Studies have shown that businesses with motivated staff are more profitable than their competitors. This has proved true for Michelle Williams who manages @home Property Management Solutions
If you can survive in property management for more than a year you can do anything, says Michelle Williams.
For the Tasmanian, this meant taking a leap of faith and opening up her own company after seeing a strong need for specialised property management businesses in her area.
Michelle says that in a typical real estate office, property management is often overlooked and not provided with the tools and training to be effective.
“I think property management and sales should be separate entities because they both need 100 per cent focus,” she says.
Prior to opening her business in 2009, Michelle spent 12 years working in property management at Peter Lees Real Estate.
She says she felt the agency was too sales-focused and that there was not enough support for the property management team.
“For me, the decision to leave was based around the environment more than thinking I could do things better than my principal,” she explains.
It took Michelle five years to establish @home Property Management Solutions, during which time she completed a Diploma in Property Management in three months by correspondence through Tony Rowe Best Practice & Governance.
In less than four years, @home has grown from two to eight full-time staff and has won several industry awards. Last year it won its third consecutive PPM National Award for Excellence and this year it will be inducted into the Hall of Fame as one of Australia’s leading property management firms.
Michelle was well aware of the work that confronted her when she started the business.
“From the day I made the decision to venture into the business world I accepted that I would need to make sacrifices. It would be the biggest challenge of my life and I was prepared to work for it,” she says.
Providing staff with a supportive environment, where they can meet the company’s goals is a high priority for Michelle, and according to recent research by Gallup that is exactly what they need. The research found that higher workplace engagement led to higher earnings for businesses.
“When my team asks for my help or support I always give them my time and that little bit more than they expected, because ultimately that’s what I want from them,” she says.
“In order to support my team I believe the first step is to provide direction and quality systems. This creates accountability and provides an environment where my team can work towards results and be rewarded for them.
“In terms of emotional support, I encourage my team to constantly communicate how they feel and where they need support.”
However, as the team grew, the pressure on Michelle’s workload increased.
“I was spending my weekends trying to catch up on work because I was so busy providing that level of support for my team and I didn’t want to let them down,” she says.
“I believe there is a tipping point in every organisation where as a business owner, you realise you simply can’t do it all.
“The difference between a business that continues to grow and one that stops or worse, goes backwards, is what you do about it.”
In mid-December last year, Michelle hired Christine Hepburn from The Defining Edge on a sub-contractor arrangement to provide group and one-on-one training.
“My team are able to have a very open conversation about how they’re feeling, what they need to work on, where their strengths and weaknesses are, and they can get some advice on how to deal with the pressures of the day and how to deal with conflict,” she says. “It’s almost like having a full time social worker within our office.”
With training and support, the team is able to provide customers and clients with a positive experience, Michelle says.
“Everybody who comes into contact with us needs to have a positive experience. So it’s all in our attitude, how we deal with people and how we come across to people,” she continues.
“I’m not just talking about providing good customer service to our owners and customers who are our tenants, but everyone we come into contact with, from tradespeople, contractors, the postman and sales people to our competitors.”
Communication is a key component of @home’s service, with clients provided with regular touch points.
“For example, the initial touch point for tenants is showing the property. We do all individual inspections, no group inspections, which is a challenging model but it works because we have a really good pre-qualifying processing system to be able to achieve that,” she says.
Such an approach has helped @ home flourish, with dedicated clients and regular referrals.
“We constantly have a network of people sending people to us. We don’t advertise anywhere. We simply have people saying ‘these are the people you need to go and see’,” she explains.
The business’ success is even more significant because of the current market in Tasmania. Recent Australian Bureau of Statistics data revealed that the state has experienced the lowest growth rate of 0.5 per cent in 2011 and 2012.
“We’ve seen rents fall by up to 10 per cent in some cases in the last 12 months as a result of our economy and employment. Unlike other areas, we have seen a high vacancy rate,” she says.
Michelle says @home has dealt with the situation by being proactive in talking to their clients.
“I think as long as you’re offering your clients the correct advice and you back that up with information – which is what they want – they’ll have the confidence to listen to your advice,” she says.
Many agencies fail to monitor the current market and simply put up a property at the same rate it was previously rented, she adds.
“We’ll look at every property that we have coming available and every new property that we have coming on the market and we do quite a comprehensive analysis on where that rent should be, so we don’t have a high vacancy.”
While social media is a hot topic in real estate, it is not a major priority for @home as the focus is on their website.
“I started off having too much of a focus when we started up our Facebook page and we had all these exciting things that we were posting, but I realised it wasn’t leading to a direct result and it meant that I had less focus on more important things like updating our website,” she admits.
“I think that it is more important to drive people to our website than it is to drive people to our Facebook page.”
Michelle adds that companies that want to build their business need to stop wasting money on mass media.
“It doesn’t work,” she says. “You use that budget to delight your existing customers, clients, anyone that comes into contact with you. We spend 70 per cent of our marketing budget on our clients and customers.”
LOCATION: LAUNCESTON, TASMANIA
OFFICE ESTABLISHED: 2009
JOB TITLE: MANAGING DIRECTOR
PM STAFF: 8
YEARS IN BUSINESS: 16
MEDIAN AGE: 33
MEDIAN WEEKLY RENT: $320
RESIDENTIAL VACANCY RATE: 34%