Agents got talent: never smile at a crocodile

Real estate professionals by day and singers, actors, reptile experts and kickboxers by night, many agents have hidden skills their clients don’t suspect. Noel Mengel sat down with four industry high-achievers to uncover their alter-egos’ talents and how they’ve helped them in their real estate careers.

Maria Page

Barry Plant Mitchell Sunbury director

Actor and singer

Mamma Mia, here I go again!

That could be the story of Maria Page’s life.

By day she is the busy director of property management for Barry Plant Mitchell Sunbury in Victoria but there is always room in her life for her love of musical theatre.

The classically trained singer has been involved in theatrical productions since she was 18, mostly with the Broadford Amateur Theatrical Society, or BATS as it is known by locals.

She has played leads in all kinds of musicals, from Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado to the smash-hit stage shows that have entranced generations of music lovers on the screen like The Sound of Music and Brigadoon.

At last count Maria has taken the stage in 34 productions, many of them in leading roles.

“This year I played Rosie in Mamma Mia and I said ,‘That’s it for me, I am going to hang up my boots’,” she recalls.

“At the time they said, ‘No worries’ but at a meeting the other night it was, ‘Oh, we’re getting a show together and there’s this role …’”

Maria Page (far right) on stage.

Maria also has been involved as an assistant director and the treasurer of BATS for the past 15 years, right at the heart of an organisation that is like glue for local communities in hard times and good.

“The main thing I take from musical theatre and bring to work is having that confidence to speak to people and to do it in front of a lot of people,” Maria says.

“I don’t have any fear of telling people what it is all about. I have never had an issue with telling people the truth.”

For property managers, that often means telling people something they don’t want to hear.

“For young property managers confrontation is the hardest part of the job but I have always told my PMs that no matter what happens, tell it how it is in black and white,” Maria explains.

“Over time you gain respect as a straight shooter.

“Sometimes in real estate people are scared they might say the wrong thing. When you say the wrong thing on stage the show just has to go on.”

With such a busy life, Maria sets clear boundaries for time management so she can deliver to a high standard at work and on the stage.

“My work phone is switched off at 5.30pm and comes on again at 9am,” she says.

“I don’t take calls before 10am and get all my emails returned from the night before.

“I break the work day into sections and try to keep within those boundaries. It is really about setting a routine with checklists for everything and go from there.”

But no matter what the day brings, Maria goes about it with a song in her heart.

In the car is a great time to sing between jobs while memorising the next part.

“There is always a tune in my head. And sometimes different scenarios pop up at work and you realise, ‘I know a song with that line in it!’”

Chris Williams

The Agency Balmain property partner

Reptile expert

Chris Williams might be one of the most respected real estate agents in Sydney’s inner west but he is also a leading authority on another subject.

He has served as president of the Australian Herpetological Society for the past 10 years and is editor of books including Reptiles and Amphibians of Australia, New Zealand and New Guinea.

His latest, Urban Reptiles, will be released this year.

“My earliest memory was when I was probably two, lifting a brick with two hands to find a lizard and being mesmerised by it until it ran away,” Chris says.

Chris impressed with his enthusiasm while doing work experience at Taronga Zoo and after finishing school took up a full-time job in the zoo’s reptile department where he was exposed to more exotic species and the larger venomous snakes from around the world.

He then worked at the Australian Reptile Park at Gosford, where he found he enjoyed talking to the public about his special interest.

When he was 24, a friend working in real estate encouraged him to change careers.

Now he relishes his career with The Agency Balmain.

“When you are dealing with clients in real estate, a significant moment in their life is under way,” Chris says.

“Soon after I started I was selling a house for someone because they had won Lotto, and then I was selling a house for someone because they needed to pay for medical treatment for their daughter.

“You are dealing with these wild highs and difficult lows.”

What did he have to learn about his new profession?

“You have to listen to people,” Chris says.

“The office I started with was heavily focused on further education and I did countless hours of training and seminars.

“But if you can’t apply that out in the world it means nothing.

“You might think you have all the answers but ultimately if you aren’t going to listen you won’t connect with clients.”

Chris advises those starting out in real estate to choose a patch of 1000 to 2000 homes to focus on when prospecting.

“Knock on every one of those doors, speak to those people face-to-face,” he says.

“Do that twice in your first 12 months and your career will be off to a better start.

“If you are brand new and knock on someone’s door, that’s exactly what you say to them, ‘I am new here and want to be an expert in this area, can I keep you posted about what’s happening?’

“Six months later knock on that door again.”

While real estate became his career focus Chris maintained his keen interest in zoology.

“At one stage I had a large collection of scaleless death adders, which have a genetic quirk that causes them to be born without the scales and gives them a velvety feel,” he explains.

“When I first met my wife the spare bedroom was full of snakes and most of them were deadly. So it made for an interesting time!”

Now his role with the Herpetological Society keeps him closely involved with his heroes, the professionals working with reptiles every day.

“For a while I did try to push the interest in reptiles aside to focus on real estate,” Chris says.

“But you get to a point where you realise there are so few people who have something that they are passionate about.

“It doesn’t mean you want to do it 24/7 but it is a way to unwind and recharge from the day-to-day stuff. That is why I embraced it. If you do have an interest outside of work you are one of the lucky ones.”

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Noel Mengel

Noel Mengel is a freelance journalist and author based in Brisbane.