REB Leadership Series: Elite agents on effective systems, technology and people skills

REB Leadership Series: Elite agents on effective systems, technology and people skills

Leadership series
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In this exclusive REB roundtable discussion, three of the industry’s top-ranked agents pick each other’s brains about how to create efficient businesses and evaluate new technology.

REB leadership series

The best businesses don’t just make lots of sales but are also able to function efficiently in the absence of key staff.

With that in mind, three agents from this year’s Top 100 Agents ranking discussed how their own real estate practices function when they’re on leave, and how clients respond.

Alexander Phillips, Julian Hasemer and Steven Kourdis also had an engaging back-and-forth about how important it is – and how hard it can be – to stay up to date with technology. That included an assessment of virtual reality, which some people believe will be the next big thing in real estate.

The fascinating roundtable discussion also covered innovative marketing campaigns, the mental toll that the industry can take on agents and whether young agents have the same interpersonal skills as the previous generation.

 

Does your business have systems in place so that it could cope if you had, say, an eight-week absence?

Alexander Phillips, Phillips Pantzer Donnelley

There are, but when people call up and say, “Is Alexander Phillips there?” and he’s not there, they’re going to go elsewhere. But that’s the thing with real estate agents: it’s rare that someone calls up and says they want to speak to an agent rather than a particular person. It’s more about the agent than the agency a lot of the time.

Julian Hasemer, 1st City Hasemer & Caldwell-Eyles

To go away for eight weeks, it wouldn’t be a relaxing trip. If Steven’s signed up his place and Steven wants to deal with me and then I say, “See you in eight weeks, such and such will look after you”, Steven wouldn’t be very happy.

Alexander Phillips, Phillips Pantzer Donnelley

I’m going away for three-and-a-half weeks next week and I plan my whole year around that so everyone’s aware of it. I’ve got 15 signed up for when I get back and I plan around the right time to go. I don’t have kids but I still go on holiday during school holidays because our market revolves around that, but my team is set up that if someone does want to sell they’ve got everything in place to actually do it and they don’t need me.

Julian Hasemer, 1st City Hasemer & Caldwell-Eyles

Do you think it costs you any business being upfront with clients and saying you’re going away for this period?

Alexander Phillips, Phillips Pantzer Donnelley

I haven’t lost any this year, but last year I lost a few.

Julian Hasemer, 1st City Hasemer & Caldwell-Eyles

I mean they may have purchased elsewhere and you'll get those, but you have to be upfront with them about the fact that you're going.

Steven Kourdis, McConnell Bourn Estate Agents

I think we do need eight weeks a year off, staggered obviously. I take four weeks off during Christmas and, like Alex, I have a team, and I think vendors respect that, because you need to be sharp.

Julian Hasemer, 1st City Hasemer & Caldwell-Eyles

You need to re-charge the batteries, don't you?

Alexander Phillips, Phillips Pantzer Donnelley

And you do come back on a new level, I reckon.

Julian Hasemer, 1st City Hasemer & Caldwell-Eyles

How relaxing a time do you actually have when you’re away? Can you totally switch off?

Alexander Phillips, Phillips Pantzer Donnelley

I’ve never taken a laptop, never taken an iPad.

Steven Kourdis, McConnell Bourn Estate Agents

I think vendors accept that you're very successful and you need some time away with your family. I find that a lot of them say, “That's great, you're recharging the batteries, we'll talk when you get back”.

Julian Hasemer, 1st City Hasemer & Caldwell-Eyles

I think when you come back and you see the bills piling up you actually start performing better.

 

Agents are under constant pressure because they rarely get to switch off. So does the industry need to talk more about mental health?

Alexander Phillips, Phillips Pantzer Donnelley

No, I think if you're not prepared to be 24/7…

Julian Hasemer, 1st City Hasemer & Caldwell-Eyles

I think we live and breathe what we do. I remember when I did my real estate course, the TAFE teacher said real estate's like a bug and once it gets into you it'll never leave you. You've also got to focus on other things that are important to you like family, but there won’t be a minute that goes by where you’re not thinking about your next vendor or your next deal. So it’s all-consuming and how you handle that mentally – I think that’s what separates a good agent from a bad one.

Steven Kourdis, McConnell Bourn Estate Agents

I tend to switch off at home so I can focus on the family and have social time. I think having the breaks and the holidays is important as well because you get to recharge.

Alexander Phillips, Phillips Pantzer Donnelley

Over the dinner table on a Friday or Saturday night, the last thing you want to do is talk about real estate, but that’s the first question you get asked.

Steven Kourdis, McConnell Bourn Estate Agents

I think if we all had a dollar for every time we've heard, “How’s the market?” I think we'd be wealthier.

 

How do agents know which new technology products to buy and which to ignore?

Julian Hasemer, 1st City Hasemer & Caldwell-Eyles

We get bombarded with these things every day. You’ve got to be open minded. You can’t be dismissive from the get-go; you've got to at least give someone five minutes to explain their product and if it seems like it’s something new and innovative, we'll always embrace it. A lot of them, probably 90 per cent, are pushed to the side but there are a few products that come out from time to time that really do wow you and you have to be open-minded about them, especially in this age.

Alexander Phillips, Phillips Pantzer Donnelley

Agents have changed. Some of them are just so backwards. You look at some of the agents 10 years ago who were killing it, and now they're just doing nothing because they don't have a good database and they just fall by the wayside if they don’t keep up.

You look at some of the agents 10 years ago who were killing it, and now they're just doing nothing

Julian Hasemer, 1st City Hasemer & Caldwell-Eyles

I think you've got to put yourself in the consumer’s shoes when it comes to evaluating new technology.

Alexander Phillips, Phillips Pantzer Donnelley

That’s exactly what I was thinking. If you think about a consumer these days, they're going to select an agent and, if they don’t know where to find an agent, then where are they going to go? They're going to go online. Straight away they might go under a suburb on realestate.com.au or search Domain, so if you’ve got four ads at the top of the list with four properties after each other then you're going to be the first one to get called in.

Julian Hasemer, 1st City Hasemer & Caldwell-Eyles

Quite often you hear that when you get a call in, people have been researching on the internet to find out which agent they should be talking to if they don’t already have an existing relationship. I think it also depends on the target market that you're after with print versus web. When I recently did something in Queens Park, where the demographic was probably between the late 20s to early 40s, I got quadruple the amount of enquiry I get for something that might be $3 million-plus with an age group of 55 and over. So it just depends on the demographic of the consumer. We put more emphasis now on our internet budgets than we do our print media by far.

We put more emphasis now on our internet budgets than we do our print media by far

Alexander Phillips, Phillips Pantzer Donnelley

We only do internet basically these days, although we do a few print ads if there is buyer’s demand. You might still pick up business from doing print.

Julian Hasemer, 1st City Hasemer & Caldwell-Eyles

I think what backs up the print is when you get editorial, or they write up about some sales you've had and people always comment if they read those, so I think that helps with perception in the marketplace about how successful an agent is.

Alexander Phillips, Phillips Pantzer Donnelley

Technology is ever changing. I remember when I had my first mobile phone it was this big brick, and it could take three 20-second messages. That was the bee’s knees back then, but how things have evolved over the last 15, 20 years is amazing, and it’s kind of like a side job trying to keep up with new technology. But it’s good for the industry and good for us to be able to sell our properties and sell ourselves as well.

 

Are the three of you interested in virtual reality?

Julian Hasemer, 1st City Hasemer & Caldwell-Eyles

I’ve read about it and I was intrigued.

Alexander Phillips, Phillips Pantzer Donnelley

I went down to realestate.com.au in Melbourne earlier this year and we did one of those virtual tours with the goggles on.

Julian Hasemer, 1st City Hasemer & Caldwell-Eyles

It’s like a video game you’re walking through. But nothing beats getting into a property to actually see it. When we do our photography, if there’s a high-rise block of apartments next door we're never going to showcase that, so I think there’s always going to be that uncertainty from buyers, which will then lead them to want to come and do an actual physical inspection of the property. It’s a very rare day that somebody would buy a property without seeing it. I would say about five or 10 I’ve done in my time where someone actually has not seen a property, so it’s a very rare day.

Steven Kourdis, McConnell Bourn Estate Agents

I think it'll limit the buyer numbers coming to the open homes if they've seen everything on video.

I think it'll limit the buyer numbers coming to the open homes if they've seen everything on virtual reality

Alexander Phillips, Phillips Pantzer Donnelley

Less is more. You’ve got to get them there. If they make a decision before they get there, you can’t sell it to them.

Steven Kourdis, McConnell Bourn Estate Agents

Would you look at property that’s got 30 photos on it? You've seen too much, you’ve seen the kitchen four or five times, you’re wondering if it’s an expired listing and what’s wrong with it.

Alexander Phillips, Phillips Pantzer Donnelley

There is that fine line with providing the consumer with too much information that they don’t interact with the agent where you can’t then establish a relationship.

Steven Kourdis, McConnell Bourn Estate Agents

Our strength is interacting with buyers. If we don’t get them there and can’t emotionally attach them to the property, then we're actually no use. The closest I think we go is when the buyers are overseas – but most of the buyers have seen the property or one of their friends did or you do a FaceTime private inspection of a property.

Julian Hasemer, 1st City Hasemer & Caldwell-Eyles

We’ve done FaceTime or Skyping with clients who are overseas.

Alexander Phillips, Phillips Pantzer Donnelley

Yeah we did that recently for one at Bondi where we FaceTimed and she was in Israel and she ended up buying it.

Julian Hasemer, 1st City Hasemer & Caldwell-Eyles

Yeah FaceTime's pretty big at the moment, I’ve done about half a dozen over the last 12 months, and that’s because one's normally here or a family member and they do buy.

Alexander Phillips, Phillips Pantzer Donnelley

It’s not a bad service point to someone when you say, “Why don’t I walk you through the house?” It makes them feel comfortable. It’s a good selling technique to actually offer that.

Steven Kourdis, McConnell Bourn Estate Agents

We do it all the time. We do private inspections and we've sold to clients in New Delhi. The wife was here and they bought prior to auction. They paid $3.28 million, so it wasn’t as if they were making a $500,000 investment. That was a family home, so knowing what they're buying is important.

 

What innovative marketing campaigns have you done?

Alexander Phillips, Phillips Pantzer Donnelley

We had 10,000 eco bags made and dropped all around the east [of Sydney] and that actually worked quite well. They were like the bags you get at Coles that you can keep re-using. We branded them, it cost 4¢ a bag to make in China and we dropped them off at everyone’s doorsteps.

Julian Hasemer, 1st City Hasemer & Caldwell-Eyles

Did you get any negative feedback from people about that?

Alexander Phillips, Phillips Pantzer Donnelley

A few. You’re always going to get that.

Julian Hasemer, 1st City Hasemer & Caldwell-Eyles

I think your signage when you first launched PPD was great.

Alexander Phillips, Phillips Pantzer Donnelley

We had 200 signs around the eastern suburbs saying ‘Coming, now listing for 2014’, and it was great.

Steven Kourdis, McConnell Bourn Estate Agents

A couple of years back when things were tougher we decided as a team to have Sunday opens, all at the same time, so we manned about a dozen homes and that worked well. We were very innovative at the time and people were time-poor with school sports in the area so that worked well and that was a point of difference. People realised we were working hard, things were tough and we did lots of marketing in the Sydney Morning Herald and the Chinese papers.

 

Is it true that young people coming into the industry aren’t as good at dealing with people as the previous generation?

Julian Hasemer, 1st City Hasemer & Caldwell-Eyles

My opinion is you’ve either got it or you don’t. I think it’s a natural thing being able to adapt your personality according to the person that you’re dealing with. When you’re dealing with Betty who might be in her 80s, you need to be communicating slower. A lot of the kids nowadays are like bang, bang, bang. But you’ll also come across clients in their late 20s and early 30s who are straight to the point and you’ve got to be able to adjust your personality to reflect that person.

Steven Kourdis, McConnell Bourn Estate Agents

I would agree. You can train them all you want but at the end of the day when they’re face to face with a client they’ve got to have the street smarts to either understand where things are going in a meeting and I think they have to turn from being a sales agent to being a question-based agent. “How can I help you? What are we here for? What are you looking for?” I think the young ones prefer things to move faster – they look at senior agents, see their success, and say they want to be at that level. Well, it doesn’t work that way: we’ve spent 10 years learning the trade.

Alexander Phillips, Phillips Pantzer Donnelley

I don’t find that younger people today have weaker interpersonal skills, as long as you spend time training them.

Julian Hasemer, 1st City Hasemer & Caldwell-Eyles

You kind of know from the start when you put somebody on if they’ve got the ability on the phone and the timing with clients and asking the right questions at the appropriate time. Some of them are too scripted – they’re the ones who I don’t believe have it, and it’s very hard to train them.

 

Click here to read the first part of the discussion, in which Mr Phillips, Mr Hasemer and Mr Kourdis discussed how to win business in a challenging market.

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