Toby Parker of hockingstuart Balwyn told Real Estate Business what took him from part-time PA to becoming the youngest and one of the most successful directors in the Victorian group’s extensive network
Earning the recognition and respect you need as a young agent can be a challenge.
But not many principals can say they have dragged their office up from the bottom of the ladder to be one of the best in their network – with employees who have been in real estate longer than they have been alive.
Toby Parker was just 25 when he became director of hockingstuart Balwyn in Victoria. Having begun a degree in business marketing at La Trobe University, he says it was partly luck that led him to his future career.
“I wouldn’t say I was interested in real estate as a kid. “I just happened to fall into it,” he tells Real Estate Business.
“During my course, I got a part-time job through a friend of mine with hockingstuart. My first job was opening [for] the auctions on a Saturday, handing out brochures and just setting up the day for the agents. It was from there that I saw the guys auctioneering and I fell in love with the Saturday involvement with real estate. It was the auctioneering side that pulled me into it all.”
Mr Parker had originally planned to join the family business, but subsequently realised he wanted to be in charge of his own destiny.
“Real estate afforded me that opportunity where you can really put in the years and work under a mentor who is a high achiever,” he says. “That’s probably my biggest piece of advice to people who want to get into real estate – find someone who is at the level you want to be at and learn from them.”
One of his mentors, the highly successful Tonya Davidson, taught Mr Parker “a heck of a lot in real estate”, he recalls.
“At first I worked one day on Saturday, then I pushed really hard to get another few days in the week so I ended up with two days doing property management, two days doing sales and the Saturday auctions.”
At this point, Mr Parker knew real estate was where he belonged so he decided to drop his university course to take up working full time.
“I got pretty close to finishing, but it became all-consuming and I’d already made up my mind,” he says.
“From the moment I stepped through the door and got a feel for it, I knew it was what I wanted to do.”
Working out of hockingstuart’s Hawthorne office in Victoria, his performance and ability to bring in the numbers proved to be outstanding – it was only a matter of time before he would move up the career ladder.
That move, however, was a big one. Mr Parker was approached to buy the Balwyn branch of hockingstuart when he was just 25, half the estimated average age of a principal in Australia.
“My first reaction was a ‘no’,” he says, “but then I thought about it and I spoke to my family and I figured I didn’t have too much to lose. It’s always daunting, taking out a lease and all the responsibilities. But it’s the fear of failure that pushes you along at that age – it’s the people who are saying ‘you can’t do it’ and ‘you’re too young’. I had a chat with my stepfather and he pushed me in the right direction. He looked back on his life and reflected on opening his own business at a young age, and he said, yes, you’ll have ups and downs, but it was one of the things he never regretted. If you don’t do it now, well, when are you going to do it?”
It wasn’t an easy transition. The previous owner of the Balwyn office had been unable to get it off the ground, due to heavy family commitments, according to Mr Parker.
“The last owner who was there before me couldn’t get the office to write more than $1 million per annum, so my first goal was to break that, which I did in the first year,” he says. “I did have a great team behind me, though, so I can’t take all the credit,” he adds.
His initial success, he claims, was due to his scrupulous attention to detail and implementation of systems that created an easily managed work f low.
“I’ve always been fanatically systemoriented – to the point of driving my staff here crazy,” he says. “I’m always looking for new ways of doing things, so I guess that gave the entire business a new structure. Fear of failure is a huge motivator too.”
Dragging the Balwyn office to the top of the hockingstuart group, however, involved more challenges than just optimising the business structure.
“When I bought the business, the whole team that was there was older than me and that was challenging, no doubt,” Mr Parker says. “I had probably five or six years in real estate behind me; some of these guys had been going longer than I’d been alive! Some had 25 to 30 years’ experience, so that made it very challenging. Initially, I wanted to lead by example, by writing a certain number of figures, and I was more focused on building my own business rather than those around me so we could pay the bills. But over time you learn your own leadership skills and become more qualified in all aspects. You become more of a businessman than a real estate agent. I didn’t feel intimidated, I felt like I could lean on these people, and I felt like I’d surrounded myself with these agents who have this experience. I appreciated them and I went to them for advice and always valued their input. With hockingstuart as a group, you can always pick up the phone and talk to another director when you’re young. Some of the directors have decades of experience. They were always willing to take me under their wing.”
Under Mr Parker’s leadership, the Balwyn office has soared from being a middle- to lower-ranked office to consistently finishing among the top five performing offices across the network.
Now, as a seasoned principal, Mr Parker can reflect on what helped him become the market-leading auctioneer and salesman of his age group.
“Always ask for advice, even if you think you know the answer,” he says. “There are always people in the group who are more than willing to assist you. Don’t think you’re going through something that no one has ever gone through before, because there is so much experience around. Having a network behind you is such a great help. If I’d opened ‘Toby Parker Real Estate’ back when I was 25, it would have been far more challenging than having a trusted brand backing me.”
Toby maintains his market position by hosting monthly reviews with the office’s accountant, who shows where the business is under-performing. He also holds weekly meetings with his sales team.
“As a sales team, we meet every Wednesday so the guys know what is expected in terms of calls per week and appraisals per week to keep everyone – including myself – accountable.”