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.

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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.

Cooked Their Own Goose: Vendor Greed

Buyers are saying no. And with good reason, too. Vendor greed has killed the goose that laid the golden egg.

The property cycle is the same every time. Interest rates go down (or go up, as a warning shot over the parapets) and hopeful property buyers spring into action. They begin buying property under competitive conditions, and prices crawl upwards. Some neighbourhoods surge ahead in value – shocking their communities with a steady increase in property prices. Cue media outlets and newspapers opining on Melbourne’s property market balloon, resulting in Saturday night news featurettes on extraordinary auction results and the impossibility of first home buyers securing property. Some vendors make well above their reserves, elated and excited at their windfall.

Buyers keep buying property despite all this ‘balloon market’ talk, choosing to invest their dollars in property, confident that property prices aren’t going down anytime soon in desirable, urban areas as our population keeps growing. Clearance rates are high, and vendor’s appetites to sell are whetted. That’s where it all starts to go wrong.

It doesn’t go bad because of a balloon or buyers ceasing to see the value of property investment. It goes bad because of vendor greed. Vendors Gone Wild, if you will. The vendors just a few weeks earlier in the same property cycle were setting reasonable market reserves which left room for buyers to compete. It’s only when a vendor is listening to their agent’s feedback about quote range (or advice on why they shouldn’t display price) and setting a reserve buyers see as reasonable that competition occurs, properties sell, clearance rates remain high and prices increase naturally and incrementally. The vendors who weren’t greedy – weren’t trying to abuse the market’s confidence in property investment – were those prepared to sell at a fair price.

It’s the vendors who have more recently come onto the market – those who believe the media news that prices are outta sight and going north – that have cooked the market’s goose. They always appear in the property market cycle at its greediest  pinnacle. (Although they’re by no means the only kind of vendors attempting to sell their properties before Christmas.) These vendors don’t amend their expectations of price despite agent education and market feedback because they were never sellers in the first place. They’d sell for an extraordinary result, but their motivation to meet the market is low. The result of an out of control vendor are high pass-in rates, lower attendance at open for inspections and a general unwillingness to participate from buyers.

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This is as it should be: it’s a sign that the market is discerning and aware. Buyers are willing to bid to buy, but they won’t tolerate greed and an inability to compete openly.

If you’re a vendor who has not sold and you’re part of the current property cycle, ask yourself the hard question: are you really selling or are you just trying to fool the market into paying more than your property’s worth? Listen to your agent’s feedback and take action by meeting the market. If you are selling to buy, be logical about pricing and don’t get hung up on achieving a figure based on nothing but hope. Waiting for your ‘perfect price’ could mean watching the market cycle for several years. In that time, the property you’re hoping to buy will also go up in value  – and will be just as unaffordable as it is today. It’s critical (in most cases) to buy and sell in the same market, when values are balanced. Waiting won’t change the inherent value of properties if you’re selling to buy. Word to the wise? Don’t cook your own goose!

After all, if Tay-Tay and Yeezy can hug it out, so can buyers and vendors.

Hometruths Fourteen

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Hey. So it’s been a while since you and I met. A while …. like TWO YEARS a while. Why the gap in content? Because of this and this, primarily. But, I’m back with that unusual hybrid of commentary that is Melbourne’s real estate culture. And a culture it is best described as, as any Melbournian worth their salt in Saturday newspapers will tell you. Over breakfast’s clinking cold-drip coffees and brioche french toast, Melbourne’s middle-class discuss their prospects via the mirror of real estate prices, pass-ins and estate agencies.

I myself am a veteran of multiple elements of the real estate culture that is Melbourne. I bought my first home at 21, while working as an estate agent and auctioneer. My husband is an estate agent (a very good one too, mind you). My business creates content that supports some of the best property-related brands in Australia, including agencies, brokers, and businesses that service the real estate industry. I’m also a real estate copywriter. So when it comes to real estate from a bird’s eye view – from within and without – it’s fair to say my commentary on Hometruths offers holistic inquiry into the heartbeat of our collective attraction to property and the value we attach to it.

I can’t promise that Hometruths will be a weekly thing – but I will commit to a return to this project. You can follow Hometruths on Facebook here, and follow us on Twitter @hometruthsmelb. Let’s begin our friendship again, yes?

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One simply can’t face auctions without a full belly, amirite? I started off the day at new hot-thing Hardware Societe on Hardware Street in the city. CBD breakfast naysayers, begone. This joint deserves the hype it enjoys. Featuring a rich Frenchy-Spanish inspired menu, how can you go past fried brioche with lavender panna cotta? I myself had a deliciously filling vanilla rice pudding with salted caramel for breakfast, but will return again on another occasion for more treaty goodness.

For more details on my pre-auction breakfast and Saturday style, visit Ruby Slipper (my arts, culture and style tome – a Top 40 blog in Australian Voices 2014 if you don’t mind 😀 )

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Leave the suits to the agents: wearing H&M woollen hat, Country Road silk dress.

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Auction : 38 Rathdowne Street, Carlton

Time: 11:00 am

Agents: Little Residential, Jeffrey Wilson and Anthony Inglese

Punters: A mostly mature crowd of buyers, with the purchaser represented by a buyer’s agent. Despite the location of this relatively-modern property close to the Carlton Gardens and delights of Lygon Street ( I mean, Readings, Cinema Nova and Brunetti), I wouldn’t have normally thought this property appealing to an older owner – mostly because the bedrooms are both upstairs. Above 55 or 60, most purchasers take their ability to stay in a home long-term into account. Perhaps inner-city location is bringing out the devil-may-care attitude in those who simply want a foothold in a prestigious location.

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Auction: A no-nonsense call by industry veteran (but out-of-neighbourhood agent) Jeffrey Wilson. All biz, no fizz. Good, solid auction without any bells and whistles, but the quick-to-bid punters made Wilson’s job easy. Starting at $750,000 for a two-bedroom home, the auction ran out of competition at around $880,000 before finishing at $892,000. The buyer agent ( I apologise, I do not know who he was) bid excellently, starting things off at a cracking pace and regularly coming back to top any other bidder. This is a great attitude and position to take when attempting to buy at auction. There’s no magic to buying at auction. It’s simply having enough money to purchase the home paired with decisively making your desire for that home known. Forget the game-playing. You’re playing by yourself.

Auction: 5 Chetwynd Place, North Melbourne

Time: 12:30 pm

Agent: Woodards, Anthony Gattuso and Sam Abboud

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Punters: A shifty lot at this auction, all ground-staring and pretending to be busy on the phone. Like a Roman Colosseum, a crowd makes its feelings known with its posture and response to the auctioneer’s call to action (or lack thereof). Five main bidders participated and ‘got the job done’ but there wasn’t a huge amount of energy at the auction for a most desirable property. This is the kind of townhouse I dream of owning, Barbie-Dreamhouse style. It had everything that opened and closed including oodles of marble, sexy kitchen, glass walled bedroom, and a bathroom worthy of a Russian oligarch. The punters had nothing to whinge about with the property itself, but may have had reservations about its location (off a lane) and the surrounding development underway behind it.

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Peering down from above: everyone loves an auction.

Auction Review: Auctioneer Anthony Gattuso is always engaging and highly interactive in his call, weaving story with a powerful voice and giving his auctions the respect they deserve by making them an occasion. Bidders were stingy initially, and the auctioneer refused bids which attempted to break down the rises politely but firmly. Respecting his vendor’s wishes was something Gattuso made clear he prioritized, which is the sign of a sophisticated, confident ringmaster of the auction circus. I did feel for one poor bidder, who looked like the child of someone attempting to bid from elsewhere. The bidder was obviously inexperienced and nervous, hiding their phone behind a jumper and trying to express the proceedings to someone down the line. This approach never works and is very stressful for the person at the auction. Do yourself and your family a favour: hire a professional advocate or build a relationship with an agent you trust to bid on your behalf. In terms of the sale itself, it eeked upwards to $1.250 before finally selling after auction for $1.275. A mighty result for a townhouse on a lane, if I do say so myself.

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Postscript: It’s nice to see you all again. Hometruths will be back again – soonish.