It’s outside business hours and Ashlea Merlo is showing a prospective tenant through a property at Manly, on Sydney’s northern beaches.
For most property managers this timeframe is far too late to be working, but for Ashlea, it’s all part of the service she offers as the director of The Property Collab.
A property manager and trainer with more than a decade of experience, Ashlea’s philosophy is that property management is all about people, not numbers.
“We don’t want to have the biggest rent roll in town,” she explains.
“It’s not a numbers game for us, but we are passionate about every single client that we have come on board, whether they be a landlord or a tenant.
“We want to create lifelong raving fans.”
When Ashlea started The Property Collab just under two years ago, covering the Northern Beaches and North Shore in Sydney, she did so with a clear goal in mind.
She wanted to run a boutique agency that offered a personalised approach to property management and not a one-size-fits-all operation.
Her experience in the industry as a successful national leasing strategist, trainer and leading property manager had shown her clients needed much more than a traditional office hours approach.
“People don’t want a 9am to 5pm operation anymore,” Ashlea says.
“The biggest bugbear for landlords is that when they call their property manager, they don’t hear back from them for days and days.
“I’m open to showing a property at 7pm or 8pm in order to attract those high-quality clients, the corporates or executives, that are always working and that can’t get to a property during business hours.”
Ashlea got her start in real estate as a wide-eyed 17-year-old straight after high school.
A natural people person, she quickly discovered a job she applied for at a law firm wasn’t for her, but the receptionist role she took at an independent real estate agency was the perfect fit.
“I have to be honest, I remember getting my formal tour around the office on the first day and the business owner said ‘these are the property management files,’ and I replied, ‘what’s property management?’” Ashlea laughs.
“But I fell in love with the industry.”
After working on reception, Ashlea moved through the ranks as a leasing consultant and a property manager, before managing a large portfolio, looking after the trust accounting and, ultimately, overseeing the whole team.
“I count my blessings that I was able to start my career in a business that really valued property management,” Ashlea says.
After a little over seven years in the industry, Ashlea joined a franchise group as a manager in property investment management.
In that role she travelled across the country training and coaching her peers.
“I enjoyed it but, as a newlywed, I was away from home multiple nights a week and it started to take its toll,” Ashlea says.
She decided to return to property management locally before opting to launch The Property Collab.
Ashlea says she identified that not much had changed in the industry in a long time and things could be improved.
“There was a real gap in the market,” she says.
“Landlords were craving and wanting something more, as were tenants.
“It ultimately comes down to wanting a personalised approach.
“It comes down to accessibility, and it comes down to communication. In every single thing that we do, we focus on two things: getting our clients a really great return and minimising their exposure to risk.
“When I go out to meet a new client, I can, hand on heart, say ‘we will leave no stone unturned to achieve the best outcome for our clients’.”
The Property Collab is a 100 per cent digital operation, meaning there is no bricks and mortar shopfront and a streamlined technological approach means Ashlea and her assistant, Katherine White, can work from anywhere at any time.
Landlords receive rental income on the day the tenant pays.
Clients also have 24-hour access to their portfolio, with live updates on things such as outstanding maintenance and inspections, while also being able to monitor their property’s performance.
“It gives landlords full transparency on their portfolios,” Ashlea says.
“I meet with new clients and they say ‘tell me about your arrears procedure’. We genuinely don’t have a problem with arrears because we set the tenancy up properly at the start, and we make sure that we get the tenant selection right, we don’t have those issues.
“When we get a message from a client we can respond to them straight away, which means we get repairs and maintenance done faster, we can solve problems faster and it means that we reduce our clients’ expenses.”
Another key area The Property Collab excels in is the marketing of the properties it manages.
Rather than just snapping a couple of photos on a phone in bad light, Ashlea runs a tailored strategy and marketing campaign for each rental property.
She doesn’t outsource attendance at a photoshoot to a junior either, she’s there for every click of the camera and works closely with the marketing team to ensure each property is shown in its best light.
“Having professional marketing drives more traffic to our listings, which results in more inquiries and more inquiries equals more inspections, which means more tenants and, ultimately that results in better tenants at better prices.”
Next year, Ashlea says The Property Collab will offer some exciting educational options for the wider property management marketplace.
“It’s all about helping landlords and tenants have a better property management experience,” Ashlea says.