Bill Karp: Why leadership will be his legacy

Not many people stay in the one profession for 40 years, let alone do it with the same company. But that's exactly what Barry Plant director Bill Karp achieved just a couple of months ago. Now Bill wants to help other agents achieve the same and he plans to help them every step of the way with steady leadership, a top training program and an ethos that focuses on going back to basics and zeroing in on "the process".

Bill Karp is celebrating 40 years in the real estate industry, but that doesn’t mean he is thinking about retirement.

Rather, the Barry Plant director, who heads three Melbourne offices, has discovered a new lease on life in the profession.

Just a couple of years ago, Bill realised he needed to change the way he approached his day-to-day and, instead of focusing on listing and selling in lounge rooms, he’s turned more of his focus to mentoring the younger, newer agents in his Essendon, Keilor East and Gladstone Park offices.

“I’ve often said, I think it’s easy to get stale in real estate,” he notes.

“I was all about having to be in the lounge room (with clients) and having to follow through on listing opportunities.

“If my clients rang me, I ran, and I was always a real estate agent-principal.”

Time for change

But when his then business partner, Frank Bernadelle, retired during Covid, Bill knew it was time for change.

“It was the perfect fork in the road,” he says.

“I couldn’t continue to do what I did and do it well.

“Plus, I’ve got great young people coming through and, with part-timers, we’ve got close to 60 staff now, and I’ve got to have an impact on those people in order to get the best for them, for our business and for our clients.”

Bill still lists and sells select properties, but his reinvention means he’s mellowed a lot, he approaches everything with a learning mindset and he’s there for his team every step of the way.

“That’s been a big change for me because the generation I was in was taught, ‘Whatever you want to do, you do and everyone is going to come along for the ride’,” he says.

“That’s not the case in this world we’re in now, so that’s been a big change for me.

“I’m more measured in what I think, listen to and react to.

“I have a real drive to get young people in and watch and grow them.”

Legacy and loyalty

As well as building the younger generation, Bill wants his legacy to be loyalty.

While real estate is known for agents coming and going, changing brands and its general ‘revolving door’ perception, Bill wants to help create an industry where 40 years at the one company is the norm, not the exception.

He sees that happening through his commitment to building new agents from the ground up and working with those who have been in the industry a few years to provide a long-term career path.

“If I can be here 40 years, why can’t we keep a generation of people in the network, so they’re the next person who’s here 10, 20, or 40 years,” he says.

“I want to replicate what I was given the opportunity to do.

“I feel like I’ve got a father role (now) and I need to be there if they need something.

“It’s all about, ‘What do you need? How can we help you? What can we do to make you better? What’s next for you?”

Training is high on Bill’s radar, as it is for the whole Barry Plant Group. 

He coaches and mentors agents himself but also brings in real estate coaches and others from outside the industry to ensure a training program that is focused, not just on the practical side of the business, but on agents’ mental health and wellbeing.

“We’re still building it, but it’s holistic,” Bill says.

Day 1 in real estate

Bill’s the first to admit the industry has changed a lot since his first day back on February 7, 1983.

Back then, he worked for EJ Doherty, which later merged with Barry Plant in 1991.

Bill says he “fell into real estate” after getting bored doing an economics and accounting degree at university.

His first foray into sales wasn’t with residential homes but with a company that sold land, and it’s safe to say it was less than glamorous.

“I basically worked for nothing and sat on a corner in an old picnic chair, almost like a human pointer board,” Bill recalls.

But, as luck would have it, he didn’t have to do that for long, with his brother getting in touch with Paul Triandos who gave him a shot at EJ Doherty.

“Paul and Harry Kontossis were my first bosses,” Bill says.

“Harry’s still the director of our Reservoir office and a dear friend of mine along with his wife Sylvia and the boys.

“They took me under their wing and I worked with them in leasing for a couple of years.”

Bill says leasing gave him a “great grounding” to launch his sales career and he clearly remembers the first property he sold – a house in Coburg for a bit over $29,000.

“I remember negotiating out the front with a gentleman who said, ‘Oh, it’s not worth any more than X,’ and it was $110 off the asking price,” he says.

“We had to bypass that because the vendor, in those days, wanted their money and a few hundred dollars was a lot of money back then.

“A few days later, I found another buyer and they bought it at the right price.”

Recession challenges

Along with that first sale, Bill also recalls his foray into business ownership when he bought into the Niddrie office in 1989.

It was just in time for the recession Australia “had to have” and interest rates hitting 18 per cent.

Bill had sold some property and borrowed funds from his parents to buy into the business and admits the recession was “a challenging time”.

“We were having a sensational time in real estate with lots of volume, lots of turnover… and we got to July 1, 1989, and it was like someone turned the tap off,” he says.

“I’ll never forget it. We didn’t make double-digit sales (per month) again until April 1990, that’s how much it dropped off.”

To get through those tough days, and every challenging event since, Bill says going back to basics, controlling the controllables and following “the process” has always stood him, and the business, in good stead.

“We were taught to do what we could control,” he says.

“That was to meet with clients on a regular basis, coach them through pricing and marketing strategies and as we did that, and got them more in line with the market, buyers came, and all of a sudden we started to get turnover.

“We had no control, a bit like now, over the rates going up. We worked hard at the things we could control.”

An ever-evolving industry

Of course, Bill has seen many changes throughout his career in real estate, from driving clients in his car to show them properties to marketing that has evolved from hand-drawn sketches of homes to photographs, video tours, floor plans and interactive walk-throughs and more.

He says team numbers had shifted dramatically, with agencies growing significantly larger, while pods and EBUs weren’t around when he first started. 

As for the advent of technology, Bill says he has taken it on board when it frees up time so that his team members can meet with clients and prospects face-to-face.

“I’m probably a dinosaur in the technology world, but we bring people in, we listen to people and I say, ‘OK, what can we do that’s going to get our people in front of more people’,” Bill explains

And if there’s one piece of advice Bill could offer to his younger self on his first day, what would it be?

“Stay true to what you aspire to do,” he says.

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Kylie Dulhunty

Kylie Dulhunty is the Editor at Elite Agent.