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David Highland on how he jumped into the top 10 in real estate

By Tamikah Bretzke
08 May 2017 | 23 minute read
David web

In this episode of Secrets of the Top 100 Agents, host Tim Neary talks to David Highland, who leapt an astounding 28 places in this year’s ranking. David reveals that he was “staggered” by the result and reflects on the key changes he’s made over his near-20 year career that have made him one of the best in the business today.

In this episode, find out:

  • How rejection can make you a better agent
  • Why the best agents always make the most of change
  • How to use technology to generate more business

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


Make sure you never miss an episode by subscribing to us now on iTunes.

Full transcript

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

Tim Neary: G'day everyone, it's Tim Neary here. I am the editor of Real Estate Business and host of the Secrets of the Top 100 Agents podcast. Thanks for tuning in. This is the show where we bring in and chat to the very best agents in Australia. We've got David on the phone today, ranked number nine in the REB Top 100 Agents Ranking for 2017. David moved into the top 10 this year from 37th in 2016. David is with the Highland Property in Cronulla in Sydney. Hello David and welcome to the show.

David: Hi Tim, how are you?

Tim Neary: Really good, how are you going today David?

David: Very well, thank you.

Tim Neary: Nice one. So 37, from 37 to nine David, that's a pretty impressive move in the top 100 rankings. What changed? How did you do it?

David: I was kind of staggered as well when the results came through. I guess the last four months for me versus the year before were a little bit different in the sense that I guess at the start of the year, I just made a conscious decision that we're kind of going to raise the bar and we've had favourable market conditions, particularly my price point, our price point, and we just took advantage of the environment and just laser focus in terms of our goals and how to reach them.

Tim Neary: Congratulations first of all and second of all, that's something that we hear a lot from the Top 100 Agents and agents at top of the game, is that there comes a point where you just make a conscious decision to take it to another level, so I guess that's what you did during the year.

David: Absolutely and I think that, you know I've been in real estate... So I'm 37 years of age and I got into real estate when I was just before my 18th birthday. And I guess that the last 12 months I've just had a different outlook, you know it's different goals, different things motivating me, and I just think in much clearer focus in terms of what the opportunities are and what my destination is and how to get there.

Tim Neary: Let's just take it a step back. You say that you've been in the business from pretty much an early age, from your 18th birthday. How did you get started and what drew to the real estate industry?

David: I went to school at Scotts College in Eastern Suburbs and I came from... I come from a real estate property development family. I'm third generation real estate agent. As I was growing up, my father had got out of real estate and he was in the development space. But I guess two things that drove me obviously was something that the family knew a lot about obviously, but I wasn't an academic at school. I enjoyed school but kind of... Going to a University was probably never on the cards for me so it was almost a natural progression that I followed my family into property.

And I guess at 17 or 18 years of age, you know you're still very lost in terms of where you see your career path. But it didn't take me long to figure out where I wanted to be and what I wanted to do. And I think at 21 years of age I took my first sales consulting role in an independent agency in Randwick and never looked back pretty much.

Tim Neary: That's a good point that you make, at 18 years old you're still so... We're still so young at 18 and there's so still so much sort of life that we need to live and to learn about. But you stayed in the business and obviously grown in the business and got better and better at it. And I know that you moved into the top 10 in the last year but in that growth phase of learning the business and finding your feet, was there a breakthrough point or did it just something that steadily grew?

David: If I look back on my sales career which is... Would be 16 years now, I've been through a boom and then a GFC, and then a change in environment a bunch of times and different cycles and then obviously what's happened the last few years. I think that looking back on that journey, I used to get caught up in, more so what was happening in the market, you know, and I think that it's easy for a young agent to kind of get disenchanted with what the current environment is going to do to their business. And then as you, as I got more experience, I think I started to look at the market as more of an opportunity.

So, when you think about what's happened in the last couple of years and you put that with more experience and I think that your maturity as well, can kind of play a big part in it, so in your emotional management, how you manage your stress, and I think that I just dropped. I dropped all the reasons why I couldn't start writing much bigger figures. You know? In the last 12 months and even this year. Like, this year our figures have been incredibly better than last year and we're not even in the first four or five months of the year. So we just got a different game plan now. I mean I'm probably enjoying my work more than I've ever enjoyed it. I've been through periods the last ten years, you know particularly 'cause we started a business ten years ago and we've been through that journey and I've had to balance managing a business and also focusing on sales and my targets and running a sales team within the greater business and balancing all that out. And I'd say that this year and last year, I'm enjoying my role more than I ever have. I think that's showing in the figures to be honest.

Tim Neary: It absolutely is showing in the figures. And just to... What you said there, there were a few important things that you said that I just want to pull out. You talked about a game plan and you talked about going through a boom and then the GFC and coming back from that. And that now that you look back on it, you're finding some enjoyment and you're enjoying what you're doing, and obviously that's showing in the figures.

I'd like to talk a little bit more about that. And you talked about a level of maturity as well. Is that sometimes, you've gotta go through a couple of hard…you've gotta learn some hard lessons, go through a couple of hardships and pull the benefits out of that and getting through them that leads to the maturity. Would you agree with that? And how did that happen in your business?

David: Oh absolutely. You gotta get smashed around. And everybody I think that's been successful in our game has been through period where they probably could… Didn't feel like they could get anything right. You know? And then again you've been through a purple patch. You know? And you couldn't put a foot wrong. And I guess, where I feel like I'm at the moment mentally, is every day is going to be different. Right? But I'm a lot more consistent. In terms of the good and the bad, and the way that I look at it, I think rejection, as you become more experienced, is less important. But I definitely think that it's like a rear-view mirror conversation. You know, I'm just looking forward. And now we're looking at… We're already talking about 2018.

Tim Neary: Yeah.

David: And what our targets are gonna look like for that. And we're only in May. You know? Of the current year.

Tim Neary: Yeah.

David: It's a completely different mindset.

Tim Neary: And you mentioned the "R" word in there David, and I want to talk a little bit about that. Rejection. Because that seems to be a re-occurring theme, particularly with agents that are starting out. There's a lot of push-back that you get. You've said it's not such big deal for you these days, but that implies that it was quite a big deal. And it is quite a big deal for most people starting out. Today, looking back on your own career, what advice would you give to your young self? Your starting-out self. Around handling rejection and moving on from there?

David: We've got more than 40 people in our sales team, and at a leadership level we talk a lot around this and I've just got a policy with rejection, and that is that as soon as I get off the phone I'm over it. You know? And that, some people they may say, "Well that's easy for him, he's writing some out and he's got so much experience." But the reality is, I've seen first-hand, I've been through it myself, but I've seen our junior agents become out of balance, you know, because they've missed an opportunity or because someone said the wrong thing or whatever. It's one of those industries where you're gonna have to get good at just overcoming those kind of obstacles and getting back to what I said before, it's about your own emotional management, and I've been big on that the last few years. And just becoming consistent and stable. And you've gotta become tough and bullet-proof.

Tim Neary: Yeah.

David: And not take it so personally.

Tim Neary: And that's what I was gonna say, I mean it sounds like you just don't take it personally and you just-

David: Couldn't care less any more.

Tim Neary: And it becomes a head thing doesn't it? I mean you just say to yourself, "I'm just gonna get over it." And you get smashed around a couple of times and at the beginning it might feel like it's personal but eventually you do just get over it. You get a bit more thick-skinned.

David: Well I think the only... The learning out of that for me- In fact I had this conversation this morning. You gotta get over the fact that you lost it, you didn't get the business. You've gotta behave the right way when you don't get it as well. So, what I mean by that, you can't judge the client, you can't say the wrong thing, you can't discredit yourself or the brand that you're working in because you've missed that opportunity in one way of another. But you've also gotta learn from it and regardless of your level, like everybody still misses opportunities. There's opportunities that I just, I still don't get. You know? It's ... I think with experience you're getting more than what you miss out on, but on the odd occasion that you do miss something, I certainly think that you gotta make sure you get the learning out of it. Regardless of your level.

Tim Neary: I really like the way that you said that. You gotta behave the right way, when things don't go your way. And that's about, you know, not taking it personally, moving forward, taking the learning out of it, and I guess being better the next time you go into, well I think we were talking about listing presentations?

David: Well that's it. And you say for example, that once upon a time… Like see, we've got a, we've got some internal targets and KPIs in our business, which I'm sure a lot of good businesses do, and those kind of disciplines around, you know how many appraisals for example, you're expected, and we want you to achieve during the week. And I can measure our business by virtue of the number of appraisals we've done, it's a very basic metric in our business. And also correlate it to number of listings, number of auctions, number of sales.

But I can tell you for certain that if one of our agents, one of our kind of level one or level two agents, has missed an opportunity- Say they're doing, trying to do three or four appraisals in a day, which in my view is madness, because the quality of number three and four is gonna be pretty average, but say for instance they did and the first one they missed out on, you know, I dare say that there's gonna be a knock-on effect. In terms of, you know, if they've had a bad run, you know, for a week leading up to that, I dare say that their behaviour is not gonna be reflective of winning business and those clients can read that in you. They can read it in your face. If you look like you're desperate, if you look like you've been knocked around and you're not in that right mind-set, I think that can also have an impact in terms of your success and your conversion rate.

Tim Neary: And I guess that comes back to what you were saying a little earlier about behaving in the right way. It's interesting now that you're talking about quality versus quantity. And you've talked about balance as well as little bit earlier in the show.

To just flesh that out a little bit, what is the balance between the right quantity and the right quality and how is that reflected? Or how's that perceived by... Possibly perceived by a potential buyer or a potential vendor?

David: I think that it's different for the individual. I think it's different for everybody. I know my balance and I know that if I have, you know for example, just one of those days that everybody has, where you might have appointments from eight till seven at night. Seven o'clock might be your last appraisal or your last opportunity or you might be trying to put a deal together at seven o'clock. After you've had a huge day. You know I think that personally, I'm very conscious of turning up in the right head space if that last appointment counts. You know, because if I turn up frazzled or stressed or I've been in the car all day and you know, it's just normal if you're working very hard and you're pushing the envelope and you've been up very early, you know doing your training and all those things. I think that you've gotta be conscious of if you've got your A game with you or not. You know? In terms of that last appointment, if that is a special one.

So we're very… In here we talk a lot about that and we do talk about balance. Balance is a big thing for us.

Tim Neary: Yeah.

David: And you don't get it right, and you know the one thing that I love about the industry, a lot of the industry leaders talk about balance, that haven't properly nailed it themselves. And we've been- I've been guilty of that in the past myself.

Tim Neary: Well this question of balance does, it comes up a lot. We talk about it with others, with your colleagues in the top one hundred all the time.

Talk me through a little bit about what a typical day for you looks like.

David: I'm out of bed by quarter to five, five o'clock at the latest depending on what day. I try and exercise every morning between Monday and Friday and sometimes even Saturdays. My exercise usually consists of 45 minutes to an hour, sometimes a little bit longer. And I either run or I get personal training. I'm trying to be at work at the very latest- And mind you I've got a two year old and I've got another baby on the way.

Tim Neary: Right.

David: Managing a family and obviously trying to make sure that, you know, I'm a good dad and all those kind of things as well, but I aim to be at work by about eight o'clock, sometimes a bit earlier. And then at work it's very structured in terms of what my mornings look like. So, in the morning I may have like block out times where I get through all my important phone-calls, normally before I go home of an afternoon, I've listed out things that need to happen first thing in the morning, all those things that I need to action.

My day is, like I said before, my day is split up between my sales business and Highland Property agents and, you know obviously twice a week we do an Open for Inspection, so my days are broken up between prospecting sessions, managing my team, my own personal sales unit. I normally sit down with them daily, you know even if it's just for 15 minutes. We run through a game plan, at any one time we're managing anywhere between kind of 12 and 15 active marketing campaigns. We go through the buys and obviously there's a lot of indoor management that is a day-to-day sort of activity for me as well. And then normally we finish up... I don't get home until seven-thirty to eight o'clock at night most nights.

Tim Neary: And then into the young family?

David: Into the young family. Before they go to bed.

Tim Neary: Yeah, yeah. David thanks for that. We're sort of getting to the end of the show now and again just thanks for your time and congratulations again and finishing in the top 100.

David: Thank you for the opportunity.

Tim Neary: You're very welcome. Just as, I always like to do this at the end of the show, is just to get a couple of takeaways, your top tips if you like. On listing sales and the use of technology. What is your top tip for getting more listings?

David: The top tip for me in terms of getting more listings is, and this is a big one, is relationship marketing. So for us, we've got a serious focus around our community involvement. You know? And obviously how that relates to our sales business. Technology and embracing evolution is a big one for us. A lot of people bang on about social media and I've spoken about social media about conferences, but I think it's about how you use social media. And I think that you as a sales agent, you're being left behind if you don't understand intimately how that sort of works and integrates with your business. I think one of the big things I've talked about this as well before is you need to be a little bit fearless in terms of trying new things.

Tim Neary: Okay. I was going to talk about social media a little later but you've just covered it now. So just in closing, your top tip for making more sales?

David: Adjust and change to the market. So right now we're finding that the market is changing, adjusting, you know? Not in a disastrous way, but we're in tune with what's happening in our environment and we're on the front foot. Right from the minute those changes start. So if there's any advice I can give anyone right now, and this is something that we talk about internally, is stay in tune with what's happening in your market place. Understand intimately what sold, who's buying, who's selling. All of those things. You know I'm top of all the basics as well.

Tim Neary: That's terrific. And again thank you very much.

That is all that we have time for. I mean if I can just sum up what we've talked about and what I've taken away from this. It's about having structure, it's about having a game plan, it's about understanding you're gonna get smashed around, in your words, a little bit. But it's coming back from that and always bringing the right behaviour to the business, to the business of sales.

David: Absolutely. Thanks for the opportunity Tim.

Tim Neary: You're so welcome and thank you very much for joining us today.

David: Nice talking to you.

Tim Neary: Remember to follow us on all the social media stuff, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn. You can follow me on Twitter @TimothyNeary if you want to do that.Tune in next week, realestatebusiness.com.au is where you'll find us. Plenty of stories there on the business of real estate across the whole of Australia and on my guest today, David Highland. Thanks again for tuning in. We'll see you next week. Goodbye.



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