Thrust into the spotlight after a clash with the Real Estate Institute of Queensland last year, Coral Sea Property Management is not a business that backs down from its principals.
Coral Sea Property Management garnered media coverage in September last year after racy advertising saw it booted out of the REIQ.
One of the advertisements included a billboard showcasing Bill Clinton’s former mistress, Monica Lewinsky, and the caption
“Last agent leave a bad taste in your mouth?”
Residential Property Manager spoke to Coral Sea principal Shaun Podbury about his unique take on property management and how his team became the ‘pirates’ of the PM industry.
Before entering the real estate scene, Mr Podbury spent 10 years in the military as a helicopter mechanic.
“That was good fun. I really enjoyed all of the travel, responsibility and pressure that came with it,” he says.
“But when it was time to go it was time to go. I came back to Townsville and went into residential real estate, which was really a bit of a fluke; I was just looking in the paper for jobs.”
Mr Podbury spent three years in residential sales with First National, and then moved down to Sydney for 12 months after receiving an offer to sell chemicals.
After moving back to Townsville, Mr Podbury continued to have a keen interest in investment and began working as an investment specialist for two years.
“While I was doing that I went and studied and got my real estate principal licence,” he says.
“I actually stepped out and worked on my own for three years. I was still selling investment properties but what I was trying to get was decent property management for them.
“It was very, very frustrating. It was the sorts of things where they wouldn’t return calls and put it simply, they didn’t manage it like they owned it,” he adds.
Mr Podbury says it was at his local pub one night where someone pointed out he was the only person with a real estate licence, so why didn’t he do something about the standards.
“So that is where Coral Sea came from. I was a frustrated investor and I just wanted someone to do it right,” he explains.
Mr Podbury says Coral Sea Property Management has never been viewed as conservative.
“We started from a rebellious position – I rejected what the industry was doing and said ‘You guys are bad at this’,” he says.
“Where the ‘pirates’ came in was probably four years ago or so.
It aligned with our brand, but it gave us permission to be naughty, to be funny and to be cheeky.
“I always thought that if you built a good product, people would come – naïve me.
You actually have to tell your own story; no one is going to tell it for you.”
It was as the team was brainstorming different marketing techniques Mr Podbury says an idea came about as to how to actively promote the company’s story.
“Marketers will tell you about pirate brands – things that appeal to people but do exactly the opposite to their competitors,” he says.
“As we were kicking ideas around, my graphic designer said ‘What about pirates?’ and I was like ‘What do you mean? We are Coral Sea property’.
"She said we could be the pirates of the Coral Sea, and I thought, ‘how easy is that’.
“It aligned with our brand, but it gave us permission to be naughty, to be funny and to be cheeky.”
Mr Podbury says there are nine permanent members within his business, as well as a business coach, graphic designer, web designer and external tradesmen.
In regards to recruiting new team members, Mr Podbury says the interview process is very rigorous and is “designed to keep people out”.
“They have got to align with our core values and beliefs.
Obviously if we don’t learn, we go broke.
If you don’t share our beliefs you just don’t get in the door,” he says.
“I have got a personal rule, which is never ever let cancer develop in a great team.
”I have an amazing team here, so if someone comes in and is a mis-hire, we give them an opportunity and if they have not turned it around it is the door.”
Mr Podbury says the agency’s guarantees are another factor that sets it apart from its competitors.
“A guarantee we bought in is if landlords are not happy they don’t pay.
At any time if someone is not happy they can let us know and we will refund their management fees – no questions asked,”
he says. “Also, if we haven’t rented their property within 14 days, we pay their rent.
“There are some conditions around that of course, and the conditions are that they have taken our advice – they have promoted the property and presented it according to our advice,” he adds.
Mr Podbury says the guarantees also provide a great learning curve for his staff. “Obviously if we don’t learn, we go broke,” he says,
“I think we wanted to demonstrate that we weren’t just all talk.”
Mr Podbury says the response to the giant-sized cheque payouts has been absolutely huge.
“One of our guarantee payouts was almost $2,000 – that hurts," he says.
"But with that pain comes a huge amount of learning,” he explains.
Mr Podbury said in 2014, Coral Sea made 91 payouts totalling $15,364.64 under its ‘not happy, don’t pay’, 100 per cent delighted guarantee.
“We also made 21 payouts totalling $11,503.72 in 2014 under our ‘we’ll pay your rent’ guarantee," he says.
“You don’t do that if you are not serious about great service.
It makes you very, very customer- focused I can tell you,” he adds. Mr Podbury says Coral Sea needed to develop very strong systems to be able to offer guarantees.
“However, what keeps us strong is clarity and alignment,” he explains.
“Every one of our team members knows exactly what our long-term and short-term goals are, they know where we are headed and they know how we are going to get there.”
Mr Podbury says it is no accident Coral Sea consistently maintained a low vacancy rate for such a long period of time.
“In 2014 we had 12 months of less than one per cent arrears, including 134 consecutive days of zero per cent arrears,” he says.
“At 8:30am every single morning we pull up our KPIs.
At our huddle every morning there are a set of KPIs that we look at and we discuss any that are out and how we are going to bring them in.
“We also have our phones switched off 9-10am every morning and 4-5pm every afternoon,” he adds.
Mr Podbury says the company’s dedication to being a leader in the technological space also contributes to its property management success.
“Just on our main wall in our operation area, we have six 50-inch television monitors,” he explains.
We also have our phones switched off 9-10am every morning and 4-5pm every afternoon.
“One has Inspect Real Estate, one has our current bonus target and where we are at for the day and the next has our vacancy board.
“The final screen is our Coral Sea scores – where the number of properties is at, the number of days without a lost property and the number of days without a 14-day guarantee,”he adds.
Looking to the future, Mr Podbury says the agency’s racy reputation and ‘pirate branding’ is here to stay.
“The funny thing was, we were actually only going to do it for about six months,” he says.
“However, as soon as we put pirate flags on our work cars, pirate flags on the building, pirate flags on our shirts, the response we got was like, this is not going anywhere!”