This year at Christmas, the property management team at DiJONES Neutral Bay will be taking a decent break.
Incredibly, for almost 3,000 properties under management, they will only need one property manager to log in for one hour a day over the holiday period.
For Dean Mackie, CEO of DiJONES Lower North Shore, this type of win brings great satisfaction.
It’s been a new type of learning curve for Dean and his team over the past two years, which has brought challenging environmental and competitive conditions on Sydney’s Lower North Shore.
But it’s also brought opportunities to completely transform the business and provide customers and employees with a far superior experience.
CHALLENGERS AND CHALLENGING MARKETS
While everyone has felt the challenging market this year, Dean says much earlier he faced a couple of extra hurdles he hadn’t quite bargained for.
Some of his team, including some that had been with him for a decade or more, had suddenly become targets to new entrants offering between 80 and 100 per cent commission splits.
“My marketplace was one of the first areas The Agency and Avnu launched; they went really hard on shifting the dial on agents and commissions,” Dean says.
“It was like this real fight for talent.”
Then came the fall out with McGrath, who he says “went hard” to court his people away as well.
When you put all of this together, Dean admits it was a bit “like a Tsunami”.
Despite this, he says the past 12 months have been one of his best years in refocusing and he is set for the next phase in the business under the DiJONES brand, which was launched in January 2019.
“We can all get a little bit lazy sometimes, and launching a new brand in these conditions was a real learning curve,” Dean says.
“It forced me to get back to basics.”
STRIPPING BACK THE LAYERS
Dean says that his main focus became how to simplify the business and get smarter and help people become more productive.
He says they have been on a journey to strike the right balance between using the best technology, offshoring and re-engineering processes to reduce customer friction and improve workplace satisfaction.
“A big question for us has been what platforms can we use to improve productivity and service,” Dean says.
“Mostly those learnings we’ve taken from property management, and we are now cascading that down to sales.”
TRANSFORMING PROPERTY MANAGEMENT
Dean says the PM transformation came with stripping out the activities that didn’t add value and resolving the “ordinary” experience most tenants receive from property managers.
“The way we used to do it was antiquated and had too many friction points for the customer,” he says.
“We really wanted to transform how we do property management, re-engineering from the ground up.”
Through astute technology and offshoring choices, the DiJONES team provides a differentiated concierge service for tenants who don’t have to collect keys from the office.
“The tenants are met at the property by one of the concierge team to show them how everything works in the property, ironing out any issues up-front,” Dean says.
At the same time, the concierge team also shows the new tenant how to use the technology up-front to take care of any maintenance requests quickly and efficiently.
The technology platform is OurProperty, with the two companies working together for the past five or six years to build a platform to provide this frictionless all-in one solution for owners and tenants.
“There are a lot of platforms out there that only deal with one of many friction points,” Dean says.
“Then you have to learn to use a whole bunch of different tech and try to get them to talk together.
“OurProperty is everything we need in one integrated solution – no more need for any plug-ins.”
RELATIONSHIP MANAGERS, NOT PROPERTY MANAGERS
DiJONES also provides six different levels of service to potential landlords starting with a two per cent fee to ‘collect the rent’ and rising to a ‘home-hotel experience’ at a cost of up to 30 per cent.
Dean says this has been crucial in an environment where fees have been squeezed and will only continue to with increasing consumer expectations.
“The technology and off-shoring have really enabled us to change how people work and what they do on a day-to-day basis,” he says.
“A big part of it was trying to reduce all of the emails.
“Lots of property managers sit behind email dealing with tenant requests.
“For us, the technology allows people to log their own maintenance.”
At this point, the offshore team (who are a fully integrated part of the DiJONES team) can go into the processing mode of getting the right trade to the right tenant at the right time, freeing up the property manager to provide more of a relationship-based service.
“Instead of dealing with the broken toilet, they are now saying to a landlord, ‘tell me about your investment’,” Dean says.
“And even though most of the PMs will be taking a Christmas break, there is still a 24/7 service for our owners and tenants.
“The tech platform and the offshore team are constantly there, so that takes the pressure off.”
In sales, there has been a similar approach where Dean says the focus has been to simplify and improve productivity.
Dean says that years ago, he wasn’t sure you could emulate creating the same efficiencies in property management in the sales department.
But as he dug into it, he says he now doesn’t believe that’s entirely true.
“An agent typically does everything from listing, selling, administration, marketing and all the bits and pieces in between.
“But again, we’ve taken the view that if we implement technology plus offshore support, it means an agent’s role is more about focusing on staying in touch with customers more frequently as well as getting the best deal for the customer.”
So Dean says they set about mapping processes, simplifying and offshoring administration.
They’ve also implemented tools including Real Time Agent and Realtair’s Pitch that have helped to automate and streamline processes.
“In the sales business we are now searching through a bunch of different technology platforms to make it all come together,” Dean says.
THE FUTURE IS DATA
Dean says looking at your business in a non-traditional ‘real estate’ way will be crucial in the future.
He also believes the biggest challenge for an agent will be how to demonstrate value in such a way that a customer wants to use a real estate agent in the future.
Along with Group CEO Rob Ward, the entire DiJONES group is focused on centralised data, which is a problem the rest of the industry needs to solve to remain competitive.
“There’s a problem because the customer expects you to be able to know who they are and have a contextual understanding of who they are if they are a customer of your business,” Dean says.
“Because this industry is so fragmented and silo-based, it’s limiting the ability to use data.
“So I think there is an opportunity there.”
But Dean also believes the key to survival is the need for individual players to recalibrate cost structures and get more efficient in the process.
“The future is a tech-enabled agent, whether it’s property management or sales,” Dean says.
He also believes people who deal in property still want to deal with a person.
“The people who use technology to their advantage to provide a service in a much shorter time frame are the ones who are going to do very well,” Dean says.
ONE FINAL THOUGHT
In case you’re wondering, there is one other element Dean believes you need to scale and grow to be successful, and that’s leadership.
“I said to myself ‘if I am going to commit to this thing for a further 10 years, then I really need to shift my own energy’,” he says.
“Over a long time we’d built a pretty successful team, and probably produced more successful agents in this marketplace than anyone else.”
But complacency is a killer.
“Sometimes you can get yourself successful and then you stop doing the things that got you there but expect success to continue,” he says.
“As a leader, you need to have that energy and that accountability, if you’re not committed to it yourself, then things are going to get off track.
“Go back to the things that really matter and simplify before you scale.”