mean, that must place a certain amount of pressure on you. You start your business, you get to a certain level, and then want to keep that level. Do you find it pressurised?

James Tostevin: I don't tend to put pressure on myself in that respect, but I acknowledge that some people would, and I know the more you achieve in life, of course, the saying, your efforts and therefore performance levels year to year can be challenging. But I don't probably think of it that way. I don't feel pressure in that respect. I don't put myself under financial pressure where I've got such substantial commitments that unless I list and sell I'm going to be in a whole world of pain, a lot of trouble. No, I don't feel it that way, some people would but I don't. I really just enjoy what I do so much.

A client asked me recently who I sold a property to about 12 years ago, do I still enjoy what I do now as much as 12 years ago. I said, "Well actually, it's interesting you ask that. I enjoy it more." He said, "I can see that, I just thought I'd ask you the question." I think that actually summarises my attitude to my career and it's honestly, it's never been a job for me. I've just loved doing it over such a period of time, I can't imagine not doing it moving forward. It's something that I intend to do for a long time.

Tim Neary: I think those two things go hand in hand. One is that you enjoy the job and the second is that there's no pressure, so I guess that's the reason why. I wanted to, James, just deviate a little bit here. You were talking about selling a property to a buyer and then 12 years later being asked that question. A lot of our listeners are starting out agents, and I guess finding their way in the industry. If you could go back 12 years and talk to your starting out self, what advice would you give to yourself at that time, about the mindset that you need to be a successful real estate agent?

James Tostevin: I think the thing I was never taught and therefore if I went back in time and said, "Okay, what would I do differently?" is yes, I understood the importance of maintaining contact with a lot of people, but when I started off, I think what I tried hard to do was I attracted a lot of buyers. Because I was a very young agent, and when you're young in the industry, not just in terms of your age, in terms of time in the business, I think most people are astute enough to work that out pretty quickly, that if you haven't had a huge amount of experience, then they can almost pick up on that. Because it's the way you interact with people and the dialogue that you use, you're not a mature agent in that respect, and therefore people can pick up on that pretty quickly.

I think if I had my time over, it's just someone explaining to me time management. I just was never really taught. I had to teach myself to be a lot stronger and I think back to I feel I'm quicker at doing things professionally than 10 years ago, 5 years ago, a year ago, a month ago. I think I've probably got faster and faster and faster, but I was never taught the importance of that. I'd have scattered appointments through the day, I'd just do things when people wanted me to do them, and I just never thought through that. It was just never explained to me that you should have blocks of time, you should think about the structure to your week, where for example, with my prospecting nurture calls, I make those calls on a ... I do make them, and have some time on a Tuesday/Wednesday.

So instead of doing 8 or 10 appointments on a Monday/Tuesday combined, I might do four one day, six the next, or five and five, I try and do 7, 8, 9, 10 on a Monday, and I leave my Tuesdays clear as possible to make my prospecting nurture calls, but I was never taught that. If I had to teach a young agent what to do, I'd really be encouraging them to think a lot about the structure of their day and the structure of their week. Now of course that's easy in time, and when you develop a team and it's of course more straightforward, and the younger agent could say, "Well, that's easy for him to do because he's got good people around him." I acknowledge that it takes a while, but we've also got to remember that they haven't got as much on their plate as the more senior person...

Tim Neary: Good points.

James Tostevin: …Because they haven't got as many listings typically. Therefore, they really should be thinking about those things. Even something as simple as bookending my week. I always found to work really hard Tuesday/Wednesday/Thursday, and later suited me more with a young family. I've got six children, which is a lot of children, but I found it easier and I wanted to finish earlier on a Monday and a Friday, that suited me. I found it easy to do appointments and everything on certain days and that's from vendor meetings to presentations for listings or appraisals. All of those appointments, all of those time consuming things, but critical part of a salesperson or agent's week.

I just really thought threw that, so I certainly wish I'd been taught that, and I think the other thing when I got into it was I just don't think the companies that I was a part of, I think they did some sales training, but it was fairly limited. There wasn't really an understanding of the importance of it. People understand the importance of it now, but there's still a lot of agents out there that don't attend enough training. I just find that staggering, and a very, very good friend of mine recently, who does some training and coaching, said to a fellow who's been in the industry for some years and he said, "When did you last practise a presentation to a prospective vendor within the office?" He said, "Oh, about seven years."

Now, that's horrifying because ultimately people are out there practising on real people. Real money at stake and you think, "That's just crazy. Why wouldn't you practise within the office?" That was another thing again, I wish I'd been probably ... People had spent more time with me, with honing my presentation skills to a prospective client, because again, that's a weakness in our industry. We're trying to I guess outwit, outpoint our competitors, and we're trying to make sure that we present our credentials so strongly that that person feels compels to signed with us. That's a summary. I mean, there's probably some other things, but that would be a little bit of a summary anyway.

Tim Neary: That's terrific, James. I mean, there's some real gold in there and as you were talking I just jotted down a few notes. The one thing that struck me was I wrote down "life cycle" and as someone starting out in the business would have different requirements to somebody that's more mature in the business like yourself now, but essentially would be wanting to tick off those same things. Like, time management is always important, sales training and honing skills is always important. Maybe the dialogue might change, but the dynamic might change, but they're always going to be important across the range.

James Tostevin: I agree. I look at the young guys and I say to our younger people, both male and female, if they haven't got a young family, I say, "God, you've got really little to worry about." Largely, they've got themselves, they might have a girlfriend or a boyfriend, they might have a partner, but if they haven't got a young family, I always think to myself, "Wow, they've got so much freedom." Don't get me wrong, I love having a family. It's been fantastic. I wouldn't change anything.

Tim Neary: I agree with that, yes.

James Tostevin: But having said that, I just feel there are definitely situations where I took advantage of that as a young person. Now, I did get married young, but I still took advantage of the fact that as you get older and your responsibilities definitely increase, it's certainly way easier to make time for certain things if you haven't got ... If you look at all the commitments that come with having children, I mean, the financial burden of it, but it's all the extra responsibilities from whether you're taking them to school, the pickup. Now of course, someone might work in the industry, and their wife mightn't work professionally and might be able to lean on that person, their wife, to help them and vice versa. Got to be careful with those sort of things.

Ultimately, I think yeah, the responsibilities that come can be onerous, and it's like when people study. I mean, I certainly studied when I was 18 and I look back at the advice I was given from my mother. I thought, "Oh, I don't need to study now. I can always do it down the track." She said, "Do it before you have onerous responsibilities." Thank God I did actually listen to that advice, because ultimately it's made my life a lot easier, getting the study out of the way. I did have a family as a young man, and I guess I just then tried to progressively become a better real estate agent and I hope that if I did that, the financial rewards would follow which they obviously have.

Tim Neary: Which they have, James, and I think you make a good point again. It's almost a bit like playing the course as it's laid out, isn't it? I mean, your responsibilities and your priorities as a younger person are going to be different to those as somebody that's establishing a family or establishing and raising a family. As a family man myself, I know that there were great benefits in the period before my daughter was born, and now there are great benefits in watching her grow up and become an adult.

James Tostevin: Yeah, definitely. Yeah, I mean I wouldn't change of what I've been through, and I'm very lucky to have ... I mean, my five older children are 21 to 26, that I've now got a little boy, Jack, who's 14 months old. My life's changed again.

Tim Neary: All over again.

James Tostevin: Yeah, all of my responsibilities, but it's great. I wouldn't change any of that for the world, it's been brilliant.

Tim Neary: Fantastic. And to apply that to a real estate agent, if you can map back in your own career, there would be times when I'm assuming, and correct me if I'm wrong, that you would have changed gears as you became more mature in the business, as you became more confident in your business, as your family grew up and matured. Do you remember that happening deliberately or was it just something that happened naturally as your business grew?

James Tostevin: A lot of things have happened naturally, and I guess have evolved in the industry, and every part of what I do professionally through to my personal life. I feel I'm more time efficient than I've ever been, and I think in terms of my listing prowess, and my ability to communicate to prospective clients, I feel I'm at the top of my gain, and I guess partly because I've done it for 31 years, but there's still be different stages along the way. I think the tricky thing about the industry or challenging thing for people if they've not been in for terribly long, or even if they've been it for three, four, five, six years or beyond and they've not had the financial rewards that have come from success, and they can think, "Well, am I in the right industry?"

For all the commitments, the commitment that they make to real estate, with the weekend work and the afterhours work, but there is a period. I call it a qualifying period to be successful, and I feel like certainly in our market, it's a minimum of five years before you can really make genuine inroads into a marketplace. I know some agents have defied that throughout Australia, realistically, but gee it's tough to do in our area anyway. Because to get to know a certain number of people, to build up your database to a certain level, and therefore get people ringing you saying, "Look, thanks for keeping in touch. We're ready to do something" or, "Mom's moving to a retirement village" or, "My brother's being transferred interstate for work and he'd like some advice on his property." You sort of think to yourself, "Wow."

It is a really, really difficult business until you're at that critical point in my view. But yeah, look, I think the other thing is people look at me and say that there haven't been challenges along the way and, "It's okay for you because it's all quite easy," it doesn't mean it's always been easy. I was not an overnight success, far from it. I took really eight or nine years before I began to make some decent inroads, and I didn't have great success for a long period of time. That's because I probably didn't attend the sales training. It just wasn't as well known in those days.

Yeah, so I'd like to think that really the things I've done and put in place over a period of time have definitely helped, but as I said, it took me a long time really, I think, to get going and have I had some moments where I've thought, "My God, this is bloody hard work and it's all consuming?" I absolutely have, without a doubt.

Tim Neary: James, I really like the way that you say there's a qualifying period there and you put it at five years. I guess, and these are my own words, we talk a lot about becoming an attraction agent in the business, and in my own words, from changing to being a chasing agent to becoming an attraction agent is in that qualifying period. We're getting to the end of the podcast now, James, so I wanted to ask you a couple of specific questions around what agents can look to do in that five year qualifying period as you put it, to assist them to get through. Let's call it the "top tips section." In that period, what would you, again, if you were talking to your young self, what would you do more of in listings presentations? Your top tips for listing presentations?

James Tostevin: Okay, I think the top tips would be really thinking through your points of difference and not enough agents do that. I think the other thing is when you [inaudible 00:14:57], it's certainly important to say to the client, they were a potential client but they're not anymore, just say, "Well look, I'm not going to be offended or upset, but what could we have done differently that would have put us in a superior position to represent you?" That's important, and I always say to people, "Please be blunt. You're not going to upset me, not going to offend me, please be very upfront with me." But when you secure a listing, always ask what ultimately led them to appoint you.

There's going to be reasons why they appointed you over the other agents, and there's going to be reasons why you've beaten your main one, two, three competitors, so listen intently to that feedback. When you get that feedback, that's something again, you can feed into subsequent presentations. That's a critical learning, in my opinion, and once you learn those things, and you learn what's important to people and what strikes a chord with people, what they respond to positively, it really, really does make a difference. Because people then begin to say, "Do you know what? That makes sense and I really like that about" ... In this instance, I'm a part of Marshall White, but they really like that about Marshall White, and that consistently beats our competitors.

So, if it does consistently beat it, use it. I think it's really important. That would be one thing, and just the practise element to it. I find it really, really frustrating that more agents don't do enough practise. I just can't understand why they don't do it, but they just don't it. That's something I think, again, is critical. Get someone to critique it, get someone to listen to your presentations, and make sure they don't protect feelings. Make sure they say, "Look, you're doing this and this well, but you need to work on this aspect of it." But I think it's all about points of difference, and your ability to communicate those effectively to a client, where that person embraces it says, "Do you know what? That makes sense and I feel very comfortable with your advice." That's really what you're trying to achieve.

Tim Neary: So we put those two things together, one you ask for a critique back on why you lost it, and also why you got it, and then put those things into your presentation. Then, practise the presentation. You're saying just like in the office, sit down with one of, like if I was a junior agent, sit down with the senior agents, do the presentation to them, and ask them just to give some feedback and some critique on that.

James Tostevin: Correct. I think it's really my advice would be three people, three agents. One who presents, one who's the so-called prospective vendor, and one who's the agent. That's all you need is a minimum number in the office, and that will help enormously and you getting to another level.

Tim Neary: I mean, there's no doubt about it that being comfortable with something, it makes you be more authentic and you do a better job of it, and being comfortable is backed up by rehearsal.

James Tostevin: Yeah, I agree. I think it's a critical part of it, definitely.

Tim Neary: Hey James, it's been terrific chatting to you today, and I really appreciate your time. It'd be good to get you back on the show at some time in the future, so hopefully we can do that.

James Tostevin: Yeah, no I'd love to. I hope there's some value for the people that are listening, and be more than happy to do that at some later point. It'd be great.

Tim Neary: Nice one, James, and congratulations again on your second place in the Top 100 Ranking.

James Tostevin: My pleasure. Thanks again. Thank you.

Tim Neary: Nice one, James. Thank you. Bye bye. Remember to follow us on all the social media stuff, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn. You can follow me too on twitter, @TimothyJNeary, if you want to do that. RealEstateBusiness.com.au is where you'll find us. There's plenty of stories there on the business of real estate across the whole of Australia and on my guest today, James Tostevin. Thanks again for tuning in and we'll see you next week. Goodbye.

James Tostevin reveals his 'qualifying period' for success
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