How to Win at Auction Without Being a Tool

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Last weekend I attended an auction in my neighbourhood. I was just sticky-beaking and enjoying the Saturday morning theatre. I arrived early and had a peek around the property after being greeted by a cavalcade of junior agents with iPads (don’t be mean to them … we were all young once and wore shiny polyester suits and sunnies on our head inappropriately until we knew better).

At auctions, you can almost always tell the serious, interested buyers from those who – like myself – are attending for sport. They tend to fall into two categories:

Serious bidders at auction be like:

The ‘Been there, done that’ bidder: older purchasers who are standing at some distance from the auctioneer. They arrive five minutes before the auction, and don’t attend the open. They’re cool ‘coz they’ve purchased property before (and they’re probably superannuants with loads of equity). Bless their cotton socks (and their Uniqlo vests over cashmere paired with chill AF oversized sunglasses).

The ‘I should have done a nervous poop at home before oh God why didn’t I do a nervous poop why does this always happen to me’ bidder: they’re newbie first home buyers (although they might not be spring chickens, given the state of the Australian economy). These guys arrive ten minutes before the open for inspection begins, spend quite a while inside the property and then stand around right in front of the home waiting for the auctioneer to emerge. They’ll often be on obviously chatty terms with the agents, and have brought a horde of supporters with them.

At Saturday’s auction, both of these bidder types were present. Both bidders probably had the wherewithal to purchase the property, but it was the ‘been there, done that’ buyer who nabbed it in the end. And their strategy? It was to participate and not be a tool.

The ‘been there, done that’ couple waited until the auctioneer made a vendor bid, and then made a fair offer that was within quote range (although at the lower end). There wasn’t a huge amount of interest in the property, and they patiently waited for another bid to be made. The ‘I should have done a nervous poop’ buyer was obviously chomping at the bit to make a bid. He was a fella in his late 30s, rocking to-and-fro on his toes and trying to stare the auctioneer down. The auctioneer (who clearly knew this purchaser had an interest in the home) continually referred to this purchaser, giving him an opportunity to bid.

At this point the property wasn’t even on the marketEven if he did bid, he still wouldn’t have purchased the property as it had not made reserve. The ‘I shoulda done a nervous poop’ buyer was occasionally conferring with his partner and parents while the crowd waited to see if he would bid. He went on to ask questions of the auctioneer, before eventually saying he would make a bid of $1000. As I said, the property wasn’t yet even on the market, and the newbie buyer’s strategy was seriously impaired: if you want to have first right of refusal to access to reserve and negotiate with the vendor, you need to be the last bidder. You need to have the property passed in to you.

Of course, his $1000 bid was rejected (they were calling in $10,000 brackets), and the happy-to-participate ‘been there done that’ buyer went inside and purchased the home. The difference between the more experienced bidder and the newbie bidder comes down to this: a willingness to participate and an understanding that tricky strategy at auction is a load of hogswash. You got the money or you don’t. You participate or you don’t.

I bet the newbie buyer was spewing that they didn’t purchase the home they had so clearly invested in emotionally. From stalking nervously outside the front of the home to in-depth conversations with the agents and bringing a horde of supports along for the ride: they wanted to buy the property. But they got too caught up in micro-strategy and trying to be smart, excluding them from negotiating with the vendor.

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Here are my top tips for winning at auction (without being a tool).

1. Have finance pre-approval in place. Don’t even begin looking for property until you’ve got a hard budget to work with. It will only lead to heartache! Bidding at auction without pre-approval is something you should never do, as when you purchase at auction there is no cooling off. (Pro-tip: use a broker, not a bank.)

2. Take action (within your budget). If you’ve found a property you’d like to buy, participate in the auctionDon’t be like our poor mates who psyched themselves out with gameplaying and froze. Raise that hand and bid.

3. Don’t get too smart about bids. Putting forward a $1000 bid early on in the auction – before it has even reached reserve – is a tool move. By all means once the property is on the market, break down those bids as you see fit, but do so with purpose.

4. If a property is going to pass in, make sure it passes in to you. You’re not obligated to purchase at the vendor’s reserve – but you’ve won the opportunity to negotiate and know the reserve. If you don’t have the property pass in to you, you may have it stolen out from under your enthusiastic tootsies, which would suck.

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Follow-Up Letter Fails

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For the sake of efficiency, most real estate agencies use standard letters of some kind in their practice. Whether they use form letters that come as part of their database, or developed their own set of generic communications fit for property management or sales department purposes, standard letters are simply part of the landscape.

Not all generic communications are welcome or helpful, however. I recently received this (highly redacted) standard letter sent from one of Australia’s leading real estate agents to a past vendor (inserted below). Kerry (the letter’s recipient) told me that although she really liked the estate agent who sold her home and considered the sale a job well-done, she found this automated letter insensitive and mildly offensive. She’d been receiving exactly the same letter for years, and finally decided to share her feelings about the repetitive, unhelpful form letter with the agency in question by editing the letter, and sending it back.

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As you’ll have noted, Kerry has made her own amusing amendments to the standard ‘anniversary’ prospecting letter, highlighting how being reminded of her sale (as the result of a relationship breakdown) was not the best way to win her business.

Agents and BDMs have all likely experienced blowback from prospective clients for insensitivity when prospecting. I recall being verily blasted by a screaming elderly gentleman in the depths of grief when I rang his home number and asked for his wife. “She’s dead!” he bellowed. “Deeeaaaaddddd!!!!” Needless to stay, I took his name off our database quicksmart – and felt pretty dreadful about the whole thing to boot. Of course, we can’t hope to know the ins and outs of every individual we might cold-call who wandered through one of our opens five years ago. Occasionally making mistakes is just human, and sometimes irritating people is almost part of an estate agent’s purview.

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But we can take steps to ensure our current and past client prospecting is useful and sensitiveParticularly when it comes to form letters. They’re one of the most controllable forms of prospecting an estate agency does. Whether they’re sent out via snail-mail or arrive as newsletters from your database, form letters are one of the most powerful client outreach tools we have.

It’s worth considering, then – just how many ‘Kerry’s’ might you have on your database? Clients who actually liked your service, but have found your ‘post sale’ care invasive or insensitive? Referrals are some of the very best sources of business estate agents can come by, which is why investing in quality standard letters and working out when and whom you should sent them to is such a valuable activity. Here’s a few things to consider when it comes to the form letters you’re currently using:

  • Are they standard issue from your database? If they are, it means that hundreds of other agencies around Australia (and potentially in your farm area) are sending exactly the same letters to your prospects. Your prospects will notice. They might not say anything, but they’ll notice that your communications are decidedly generic and estate-agent-y. Good news is: you can create new letters and nip this problem in the bud.
  • Are they relevant? Just how valuable is an ‘anniversary of sale’ or ‘anniversary of leasing’ letter, really? Unlike the anniversary of buying a property (broadly considered a positive event), the motivation behind a vendor or landlord choosing to sell or lease their home can be as the result of a separation, death or change in financial circumstances. Rather than using a form letter to fish for listings from prior vendors, it’s probably better to give them a phone-call or send them a friendly (non real-estate branded, don’t be tacky y’all) card in the mail.
  • Can they be more effective? Generic form letters do the trick: they’re bland, they’re branded, they allow you to put in your client’s first name or property details, they communicate a request or offer and they may serve a due diligence requirement. BORING. That’s what’s they are. Subvert the dull and insensitive form-letter trend and choose to create a suite of powerful, clever call-to-action communications for your estate agency. You might choose to do this as a team, you might divide the task into sales and property management team tasks – or you might have the talented folks from Ruby Slipper create a suite of ripper communications on your behalf.

From lease renewals through to ‘just listeds’ (I think we should all put ‘anniversary of sale’ letters behind us for now) – can your mailouts and EDMs be more effective?

Never Pay for a Vendor’s Marketing

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It’s the start of a new year in Australian real estate land, and agents all across the nation are slitting each other’s throats for the chance to hold an authority in their hot little hands. 

At the start of each new year, there is terrific pressure on estate agents to kick off on the right foot with plenty of real estate on their stocklist. Subsequently, commission fees and pants are dropping at a rate of knots, as agents scramble to list property at any cost. Much of this pressure to list comes from panicked Principals whose weekly sales meetings are enough to send their teams into paroxysms of panic as they wonder ‘will I list this week’?

When you’re working in a real estate business where the predominant motivator to list business is fear and punishment rather than a narrative of professional development and team support for your individual strengths, making good decisions about your financial future becomes a hard task. As your retainer stacks up, your confidence begins to dwindle. The thought of not making your KPI for the month makes you nauseous and dry-mouthed.

So when a vendor you’ve assisted over a period of ten years with regular appraisals and negotiation tips to purchase finally decides to list their home with you, you get excited! There is only a couple of provisos: you’ll need to drop your fee to match the cut-price agent they’ve had visit their home for the first time and you’ll need to pay for their marketing.

Well. After you’ve finished shaking your fist at the Gods and ruing the day you ever met these cheapskate vendors, and after you’ve finished monologue-ing to your partner that people these days are worse than they were in the 90s, you realise you’ve a decision to make. Will you meet their terms? 

I understand how achingly you want this listing. How much pressure you’re potentially under to list at whatever the cost. But agent, the cost of listing badly is high.

Here are some of many reasons you should never pay for a vendor’s marketing:

  • The Numbers Don’t Add Up

If you agree to pay your vendor’s marketing – even if it’s only internet, photography, copywriting and basics – you’ll personally be up for several thousand dollars in costs. Say your total fee for the vendor’s home is $20,000. You’re on a 30/70 split with your Principal, so you’ll garner $6000 for this sale. MINUS your superannuation and any fees your Principal additionally takes. And MINUS your $3000 vendor advertising. That leaves you with around a $2000 profit. And the taxman hasn’t even been paid yet.

It doesn’t take a super-genius to recognise that this is a shit deal for you, the agent. The vendor is on a good wicket. Indeed, your Principal still makes money. But you? If you agree to pay vendor marketing you are working for sweet nothin’. You are nobody’s slave. If this is the culture you are being coerced to list within, you’ll need to find a new estate agency that respects their team and wants to lift standards within the industry.

  • Danger Clients

When you’re at the point of listing and you think the cat’s in the bag, it is galling when a client you’ve nurtured for years attempts to undercut you. I’m not talking about a small commission negotiation here – I’m talking about asking you to match a complete tool’s fee and pay their marketing to boot. Such clients have broken a social contract. They are dangerous. They are likely litigious. They do not see you as a human of value, they see you as a tool to be used. Be very cautious here: such undermining behaviour from a client does not bode well for a happy sale. You’ve been warned.

  • Spend Your Money on Yourself

Remember the last time you turned down a girl’s spa weekend because it would cost $600? Or when you didn’t go to a conference because you considered it to ‘spensy at a cost of $1500? Or when you didn’t buy that Paul Smith suit that was on sale? When you didn’t invest in social media marketing because the monthly cost seemed too much? When you wouldn’t get your kid that glittery Barbie because it didn’t fit in the monthly budget?

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Don’t deny your professional development and personal desires through budgeting, only to blow it all on some bastard vendor who doesn’t respect your time or skill. Energetically paying for vendor marketing is a bad choice, psychologically it’s detrimental to your confidence as a negotiator by trade. Blow those bucks and treat yo’self and your family – not them. You’ll benefit personally and professionally by turning this narrative of saving around.

  • Lift Your Standards, Don’t Drop Your Daks

Once in a while, we all lose listings that should have been ours. They should have been ours because of the years of service we’d given the client, or the great result we’d just garnered. Such lost listings sting. When I was an agent I remember losing a listing to a total fool of an agent who cut his fee to almost nothing. The vendor was a bastard for using my time over many years, and I felt silly for investing so much time in a wanton user. I cried and cried, I remember the flood of tears hitting my callback sheets. It was all very dramatic.

But after all the nose-blowing and at-volume listening to Usher in my car, I moved on. I prospected with more intelligence and communicated with rigour to my farm area. I didn’t need that zonzo’s listing. I didn’t want to diminish myself by working for nothing, and I didn’t want to become an agent who’d list at any cost. Instead, I would work with clients who weren’t dangerous, who respected my expertise and who understood reciprocity.

Never pay for a vendor’s marketingNo matter how much pressure a Principal puts you under to do so. Working in real estate is a tricky  business where confidence is all: don’t short-change yourself to satisfy someone else’s sense of entitlement. There’s other listings to be had – go chase ’em.

The Myth of the Auctioneer

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If there’s three things Melbournites love of a Saturday, it’s coffee with the papers, watching their team win at the MCG, and the street-theatre of a cracking auction.

And it’s not just Melbournites that love the smell of an auction in the morning: the perennial popularity of ‘reality’ real estate TV such as The Block is testament to Australia’s fascination with property. Whilst The Block is a show more about winning cash than selling real estate, each season I watch The Block finale as I can’t help myself: I’m a Melbournite who loves an auction.

When I began in real estate as novice in my twenties, I aspired to one day have the knowledge and sheer chutzpah to be an auctioneer. Happily, I acquired that skill, and was one of very few female auctioneers in Melbourne at the time. It’s true that calling an auction is not for everyone: some agents don’t fancy being the focus of a crowd, others feel nervous about their capacity to count in varying increments under pressure. I remember my Principal explaining to me that whilst it appeared that anything could happen in an auction situation, the likelihood was that it wouldn’t. Being an auctioneer is tantamount to being the circus Ringleader – what occurs during the process of your call is mostly in your control.  Although I’ve been privy to hundreds of auction calls, I’ve only seen a couple where the crowd have heckled or behaved appallingly. When unpleasant outbursts do occur, the wider crowd will often turn on the heckler – either by making dagger eyes and huffing in their general direction, or by literally telling them to pull their head in. I must admit, I always enjoy it when the ne’er-do-well heckler gets their comeuppance.

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Being an auctioneer is a talent, a skill that not all possess. Auctioneers are the lead actor taking centre stage at the pointy end of our weekend property sport, admired, reviled and mythologised. Here’s the thing: auctioneers don’t have the supernatural money-making powers shows like The Block and many punters believe them to have. A fine auctioneer executes a wonderful piece of performance art paired with the gain of lucre in public: it’s compelling and exciting to witness a great auction that flies past reserve in the blink of an eye. But in real terms, the true influence an auctioneer has over a property’s sale result is low to moderate at best. Here’s why:

Auctioneers are only as good as the sales campaign behind them.

An auctioneer cannot make an over-priced property in an over-supplied market sell, no matter how great their patter or how capable their count. In order for an auction to succeed the listing agent (this is the person with their name on the ‘For Sale’ board) must have run a good campaign. This means they’ve collaborated with their motivated vendor to appropriately price the property, attracting interest from the market – and hopefully, hordes of potentially-willing purchasers on auction day. If the property is overpriced, no amount of mad auctioneering skillz will save the campaign. The groundwork critical to a superb auction result is undertaken by the listing agent – and finished off with razzle-dazzle and control by the auctioneer. Ultimately, selling real estate is all about pricing competitively; the adage of ‘price it low, watch it go’ will always be true (regardless of trends in quoting). If a property is overpriced and there’s no willing bidder in the crowd, the best an auctioneer can do is emergency triage and entertainment before passing that sucker in and privately negotiating ASAP.

A house made entirely of KFC buckets mortared with ‘mashies’ will successfully sell at auction if it’s priced competitively enough: the auctioneer will simply season the deal with their charming seven secret herbs and spices (none of which involve pricing the property or educating the vendor about market realities, all of which is done by the listing agent).

Auctioneers are enabled or stymied by vendor reserves.

On The Block, contestants are delivered reserves stipulated by the true vendor (that being Channel 9). The narrative of The Block positions the contestants as the vendors, though in reality they’re not: they have no control over the reserve set by the station.

In the real world – should an auction be struggling – the agent can take instructions from their vendor mid-call. Depending on market conditions, the vendor may choose to put the property ‘on the market’ and amend their reserve to the last bid – or they might maintain their reserve, opting to pass the property in and negotiate with the highest bidder. The vendor’s instructions directly inform the auctioneer’s ability to successfully sell their property under the hammer. Again, much of the groundwork assisting to make the vendor aware of market feedback on their property is completed by the listing agent – who can hopefully encourage the vendor to set a reserve that’s realistic.

Auctioneers can’t make people buy houses.

When Shelley Craft looks to camera on The Block, remarking that ‘the auctioneer really has to go out there and make us that money’, I feel slightly nauseated. The auctioneer is not the person a successful sale hinges upon: the listing agent and the vendor themselves are. It’s misinforming the public to simplify the matter and pretend that the auctioneer can pull money from clench-fisted buyers who don’t see value in a property. If a property passes in, it’s not because the auctioneer is crap. It’s because the vendor hasn’t met the market (whether they’ve chosen to reject their agent’s advice on reserve, or the agent hasn’t attempted to condition them is the unknown factor).

It’s absolutely true that a talented auctioneer has some influence over an outcome at auction. They serve to entertain and inform the crowd, warming them up and encouraging those interested in bidding to raise their hands. Auctioneers are a walking advertisement for the prestige of the agency they represent, and should be sharply-presented with a dynamic calling style. They are responsible for making the crowd feel safe, and as though all is under control – if you’ve been to an auction where the auctioneer is fearful, the tension and dread is palpable and can serve to scare the crowd to stillness. Auctioneers are a very important part of the real estate sales process in Australia: they’re the Baz Luhrmann sparkle on the everyday gruntwork of a month of open for inspections. Their job is awe-inspiring to many, and the best of them are raconteurs who make our Saturdays sparkle with filthy lucre and witticisms – particularly when bidding is fast and furious. All I’m suggesting is: the auctioneer doesn’t have market power in the palm of their hand. Ultimately, it’s the vendor – and the talent of their listing agent – that decides whether an auction campaign flies or fizzes.

Iolanthe Gabrie a senior property writer, and the Director of Melbourne’s social media agency, Ruby Slipper.

Photographs by Kyle Larson.

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.

 

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.