Peter Gordon from Cobden & Hayson – Balmain joins the Secrets of the Top 100 Agents podcast to discuss his humble beginnings in real estate and why taking a long-term view of the industry enabled him to excel in his career.
Tune in as he and host Tim Neary discuss what it takes to work a database “technically”, the importance of having thick skin in the face of rejection, as well as his thoughts on working with an agency versus working for oneself.
In this episode, find out:
- Why real estate is a people business
- Peter’s do’s and don’ts for working with a team
- Why a good sales agent will balance the personal with the technical
Tim Neary: G’day everyone, it's Tim Neary here, I am the editor of Real Estate Business and host of the Secrets of the top 100 agents podcast. Thanks for tuning in, this is the show where we bring in and chat to the very best agents in Australia. I'm really pleased to welcome on the show today, ranked number 41 in the REB Top 100 Agents ranking for 2017, from Cobden & Hayson in Sydney it's Peter Gordon. Hello Peter, and welcome to the show.
Peter Gordon: Yeah, g’day, it's great to be here.
Tim Neary: Thanks very much for coming in. Look so it's up two places from 43 in last year’s ranking, congratulations. I know that you didn't start out at the top obviously, and I'd like to go back just a little bit to the beginning, just as you started out. How did you get into the business of real estate?
Peter Gordon: Yeah, look it's a ... you're absolutely right, and I think a lot of people, they see agents that are doing well and you think, "Oh wow, I'd love to be that." But really I think everyone starts somewhere and I certainly had a very humble kind of start to my real estate career. I started in real estate not far from where we are right now actually, up at Neutral Bay doing leasing for a very small franchise, that's no longer in existence but was very much a basic family run little business. I was taking tenants out to show them through $100 dollar a week studio apartments and things like that, and I did that with those guys for a couple of years and I worked my way through leasing to property management. Did a little bit of a development work after that and then I came across to Balmain and joined Cobden & Hayson. They were then Raine and Horne Balmain, actually in 2005 they subsequently rebranded as Cobden & Hayson and yeah, can't believe it's been probably 12 years there now.
Tim Neary: Yeah time goes quickly, and then you got into sales there from...
Peter Gordon: Exactly yeah, so that was my first full time sales job, was in Balmain in Sydney. If anyone knows the Balmain market it's a terrific place to be a real estate agent. It's predominantly little Victorian semis and terraces and we've got some apartments but typically fairly small houses. Our average sale price there is about $1.7 million at the moment, and the best thing about Balmain is the general target market, or the demographic they don't tend to stay in their houses very long, 'cause they outgrow them pretty quickly. Even the last 12 years there some houses I've sold four times.
Tim Neary: Okay, so that's handy, so that's a nice feature.
Peter Gordon: It's a good place to be an agent, yeah.
Tim Neary: Terrific, so let’s just go back to the beginning then if you don't mind. So you started on the property management side of things and then went into sales. How do you make that transition? Because essentially you'd be starting with a blank sheet of paper and a pencil. We talk a lot about building data bases, and having people to get listings from and to sell to.
Peter Gordon: Yeah, that's right, I think the property management background was a really good foundation for any real estate career, and I think it's ... whenever I'm talking to someone who's coming into the industry I think it's a good place to start. Particularly for people in their, give or take, 20 years old, so really at that entry point in their career. It gives you a good understanding of how property works, the foundation of real estates all about landlords and tenants and then going from there I was very fortunate to work with a very good agent in the Neutral Bay office that I was. He taught me a lot about databases, he was a very technical kind of agent, in that he just worked his database very thoroughly, stayed in touch with people religiously. I could just really see that, that was a great way – even if you're working for a brand that's not a particularly strong brand, but you could still make a good business out of just looking after people, staying in touch with people.
Tim Neary: So let's talk a little bit about that, you said that he worked the database technically, let’s just drill down a little bit into that, what does that mean? Working the database technically.
Peter Gordon: Well, so for me I guess he was working with a database, he'd been there for I think five or six years when I joined him, and I think he had about 1000 people on his database. What he would do, he would just ... I think the database system was called ACT or one of those really original kind of contact management software pieces, and he would just make notes in there, schedule calls, diarize things and just be very disciplined with the way he actually followed through with that. So if he had a conversation with someone in January, and they say, "Well we're not doing anything for six months." He says, "Okay great." Well diarise to give them a call in four months’ time, or whatever it was. He just had that discipline to follow through with that.
Tim Neary: You said something a little earlier and you talk about discipline now, about the fundamentals of real estate, and I guess it is that isn't it? It's about people, it's about staying in touch, it's about understanding their behaviours and what they're looking for, and then matching up what you have with what people are looking for.
Peter Gordon: Yeah, look we, as agents, we get involved with people in a very important time in their life, and it's a very personal time for them as well. So quite often an agent’s required when their families growing or they're downsizing, or potentially we're involved when someone’s passed and we're dealing with the family and things like that. So it's a very personal time to get involved with someone’s life, so it's very much a people business, it's very much a service business and looking after people and things like that. So I think the really good agents are able to combine the human side of it with the technical side of it, and that's what people who build great repeat and referral businesses, they can stay in touch with people, but when they're in touch with people, the people that they're looking after can see it's coming from a really genuine place.
Tim Neary: You talk about the really good agents and that would be a sort of a progression wouldn't it? You would start out as a rookie agent, and then you would start to learn the ropes and you would then become the good agent, so in terms of your own experiences, when did you start to get a little traction in the business?
Peter Gordon: Yeah, look I think for anyone it probably takes you three or four years in sales to really build traction, and that's because obviously you don't hit the ground at 50 sales a year, you probably hit the ground at maybe 10 sales a year if you do really well. The second year you might be up to 20 or 30, and then you sort of, well for me it then sort of got to 50 and 60 after about five years and I'm probably at about 75 or 80 now, which is where I kind of like to be. But yes, so the logical life cycle of people being able to be repeat customers isn't, you know, people don't move every two weeks, so it does take you a few years to build that cycle of people saying, "Okay, right well I bought through Peter" or "He was really good to deal with when I was looking." Even if they bought through somebody else, when they then go to move again they'll come back to you, so that's not something that happens overnight. You do really have to take a long term view with real estate.
Tim Neary: So you need to be entrenched in the area and the geography that you're working, and you also need to build a brand in that area as well, where people recognise that you are the person to go to. How do you build that brand?
Peter Gordon: Well yeah so your brand is built, and there's a couple of different ways, obviously you've got your traditional stuff where you've got advertising, now through social media sites, and through letterbox drops and deal cards and things like that. But I think your brand is also the way you make people feel when they come to an open home. If they're like, "Okay right well, Peter and Stephanie ..." or Peter and Ralph, or whoever I'm working with at an open home, if they come through and they're like, "Wow, those guys were really warm and they weren't your typical trying to chew my arm off type real estate agents." They'll walk away and they'll say, "Okay, right we've been looking at 10 houses, which were the agents that stood out, in terms of the ones we'd really like to buy through, or we'd recommend."
Tim Neary: We talk a lot about branding, sort of the dual branding process, of branding yourself as an agent and also the branding that you come with with the company that you represent. You're with one of the niche ones, or one of the more independent agencies that you work with, how important is it to have a big brand behind you? Or is it less important?
Peter Gordon: Look, I think when you starting out it's very much about us instead of me, so if you're going to a listing appointment after you've been in real estate for a year, you talk very much about, we as in us as the brand, Cobden & Hayson, our market share and this and that. Once you've been in the market for a long time and you've built your own track record and things like that, it's very much about me. So you go from being we to me, so the conversations are different, because it's then like, "Oh well I've sold this and I've sold that." And what have you, so as you become more experienced, as you build your own database and track record and credibility in the market, I don't think the brand that you're working with is as important as it is at the start. So for any agents that are starting out, new into real estate, I think aligning yourself with a really strong brand is probably the most important thing you can do.
Tim Neary: Then going on from there, and establishing yourself in that area that you work, becoming entrenched in that area that you're working in. We sort of covered off, really starting out, really green with the database, with the clean sheet of paper and the pencil, and then building it from there, and then establishing yourself as the brand in your area. At some point also as you start to move up and you were talking about selling 20 to 30 to 50 to where you are now, 75 to 80 properties a year, you're going to need some help, you're going to bring on some assistance. What are the key things that people should be thinking about at that point?
Peter Gordon: Yeah, look I think...
Tim Neary: Some of the do's and don’ts.
Peter Gordon: Yeah, the do's and don’ts and like I was terrible with my first couple of assistants, I burnt through probably two or three assistants in two years. I really didn't know how to manage them, I didn't really know what to, what value to be looking for from them.
Tim Neary: It's a whole new discipline, isn't it?
Peter Gordon: Very much.
Tim Neary: In terms of finding the right person and then also managing that person once you have them.
Peter Gordon: Exactly, and I think now these affected business unit-type models, which is what I run, I basically have a team of three, and so I'm obviously the one that feeds the machine in terms of listing and selling what have you. But then I've got a buyer specialist who works with me, and she's a really great human person, who will deal with the buyers and keep in touch with people and match people with property. Then there's an administration and marketing type assistant, so two very different roles, and when you looking to appoint your first assistant I think it's probably … You're going down the path of taking away that administration type work that you have to be doing on a daily basis. So you can free up your time then to be doing more prospecting and getting on the coal face and talking to people.
Tim Neary: Doing the things that you do.
Peter Gordon: Yeah, the dollar productive stuff rather than dropping letterbox stuff yourself, and designing ads and booking photographers and building inspections and things.
Tim Neary: Yeah, so talking about dollar productive stuff Peter, we're sort of getting towards the end of the show now, and it's a time when I like to just talk about sort of top tips. From your experience what is your top tip when you go into a listing's presentation, what is your top, say the top three things that you always do when you go into listing's presentations?
Peter Gordon: I think it's important not to talk too much, really we need to understand the client's situation so we can then decide, work out how we can best help them. You can't walk into a situation, you can't assume anything, so quite often I think you might go in and think, "Right, well I've got this whole structured plan, and options are the way to go, I'm going to sell a big marketing campaign, and try and get them to go to market immediately." Or what have you, but the situation might be very different, they might have had a really bad experience with a certain method of sale. They may have their own reasons for wanting to do something differently, so I think first and foremost, I would ask lots of questions and really try and understand the clients’ needs.
Tim Neary: Talk less and listen more.
Peter Gordon: Talk less and listen more, exactly, and people call in a real estate because they're looking for guidance and advice, based on their situation. So I think whether or not you win the listing or not, I think you need to, the person that you've just met with needs to be much more informed about their situation than they were before you went in there. So giving them really good strong advice, regardless of whether or not you're going to be looking after the sale, I think is the best way of looking, on the listing side of things.
Tim Neary: I like that, I like what you said there, so…listen more, talk less and then understand why they've called you in, they want guidance.
Peter Gordon: Exactly.
Tim Neary: So give them guidance, listen and then give guidance. You mentioned whether you get the presentation, whether you get the listing or not, let's assume you get the listing and you go on and sell it, but if you don't get the listing, what do you do then? Because I know that different people have different ways of handling that and can be a little off putting.
Peter Gordon: Look, you really do need to develop a thick skin, I used to get very disappointed and hung up on missing business but now I'm literally I'm over it within 10 seconds of getting the phone call. I just think for whatever reason that one wasn't meant to be, or I didn't connect with them, obviously you can break it down and try work out what went wrong and what you can do to improve next time. But you've got to have a pretty thick skin in real estate, you need to be able to handle rejection, you're not going to list and sell every house in a suburb for whatever reason, somebody else did a better job and won the business, so just focus on the next thing.
Tim Neary: I think you've just the sort of the three critical points: one is listen more, provide guidance and have a thick skin.
Peter Gordon: Exactly.
Tim Neary: Yeah, terrific, I wanted to ask you one more thing Peter before I let you go. The modern real estate agent is a lot more sort of tech savvy, and social media savvy these days, when you think back 10 years ago when you started out, to what you're doing now in the social media world, and in the tech world, what's changed and how much difference does it make to your business today?
Peter Gordon: There's nowhere to hide anymore, I think it really just, the importance of really looking after people is so much more important now with social media and reviews. I think the bad agents get found out a lot faster than they did 10 or 15 years ago. I think when I first started we were still calling and phoning the Sydney Morning Herald to place our ad's and literally reading out the ... what you wanted the ads to say, which is like pretty old school, but that changed really quickly.
Now everything's much more instantaneous, communication, I think there's a lot more social proof out there, and the potential clients who are in the market can do a lot of research on a person before they speak with you. So generally if you meet with a client now, it's almost like it's the second or third time you've met with them because they've already done the research online, they've read your reviews, they've looked at what you've sold in the area, they've really qualified you before you get there. So it's a deeper conversation from day one.
Tim Neary: That ties back to what you were saying about going into the listing's presentation where you talk less and you listen more, because you don't need to tell them about who you are and what you do, 'cause they already know, otherwise they wouldn't have called you in.
Peter Gordon: A lot of the time that's exactly right.
Tim Neary: Yeah, Peter mate thanks very much for coming in, it's been a pleasure to talk to you this morning and thanks for your time. Congratulations again on the improvement over the, in the ranking, in the last two years, and it'd be good to get you back sometime in the future.
Peter Gordon: Would love to, thank you.
Tim Neary: Nice one, thanks mate.
Peter Gordon: Cheers.
Tim Neary: Cheers. Remember to follow us on all the social media stuff, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, you can follow me also on Twitter at TimothyJNeary if you want to do that, Real Estate Business 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 Peter Gordon. Thanks again for tuning in and we'll see you next week. Goodbye.