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Matt Lahood on leadership, accessibility and the future of the industry

17 November 2017 Demii Kalavritinos
Matt Lahood, The Agency, CEO

The Agency CEO Matt Lahood shares his expertise in the industry and talks about the importance of being accessible. Matt chats with Tim about why his company has grown so rapidly over the last year, highlighting the importance of a strong leadership backbone to empower agents.

Matt shares a personal story to explain why it is important for agents to be connected and available. He also tells how he sets his staff up for success and gives us the inside track on his ultimate vision for the company.  

You will also find out:

  • Why “speed is the new currency”
  • Which types of agents are the strongest of the pack and why they are so
  • Where the sweet spots of the industry will be in the next five years

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



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Full transcript

Announcer: The Top 100 agents are the best of the best, listing and selling more than any other agent in Australia. These are the practises, actions, and beliefs of the most successful agents in Australian real estate. Raw, honest, and completely uncut.

Tim Neary: Good day everyone. It's Tim Neary here. I'm Editor of Real Estate Business and host of the Secrets of the Top 100 Agents podcast. Thanks for tuning in. Very pleased to welcome on the show today, CEO of fast growing and high profile real estate agency, The Agency. It's Matt LaHood. Hello Matt and welcome to the show.

Matt Lahood: Thanks very much, Tim. Thanks for having me on.

Tim Neary: You're very welcome. Now look, two decades in the industry and you've coached and mentored many, many agents through to the top level. You would've seen a lot of changes. Your personal credo is actually, "Great leaders are those that empower and inspire others." That would certainly be the cornerstone to where The Agency is today. Tell us a little bit about The Agency, the vision, and where you're going.

Matt Lahood: Absolutely. Well look, when we started off the business we sort of quickly worked out, Tim, that it was the agent that was the one in the lounge room up till 10 o'clock at night, and out there Saturday and Sunday creating, building, coaching sort of their clients to sort of get through the marketplace. Also, they were the ones that were building the relationships, so effectively we worked out if we could get the best agents onboard, and coach them to be at their best, well they would go out and look after their clients. That was really ... We really ... Our motto is that, "Brands don't sell homes, people do." We quickly worked that out. The vision for the company was to build the best group of people working right across Australia under the one brand and get them to look after their clients to the highest best-possible skill levels, trained up to the minute that they could and provide them the really best sort of footprint, I guess, and platform to work on.

Tim Neary: The business had been growing since you started at the beginning of the year.

Matt Lahood: Yes.

Tim Neary: The rise has been quite rapid.

Matt Lahood: It has. It's been quite rapid. Been very grateful for the marketplace responding very well, the clients of our agents really responding to them, our agents jumping on board and really getting into momentum fast. Look, it's probably been beyond expectation. We've had a couple of acquisitions of strategic companies that we purchased in the lower north shore of Sydney and also in the eastern suburbs and we've kept all the staff there and we're working with them and helping them growing and a lot of our support staff are really growing and developing as well, which is exciting.

Tim Neary: I wanted to talk a little bit about that rapid growth, there must be a reason for that. There's obviously something that is appealing at The Agency that is attracting ... And it's not just the starting out agents, it's some good agents that you've got with some reputations. What is it that people are looking for, Matt?

Matt Lahood: Look, it's really interesting, Tim, and we've got a model which is quite aggressive in terms of the way the agent can build a future for themselves, build an asset under our model. The other thing is, the commission splits ... We're not a franchise, so we've got a bit of flexibility on how we position our commission splits for the agent. But above everything, when I'm speaking to the agents, those sort of things are more a secondary sort of focus. They want leadership. What they want is an environment where they can really be at their best. They want to mix with the best people, and they want to be led the best.

            So, really good agents, really ... Their biggest focus is to work alongside other really professional agents, because what happens, if they're out in the marketplace on the weekend, they want to know that to the left of them and to the right of them, there's somebody of the same calibre, who's got the same ethics, moral standards. So, if their clients bump into one of their colleagues under their brand, they've got that same sort of look and feel out there in the market. The standard's very high.

            And I'm finding a lot of agents are really good at what they do, but the top agents ... Most agents, really, but it seems to be the agents that really want to push themselves and be at their best, they want to be mentored and coached by strong leadership.

Tim Neary: We see this in the top sports teams, don't we? As you're saying this it comes to me that the players play for each other-

Matt Lahood: Exactly.

Tim Neary: And it sounds a little bit like that's what's happening in The Agency, is that-

Matt Lahood: Yeah, exactly.

Tim Neary: Yeah.

Matt Lahood: They do, that's definitely a great way of putting it. And also, too, if you look around the sports teams, some of the best football teams, it's the ones that have the best leadership, the best coaches, they have all the best teams behind the best support staff, the best, whether it's medicos on board or ... They end up being the best players out on the field. So, that's sort of really the model.

            I view it, Tim, for an agent, our job as leaders of real estate companies is to empower our agents to be the best that they can, get them the best knowledge, get them the best coaching system structure, keep them up to date with the best ... All the legal side of the business as well, but above everything else, it's a bit like ... I liken it to a plane taking off, right? We sort of ... Great leaders are like traffic controllers at the airport. What they do is they make sure the plane's ready to go, they clear the runway and they get them the safe takeoff and a safe landing. So, that should be the job of a real good leader, is to help everyone just get to takeoff, safe flying above the ground and then a nice, safe landing. So, that's like, I'd liken that to lease, manage and sell a property and just guide them through the traffic conditions in the air, I suppose, you know? It's a sort of strange way of putting it, but ...

Tim Neary: No, it's a great analogy, I love it. It's like, get the impediments out of the way and then get out of the way and let them do what they do.

Matt Lahood: That's exactly right. And you know, a plane might take off and then the air traffic controller's 40,000 feet away saying, "Hey, listen, you've got headwinds coming up, adjust your rudder, adjust your wings, your flaps, whatever it might be. Make sure your landing gear's right. I can see headwinds coming up, adjust ..." Whatever the technical ... When you land, check your tyres. When you take off, you've got to make sure you've got the fuel, how you're feeling, how you're looking.

            That's sort of what the agents really want. The better the leadership, the more attractive the business is. Then you attract great people, then other people want to work with great people. All of a sudden, the referral starts becoming really strong between each other and people are putting arms around each other and linking arms to go to listings together, versus being a competitive, toxic environment amongst the brand, you know?

Tim Neary: The industry's changing, things are-

Matt Lahood: Rapidly.

Tim Neary: Moving quickly as well, yeah. It's not every day that we get a CEO of a leading, rising network in the studio, so I wanted to tap into your experience while you're here.

Matt Lahood: Thank you.

Tim Neary: Talk a bit about the industry-

Matt Lahood: Sure.

Tim Neary: And the state of the industry and the state of play at the moment. The one thing that comes up over and over again is this question of the so-called property bubble or are there lots of different properties?

Matt Lahood: Well, Tim, I've been hearing about a property bubble, about 30 years for me in real estate next year. It was always going ... Everything goes up, goes down, we all understand that. What it is is, look, the biggest driver, as we know, when I first started, the interest rates were at 18%. So, that was when we had real issues out in the marketplace. We had nobody coming to opens, no advertising you did worked, you couldn't find a buyer, you couldn't find somebody that had finance approved. So, whilst the interest rates are at record lows, it allows people to have a bit of leverage.

            Okay, look, I understand people are geared. I understand ... The unemployment, though, is stable. We still don't have a lot of ... Australia, generally, they're still not building ... It's all at capital cities, they're still not building a lot more properties. So, there's still a huge demand for people to keep buying. So, whilst those conditions stay the same, that bubble, in my personal view, won't ever burst, because there's just not enough supply for the demand and the demand keeps getting bigger.

            So, you know, we've got new generations coming through the property ranks, we've got overseas investment still strong, investors coming back in. The things are charging all the time. The growth continuing to go up every year is not sustainable. So, nothing's wrong with a little bit of a soft landing. If the market comes back a little bit, 10%, 5%, whatever it might be, it's not a bad thing, it's a good thing.

Tim Neary: That's not a bursting bubble.

Matt Lahood: It's not. It's more of a softer sort of landing than a bursting bubble, but, so that's the first thing. Back to the actual industry, what I've noticed over the last 10 years, speed is a new currency out there. So, you have to be fast at what you do. Owners now have the internet.

            So, look, I put it like this, Tim, to most of ... When I'm addressing our team, I say, "Look, realistically, owners don't need us anymore." If you want to be really blunt. So, they can find out how much your property's worth. They can go on the web and they can see that. They can find out that they can market that themselves, they can go on the internet and put their own signboard up. So, they feel, unless they're getting really strong value add, why would they use us? So, it's the agents that can show their value add will always be valuable to the clients.

            Because years ago, when I first started, the owner didn't have access to the internet, they didn't know what the property was worthy. They didn't have Core Logic they could buy an account subscription for, they didn't have access to portals like yourselves to see what was happening in the market. They didn't have access to anything, really. So, they needed the agent a lot more than they do, now.

            So, the agent that does not add value and is not fast and really transparent with their clients, they're going to be redundant. So, speed is the new currency, time ... The quicker you get back to people ... If you don't ring someone back by close of business today, effectively, they think you don't want to do business with them. When I first started, we didn't have mobile phones, there was no ... We had the old fax machine, that was about ... There was no email. So, people expected you to get back to them like two, three days later, that was acceptable. If you're not back to somebody within half an hour to 45 minutes even on a text saying you'll call them later, and I think, personally, close of business is sometimes too late today now as well, because we do have mobiles, we've got email, we've got text. You can at least acknowledge you've connected.

            So, that's the way I see the industry's changed completely. We used to do an open home years ago, Tim, and then I'd say to the owners, "I'll get back to the office at 5 o'clock and I'll call you and let you know what happened at your 10 o'clock open." Well, now when I'm closing the door up and bolting their front door, I'm calling them at the same point in time as I'm turning the key in their door and that's just quick enough now, you know? And then I'm sending them a report straight after, letting them know how many buyers et cetera, and then by that end of business I've done the callbacks and let them know everything by the time I go home that night. That process is shortened by about three days from how that used to happen, say, 20 years ago.

            Now, there are still agents working on that, "I'll get back to you on Monday," scenario, they're the ones that are going to get left on the overseas passenger terminal as the ship sails off and pulls the horn out, you know? So, they're the agents that will be left.

            Great saying, it's been around for a long time. If you don't like change, you're going to like extinction even less, right? I think it's a good one. That applies to the real estate industry today. Competition's strong, it's the sharper agents that are savvy on social media, that know how to value add to buyers and sellers are the ones that are going to be around, long time.

Tim Neary: I think that's so, so pertinent to the real estate industry which is going through this change and what I liked most about what you were saying there is that, as the new order takes hold with data and building and knowledge, it's actually the old stuff that's got to keep track with it.

Matt Lahood: Yes, absolutely, yep.

Tim Neary: And if you're not doing both of those things, then you're going to like extinction even less.

Matt Lahood: Exactly right. Look, Tim, a personal story for you, I had a client of mine who called me ... I don't sell so much day to day anymore, but I've still got a huge database of our clients. They called me, I was inter-state in a meeting, and I saw that they called me. So, I text them, I went out on a break and I text them, saying, "Got your message, will call you as soon as I finish the meeting." They sent me back saying, "Great, no rush."

            Anyway, I got back Sunday morning, I was out walking with my wife early 7 o'clock Sunday morning and I bumped into that client walking along the beach there. They're like, "Matt, I can't believe you got back to me straight, you didn't have to do that." And I thought, "You know what? That's a real ..." Then I went and had a coffee with them that morning, because they were there and they're like, "You don't have to do this, we've seen how busy you are," et cetera. They just said "That's what we love about you, you're always accessible."

            Now, I thought, that's today, that was like, two days ago. On Sunday.

Tim Neary:    Yeah.

Matt Lahood: That's a real eye-opener for me. Accessibility. We're also connected today, but it's so hard, people don't get face to face anymore. It's my actual favourite way of doing business, is face to face. Everyone else does text, Facebook this, messenger, emails, whatever. I don't like that. Personally, I think the more relevant face to face you get with people today, the stronger you're positioning yourself, because everybody's ... Sort of, I'll not say hiding, but they feel it's acceptable to send a text or do an email. I find that not acceptable. I think the more you're face to face, the more cut-through you're going to get in the marketplace of real estate today.

Tim Neary: I remember hearing somebody saying some time ago, and it's stayed with me all the time, "If you can see the colour of somebody else's eyes, they can see the colour of your eyes."

Matt Lahood: 100% great saying.

Tim Neary: And that will never change.

Matt Lahood: Never change. Because look, it's a people business, we just happen to sell property. We're actually selling people, we're not actually selling houses. When, and hopefully when the audience hear this podcast, they listen ... That's something I've learned, it's took me 30 years, but I learned ... I'm not the fastest learner, so I'm trying to ... It took me a long time to work out that I was not selling houses, I was selling people.

Tim Neary: Yeah.

Matt Lahood: It's important to understand the property and understand what you're selling but you're actually ... If the people buy you, they buy your services, right? At the end of the day. And people buying a house, they want to be comfortable with the agent they're working with. You can ... The agent can actually be the hindrance to the property selling, they can actually stand in the way of putting a deal together, if they don't make life really easy for a buyer. And for the seller, the seller's got to know that you are 100% on their side from day one, and they're the two things, because it's all about people. We're selling people. It's emotions. Bricks and mortar's just part of the ... That's just part of the transaction. People and emotions. Feelings. These are people's biggest assets we're handling, Tim.

            Agents say, "I've got a listing," well, it's not a listing, it's somebody's biggest asset. It's where they're going to ... Their hopes and dreams, they're going to work for the rest of their life to pay that off. It's not just, "I've got a listing, I'm going to sell it." I think when we start to realise as agents how important this is in people's lives what we're doing, the purchaser's buying it, they're going to spend the next 20 years paying it off.

            How they talk about, "Our buyer wasted my time," and all this sort of business, like, if I hear any of that dialogue in our company, I'm very vitriolic around people talking like that. Because if you talk like that, you act like that. If you talk about, "Wow, this is a journey for this buyer, they're going to be 25 years paying this off, let me really immerse myself in their life." You'll become their client for life, then. Because they'll remember how looked after them on the way through.

Tim Neary: Yeah. I like the way that you said that, you've got to be careful of what comes out of your mouth, because that's what you are. That's what you stand for.

Matt Lahood: Absolutely. You act like that and ... Under our brand, that is something that definitely we work upon each other, everyone, we've got that same sort of focus for the client. The client is the king, that's the reality. And for the way I look at it, the business, our agents are our clients and then they go out and if I've got them in the best way they could possibly be when they go out onto the field, well, that will be their best version for themselves for their client.

Tim Neary: And that comes back to what you were saying about just getting the impediments out the way, getting them in the air.

Matt Lahood: Clear the runway.

Tim Neary: Yeah. Clear the runway.

Matt Lahood: Clear the runway for takeoff.

Tim Neary: Now, we're sort of getting to the end of the show and I just wanted to ask you one last question before we do.

Matt Lahood: Sure.

Tim Neary: Just looking forward into the crystal ball, we talked about how quickly the market is changing and the industry is changing. How do you see it over the next ... Medium to long term, five to ten years?

Matt Lahood: It's going to become speed. I mentioned speed before. Fast. The fast people want responses quickly. I think agents have got to become a lot more professional, they've got to know a lot more about how finance works. A lot more about ... Closer to the changes in the actual government, in the regulations. What's happening overseas is important, you know? Because we do follow what's happening in America and China et cetera. Knowing that, so, being internationally understanding of what's happening as well.

            The agents that have really connected to their community, there's going to be a real sense of community. People really want to support agents that are in their community and giving back in. Because often, there's been a thing of, "Oh, the agent, they take the commissions, they take the marketing, they're the ones driving all the flashy cars." Et cetera. If they can see the agents putting back into the community and genuinely doing it, it could be just sponsoring the local event, it could be the local school cake stall or whatever it is, but the agent actually putting in, they'll be the ones, Tim, that get supported.

            I think the more value you can add to everything, whether it's an open home, you get there 15 minutes early and you make that experience for people. See, in America now, no one mentions customer service anymore, it's all customer experience. Because service, customer service, you can't measure it. If we start thinking, "What was the experience when they dealt with Tim?" "What was the experience when they came to an open home?" "What was the experience as a vendor?" It's a different ... You will act differently versus, "Oh, what was my service like?" People go to a restaurant and it's the experience when you go to, how they treat you when you walk in, to how ... Was the waiter invisible but there every time you needed them? What was the experience like? It's not about the actual service.

Tim Neary: It's about how you feel.

Matt Lahood: How you feel. So, it's how you feel, so realistically, I think if we take that as something really important, how do we making everyone feel around us? Now I'm going to take that a little bit further in closing, is, how do people feel around you at work? How do you make your colleagues feel? How does your boss or your sales manager feel about you? Because if you create that experience everywhere, you'll become very popular amongst your colleagues as well. That ends up being internal referrals, external referrals. If your principal has an experience that you're the easier one to deal with and you add value, you'll rise through the ranks quicker. It's a whole combination of things. Experience.

Tim Neary: One can lead to another.

Matt Lahood: Not just experience outside, then ... Not sounding philosophical, but what's the experience like when you go home? What does your wife, partner, girlfriend, boyfriend, family, fathers, mothers, what do you think about you when you’re in?

Tim Neary: Because everything's connected.

Matt Lahood: Are you connected at home? Do you go in and sit on your phone when you get home and ignore your partners for the first two hours? Well, it's a whole ... It's all connected. So what's the experience? Customer experience.

Tim Neary: Matt, it's been a real pleasure to have you.

Matt Lahood: Thanks, Tim.

Tim Neary: Thank you for your time and insight.

Matt Lahood: Good on you. Thank you for having me.

Tim Neary: Nice one. Nice one. Cheers.

            Remember to follow us on all the social media stuff. Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn. You can follow me, too, on Twitter @TimothyJNeary if you'd like to do that. If you've enjoyed today's show, please leave us a five star review on iTunes, it's the best way for new listeners to find us and to hear the great content that we are putting out.

            As always, 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, Matt LaHood. Thanks again for tuning in and we'll see you next week. Good bye.



Matt Lahood on leadership, accessibility and the future of the industry
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