Gratitude and the Estate Agent

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I love coffee cards. I only drink decaf, but that doesn’t stop me from punching my way through a coffee card in the space of a fortnight, before being rewarded for my good custom by my local provedore of (de)caffeinated beverages with a freebie.

I feel treatedacknowledged and delighted by this gesture. In all, I’ve probably spent about $35.00 with a coffee shop over the space of a couple of weeks, who then reward me with a coffee worth 10% of the value of my investment in their business. That’s just good business – and increasingly, we expect our loyalty to be rewarded – even with the most basic of purchases.

Can you imagine if an estate agency spent 10% of the value of a vendor’s investment on treating their vendor and buyer? It’s likely you can’t.

And that’s because the real estate industry has a problem with saying thankyou.

The bad old days of cleanskin wines and Donna Hay cookbooks are gone. The real estate industry is being forced to give more than ever before, whilst ostensibly working for the same (or a reduced) commission. Frankly, I don’t know how they’ve gotten away with displaying insubstantial gratitude to the people who pay their bills for so long. Are you a real estate stalwart grumbling with disagreement? You’re likely part of the problem.

Free-market economics are improving standards across the real estate community, with savvy agents looking to innovate across the entirety of their businesses. Creating an edge is where it’s at, and that point of difference simply can’t be achieved with the lacklustre delivery of shiny, branded Christmas cards with a printed ‘signature’, templated dross-filled newsletters focused on your business rather than your community, or a cheese knife and woodblock set handed across the front desk by a harried Sales Secretary at settlement time.

So what’s the edge? And how can you get it?

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The edge is called delight. Delight is the emotional state that creates goodwill between parties. Goodwill brings with it referrals, repeat business and cold business – all drawn magnetically to you as a sales agent or a company because of your reputation. Delight costs, of course. It costs in personalised, thoughtful gifting. In genuinely giving back to your community in terms of quality messaging on bespoke social media. It costs in time, as well – in lounge-room sitting or calling that landlord client to check-in on how his experience with your property manager is faring. Delight is the only currency that matters in an age when fewer agents are doing more business thanks to ‘marketing units’, more powerful databases and the collapse of smaller agencies into monied mega-brands.

So let’s get grateful. To both our vendors and our buyers – who have both paid a healthy portion of your monthly bill courtesy of their invoice. It’s easy to become numb to 5-figure commission checks when you’re within industry, splitting them up into their 40 – 60% splits before they’ve even hit the trust account. But each commission is big bucks to your vendor, and it needs to be appropriately acknowledged.

Word to the wise (and not the wise-assed): this isn’t an opportunity for Principals to pass the buck on gifting. This gesture of gratitude must be a percentage that comes off the whole fee. Not just the amount of commission apportioned to the sales agent – that’s lazy, and greedy. Imagine the sense of delight you could offer your vendors and buyers by setting aside just $3000 of a $30,000 fee and investing in gratitude. BBQs and dinner-tables around your community will soon be buzzing with talk of your decidedly un-realestate-y generosity. This delight could be a big spend all at once, a fair splitting of the resources between the vendor and the buyer. It could be a portioned upfront spend on the two parties, with an additional amount put into a collective ‘delight’ kitty, used for the benevolent scattering of goodwill to deserving clients in the form of coffee cards for newbies to the neighbourhood, magazine subscriptions, tickets to the theatre or weekends away.

The edge is delight, surprise and gratitude. It’s time to give back and to say thankyou. And it feels good.

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Photography: Breeana Dunbar

Location: Aquabelle Apartments, Mornington Peninsula

Iolanthe Gabrie is the Director of Ruby Slipper, Melbourne’s best social media agency. Learn more here.

 

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Christmas Parties: The Estate Agent Guide

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You can tell Christmas is coming in three key ways when you’re an estate agent.

One is when your clients decide to wait ’til next year to sell their home,  feeling they’ve missed the boat in terms of an auction campaign or harnessing the ‘spring buzz’. The second way you can sense Christmas is nigh is the sight of Mr Kipling mince pies at Woolies. And the last is the arrival of the annual Christmas party invitation – which is something either met with great excitement, or gnawing dread. In today’s Hometruths Melbourne blog, we offer a Christmas Party guide for principals and estate agents – a thorough what-to-do and what-not-to-do guide that will make for happier celebrations of the year that was. More Nutbush, less Krampus.

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Are you a Principal? Congratulations on making it through another year. It’s tough out there for a boss, #amirite? You’ve probably contended with an array of events in 2016 including but not limited to: legal skirmishes, staff turnover that made you panic, tax bills that result in emergency accountant visits and enforced attendance at your local real estate institute for CPD points. It’s hard to tell which of these is the worst, innit? In any case – you’re on the home stretch and it’s time to reward your team for the many wins you’ve enjoyed. Here’s how to do it:

  • Forget about mini-buses. Anywhere.

It’s true that a winery day out sounds initially appealing, especially if you rather enjoy the odd tipple. But being stuck on a bus hours outside of your capital city with Jerry the BDM vomiting pulled pork burgers and pilsner out the mini-bus window is a much less happy reality. Don’t make the Christmas party into something which must be borne through gritted teeth rather than enjoyed. Appreciate that not everyone in your team enjoys drinking, and take that into account when planning a stress-free and enjoyable day out together.

  • Don’t conflate team-building with celebration and reward.

You have 11 months of the year to do team-building. Christmas parties are not about that: they’re a reward that shows your appreciation as a business owner without making anyone feel put upon or pressured into an activity they don’t enjoy. Less abseiling and trust exercises, more ‘here’s a personal gift from me to you, what would you like for your entrée?’

  • Partners matter. Include them.

Estate agents often work six days a week. In order for an agent to succeed and make you money, they need the complicit support of their partner. The real estate widow is carrying the domestic workload and executing the emotional labour of a couple by themselves. They are as much a part of your success as your employee. Make sure they know they’re appreciated and included in Christmas celebrations and rewards. Let’s face it: a Christmas lunch or dinner with your team alone makes for pretty dull conversation. Throw partners into the mix, and you’ll have a diversity of relaxed conversation that’s (hopefully!) about anything other than the office. Don’t be cheap about this – scale your celebrations to a level that partners can be acknowledged and rewarded within.

  • Don’t be offended by difference.

Maybe you’re going ahead with a Christmas party at a winery. Or you’re taking the team out for a day of paintballing. Be open to the reality that not everyone in your business will want to participate. Not everyone drinks, travels in mini-buses well, or enjoys toting paintball guns in the bush. If you have a team member that would prefer to sit this event out, don’t make a big deal of it. Their fun isn’t your fun. That’s OK. Reward them privately in a way that they will appreciate, and your tolerance and thoughtfulness won’t go unnoticed.

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Are you an estate agent? Well done to you too, on making it (nearly) all the way to 2017! It’s time to enjoy and pat yourselves on the back for having being faced with alarming circumstances during 2016 including but not limited to: changes to quoting laws, dogs constantly jumping on you during listing presentations, forgetting open A-Frames on street corners, dealing with irate, threatening buyers during boardroom auctions and trying to meet your monthly KPIs. Holiday season is here, and our recommendations on best enjoying your team Christmas celebrations include:

  • Keep it nice. 

During your Christmas office party, you may very well enjoy a snifter or two of your favorite tipple. Sante! Relax and mellow out. But don’t let that sweet devil’s liquor loosen your tongue or allow you to behave in a randy, inappropriate fashion. You’re still in a professional setting, so calling people racist nicknames, bottom-pinching, or indulging in a disco-bikkie or two in the bathrooms really isn’t on. It’s easy to ruin a reputation. And it’s easy to bully other people when you’re in a position of power. Neither action is very spirit of the season, really.

  • Give your boss a gift.

Appreciation, innit. Goes a long way.

  • Make an effort.

Some of us like Christmas parties more than others. If there’s an activity that makes you really uncomfortable and you don’t want to participate, speak frankly to your boss about this. If they’re not a d*ck, they’ll respect your considered response. But if you’re just generally a Christmas party hater, take off your Grinch hat. Make it a more enjoyable a day by offering to organise games or a focus for the party. Maybe not Cards Against Humanity, but something that will elicit a giggle from everyone. Or indulge in a new outfit for the day, and think of ways to engage with your colleagues outside of your daily roles. Chat to Jacinta’s husband about his favorite books. Find out if Gregg is still collecting 1970’s football cards. There’s more to your colleagues than meets the eye, I’ll bet.

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Photography: Breeana Dunbar.

Purple People Eater: Why Purplebricks Will Improve the Real Estate Industry

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Purplebricks is not going to revolutionise the Australian real estate experience. But it may very well improve it, and for the better.

For those not of the industry, a potted history of Purplebricks:  a UK-based technology business, Purplebricks offers fixed-price property marketing which purports to upend every market it enters. They’re best thought of as a technology and data company, in much the same way as Uber and AirBnB are: they don’t actually own assets such as physical agencies – they own technology and systems. They’ve got money to spend on PR and (because they’re clever and know which way their bread is buttered, unlike many of the old guard of our existing property industry), they’re engaging in both a traditional and digital media assault. Which is frankly what you have to do if you’re wanting a startup to do well.

Many agents have been proverbially sh*tting purple bricks at the thought of their industry being disrupted. If you’ve been getting your knickers in a knot about the entrance of Purplebricks into the Australian real estate market, it’s more a revelation of your potential professional weaknesses than of their ability to destroy your livelihood. Here’s why:

  • If you lose a listing to Purplebricks, you probably deserve to. Ouch. Right? Purplebricks listings are much like the infamous ‘chicken raffle’ listing, where four agents are called in to complete appraisals within a week. These listings are really a race to the bottom, where a decision by a vendor is based primarily upon agent cost because nobody did their bloody job and prospected them properly. Agents who have ongoing relationships with potential vendors based on true prospecting – which is offering information over a long period of time, paired with personal service and a sense of intelligent delight –  will not lose listings to Purplebricks. That’s because their offering isn’t based on a fixed price. It’s based on expertise, accountability, an actual relationship and (most importantly) – reciprocity. Purplebricks will undoubtedly appeal to some vendors – those who haven’t been prospected, those who are very price driven, and those who think they are the expert. The first of these – the vendor who hasn’t been prospected – is really a problem of agent neglect which can be turned around by action. The second two – vendors maniacal with greed or narcissistic in the extreme – are best avoided anyway. It’s these latter potential clients that Purplebricks will benefit from, and probably not to your detriment.
  • The UK real estate market is not the Australian real estate market. The UK has a ‘chain’ real estate system, which diminishes urgency and expectations for buyers and vendors. It’s best understood (in a nutshell, and very simplistically) as a chain of property settlements which must occur simultaneously. Every sale is conditional and held together by a chain of purchasers agreeing to go ahead with their transaction. If one buyer can’t settle for whatever reason, the whole chain of transactions fails. It’s unthinkable in comparison to the Australian real estate transaction process. Our own market has no such weakness: if you don’t perform on an unconditional contract, you’re toast. Australian expectations of real estate sales transactions are substantially higher than they are in the UK. Price quoting on property and expectations of price based on the quote also differ – in the UK, the asking price for the property is the asking price expected. Buyers know to offer below immediately. Our own market is the polar opposite – with buyers recognising that the asking price is often below vendor expectations. An Australian vendor left to their own devices to quote on property price a la Purplebricks will be completely stuffed, resulting in failed campaigns at a much higher rate than traditional agent-led campaigns. Moreover, capital cities in Australia have auction-centric markets. As any agent worth their business card knows, a successful auction campaign relies on conditioning and education of both the vendor and the buyer. It’s not a matter of whacking a price on the thing, uploading it to your favorite real estate portal and cracking open a tinnie. Purplebricks’ model appears to favour the private sale market which is more natural to the UK – it will probably work well in some more suburban areas of Australia which have limited capital growth and poor agent activity.
  • Fixed-price real estate marketing isn’t a new thing. Purplebricks has marketing and technology, and they’re utilising it at far more sophisticated levels than many of the dodgy fixed-price ‘Sell My Whatever’ brands of the past. But their model is essentially the same. Their offering will appeal to some of the market, certainly – variants on this offering always have. The best way to future-proof yourself against potential disruptors wearing different guises? Be a better agent. Use technology to your advantage. Prospect properly. Pay attention to details. Make people feel special. It’s a service industry, which is something the real estate community itself sometimes forgets. Our trade is our capacity to serve our community and negotiate relentlessly for our vendors.
  • Horses for courses. Not every vendor is driven by value. Some are driven by prestige: they want to list with the best agent who has the best marketing. They want the soft gloss, four page brochure. They want the VR floorplan. They want everything that opens and shuts, and they want their friends to see it. These people will not be attracted to PurplebricksOther vendors will kill you for a dollar and want to haggle down the price of a Happy Meal. This may be partly your failure for neglecting to show them why you deserve to be paid for your time and effort. But it might be because they frickin’ hate real estate agents. Or that they’re just really cheap, too. And that’s okay. Horse for courses. Purplebricks isn’t for everyone any more than you are.
  • Negotiators R Us. Purplebricks flat-price philosophy works when you don’t truly understand the ugliness of human nature. That vendors and buyers are greedy, vulnerable, scared and largely unable to negotiate effectively. They’re strung out and emotional: they’re three year olds at dinnertime, waving around a contract of sale. That’s why there’s estate agents to coach them through this risky, emotionally fraught process. Vendors don’t believe they’re unreasonable with their price expectations. The fact they’ve rewired the garage and put in new carpet has to add $12,526.00 exactly to the price they’ll get for the home, right? They don’t understand the dangers of pricing a property inappropriately, and the risk that overexposure in the market has upon a property’s eventual value. Purplebricks aren’t an estate agency: they’re a technology business offering systems and access to task-oriented agents. They’re not you, agent.

If anything, Purplebricks will improve the state of the Australian real estate market by encouraging existing agents to finesse their offering to the public. To go about things in a different way, using technology and old school service. It will make stragglers practising in markets too long neglected  by lazy, backwards Principals shape up or ship out. The only people who have anything to fear from Purplebricks are agents who are lacking in skills, ideas or talent. So don’t worry about the disruptors: just get on the with the job.

* I did contact three Purplebricks estate agents in Melbourne to learn more about their model. All three told me they were under strict instructions not to speak to the media about their experience as Purplebricks agents.

The Bloodied Messenger: Property Managers and Public Respect

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The phone would ring three times – the receptionist having told me already that John from East Melbourne was on the line. He was a tenant in a property I’d been instructed to sell, and I hadn’t spoken to him before. As an estate agent, it was my role to inform him that yes, his rental property was going to be sold and that yes, we’d be doing our first open within two weeks. A veteran of these conversations, the response from my tenant went almost uniformly in one of three directions.

“No, I’m sorry I won’t let you in my property. I don’t have to.”

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“I have concerns about security, so I need to be at every open. And I’m at home on Wednesday morning at 9:30 am or Sunday evening at 7:00 pm, so those are the only times I will allow you access.”

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‘The landlord needs to offer me some compensation. Then we can talk.”

In every one of these instances, my first proposed open on a Saturday at a normal time when purchasers could attend went ahead. Principally because as the agent of the vendor I did have the right to enter the property given due notice to sell a home. The landlord doesn’t have to pay any inducement to legally access the home for the purpose of selling – but indeed they may agree to pay an inducement if the home is presented beautifully and with good will.

In retaliation for having done my job as an agent, I have been variously threatened with a knife by a caterwauling tenant in considerable distress, had to speak with police and sign a state dec confirming that I did not steal a computer that a tenant accused me of pilfering. I have had tenants stay in bed farting during open for inspections, leaving bucket bongs in the center of the living room. Prior to an auction, I had tenants involved in a little light latex bondage in their kitchen, seemingly surprised to see me (and thirty enthusiastic auction-goers) pouring in the front door. That was a real doozie, and I called that auction with relish.

Having worked in the real estate industry, I’m keenly aware of both the failings of the real estate industry itself and of the deep disregard for people who work in the industry. Did you know that – on average – every three years 80% of the real estate industry in Australian turns over? When you consider the vitriol aimed at those working in property – in particular, property managers – this should cause little wonder.

When I’m online and see people having conversations about the sheer gall of agents attempting to  having open homes in their leased property, I am often saddened. Our community see property managers as bottom-dwelling halfwits who are attempting to do the wrong thing by them at all times. If they’re tenants, they view PMs as inattentive, unfairly exacting in their standards or stalkerish when following up overdue rent. If they’re landlords, property managers are viewed as unavailable, ill-educated and on the tenant’s side.

Given the lack of community respect for what is effectively a vocation (because they sure as hell don’t do it for the money – particularly in property management), the rapid industry turnover makes sense. Property managers – on average – have a portfolio of 220 – 250 properties which they oversee. This means 500 relationships – those with tenants and landlords – and a mountain of maintenance orders, following up of rent arrears, negotiations between parties with the added frisson of occasional abuse. They are usually overworked and quite stressed out.

I’ve often seen online conversations from ostensibly lovely people decrying estate agents for daring to ask to have an open for inspection on a Saturday at their leased property. Cue a stream of replies about ‘leaving the dishes undone and the house dirty, that’ll teach ’em’ and ‘just don’t let them in, they can’t make you’, and I’m left angered. As a tenant, you are required to allow fair access to your property for the purpose of lease or sale once given notice. Just as the landlord must fix problems with a home once alerted to them, tenants must allow public access to their property at fair times for the purpose of re-leasing or selling. Being difficult and aggressive – by either making the agent fight with you to do what they are both instructed to do and legally allowed to do – isn’t a solution. It won’t make the problem go away. Leaving a home dirty and unpleasant isn’t helpful either – all it results in is more and more opens as it takes longer to lease or sell the property.

Undoubtedly, we need to make changes to property and investment laws in Australia. Annual rent increases, short leases and negative gearing all have a deleterious effect on the relationship and respect between landlords and tenants. The property manager or estate agent is the meat in the sandwich between these oft-warring parties. Instead of working out ways to stymie your 23-year-old property manager from making a fair repair to your investment property or making her feel unwelcome to do her job as legislation supports – think about petitioning to government bodies about the rights of tenants and landlords. We probably need longer lease terms, and longer periods between rent increases – it’s not fair to expect people to move home every year. But until those things are amended, the agents you deal with are following through on their roles in the best way they know how, trying to solve problems and make everyone happy.

And if one thing’s certain in this life: trying to make everyone happy makes no-one happy. So: don’t be cruel. Don’t bully and demean a profession for attempting to do their jobs well – remember, these are property managers are confronted by regular verbal abuse and rental properties sometimes destroyed and defaced by hostile tenants. Allow fair, tidy open for inspections without aggression or violence – they’ll be out of your hair as soon as they can. Equally, if you’re a landlord, make reparations on your property when you need to, and be understanding about what ‘fair wear and tear’ means.

Above all – don’t shoot the messenger.