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Selling real estate like it’s 1999

By Franky Tjhin
09 July 2024 | 15 minute read
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John Hanlon Knipe was a 19th century forefather of every Australian real estate agent. He was also an auctioneer and developer in Melbourne. He dug for gold in two gold rushes, was taken prisoner at the Ballarat diggers’ riots, went bankrupt several times, and was nearly elected to Parliament.

Life in Australia’s real estate industry may be less exciting today, but this is still one of the most rewarding industries in which to work. As a colleague told me the other day, “I like real estate because it’s fun.”

And as the example of our real estate forbear Knipe made clear, real estate keeps changing for the better. Just in this century, agents all over Australia have revolutionised how we do our business.


Back in 1999, the CRMs you could buy were little more than clunky databases, email was hardly used, and the portals were begging agents to advertise their listings. For most, though, it was enough to just advertise in the newspapers.

When you did put a listing online, you had to send physical prints of your photos so they could scan them on an old-fashioned bed scanner. Then the portal would put the scanned image online and send the prints back to you, by snail mail.

Social media didn’t exist

What agent doesn’t take advantage of social media today? At Plus Notable, we certainly do. Back in 1999, however, none of the social networks we rely on today even existed.

Facebook wasn’t founded until 2004, LinkedIn got its start in 2002, YouTube launched in 2005, and Instagram was a relative latecomer, only launching in 2010.

Because our team is multicultural, we also use Little Red Book (Xiaohongshu), which is one of the most popular social platforms for Chinese users. In fact, it’s a top source of enquiries for us and boasts 300 million highly engaged monthly active users. Yet, its founders only launched Red Book in 2013, barely a decade ago.

While Red Book’s user base skews towards users with higher incomes and purchase intent, China’s better known social network is WeChat. Every single month, 1.3 billion users are active on the super app.

That’s a large number, but newcomer TikTok has already surpassed it. Despite only launching eight years ago (in 2016), TikTok now has 1.6 billion monthly active users. The average viewer streams 24 hours of content a month on the app.

Social media is something we take for granted in real estate today, but in actuality it’s relatively an addition to our workflow.

International buyers account for one-third of Australians

The fact that our project marketing agency gets approximately 20 per cent of our inquiries from non-English social media platforms is an indicator of another big change in the real estate market in the century, namely the rise of international buyers.

There are two types of international buyers. The first consists of those who do not have Australian permanent residency and may even live overseas. These foreign buyers spent more than $5 billion on dwellings in Australia last year. That sounds like a lot, but it’s only about 1 per cent of all transactions.

The other type of international buyers consists of Australians who were born overseas but now have permanent residency or citizenship in this country. This is a much larger group, of which I am one.

Australia’s resident population was 26.6 million people in 2023, made up of 18.5 million who were born in Australia and 8.2 million who were born elsewhere.

More than 3 million of Australia’s 8.2 million overseas-born population come from just four countries. They are, in descending order: England, India, China, and New Zealand. Other countries that are also near the top of the list as sources for new Australians are Nepal, the Philippines, and Vietnam.

What all this means is that more real estate agents than ever speak more than one language, understand multiple cultures, and serve buyers from several different countries and backgrounds. In 1999, fewer than a quarter of Australians were born overseas, while today about one-third are.

Offline events unlock sales

More people now spend more time online than in any prior year, with the average person worldwide spending 143 minutes per day just on social media.

That’s why it may surprise you that offline events have become one of the most powerful lead generators for real estate agents. Our agency uses offline events in our marketing campaigns. We host events for other agents and potential buyers. They can enjoy cocktails, canapés, and desserts while listening to presentations about real estate.

In a world where people are increasingly isolated behind their screens during much of their day, the chance to get out, meet others, and learn about real estate in person is attractive and powerful. For agents, live events give you an excellent opportunity to talk to your leads and evaluate how to get them across the line.

Yes, we use webinars, virtual tours, 3D walkthroughs, and other digital tools. But in-person events are irreplaceable. One company surveyed people on LinkedIn and found that 67 per cent of individuals said that in-person events are extremely important to them.

The agent’s job is changing

Looking back to 1999, it’s clear that the role of the agent was very different then. Agents then had more power to direct buyers, because buyers had a few other sources of information.

Today, in both project marketing and secondhand home sales, the agent also has the important role of advising the developer or vendor and not just the buyers.

Vendors look to their agents for advice on how to best position their property so they can earn the highest price possible. You might suggest a paint job, landscaping, and staging. You might advise them to subdivide a large lot before selling, or to make much more significant renovations.

Developers have even more at stake, so for them this go-to-market advise is more important still. Small- and mid-size developers are experts at building and capital allocation, but may not be in touch with buyer needs.

Good agents today play a vital part in project marketing. We advise developers on how to execute their project so it will be embraced by buyers. Successful residential developments need the right green and lifestyle features. For example, electronic vehicle (EV) charging in the parking areas is essential. Even if only a handful of your buyers have an electric car, it is likely that within 10 years almost every car in the garage will be an EV.

Trust is another factor. In NSW, for example, developers and builders with an iCIRT rating or 10-year latent defect insurance for their new project can command higher prices. As we told The Daily Telegraph, buyers are prepared to pay a premium of 8 per cent to 24 per cent for a new home with defect insurance.

The market has changed since 1999, and the job of real estate agents has changed, too. Real estate offices today are a hybrid of buyer-focused sales team, marketing agency, and development consultant. An agency that is going to survive and thrive over the next quarter-century will know how to do all these things.

Franky Tjhin is the general manager of Plus Notable in Sydney's Hills District.

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