Billy Mitchell: Why real estate is about much more than bricks and mortar

Billy Mitchell always loved Port Douglas as a holiday destination so when the opportunity came to expand his flourishing real estate business into the Far North Queensland tropical town he jumped at the chance.

Billy owns Century 21 franchises in Gympie, coastal Tin Can Bay in Queensland’s Wide Bay region, and beach-side Caloundra on the booming Sunshine Coast.

He took over the Century 21 office in Port Douglas this month. 

“Gympie is growing fast but still has that feel of a big country town,” Billy says. 

“I was concerned with how the floods in February would affect real estate in Gympie but it had very little impact at all. Two weeks after the floods it was back to where it was before. 

“We are so close to everything now with a four-lane highway all the way to the NSW border. It’s close to the Sunshine Coast and the airport but the property is still affordable.”

The city’s attractions are reflected in the success of Billy’s franchise. This month his Gympie office was named as the No 1 Century 21 franchise in Australia based on the number of sales and dollar value of sales.

But each locality in Billy’s real estate interests has its own story. 

“Tin Can Bay looks out over to Fraser Island,” he says.

“It’s absolutely beautiful but you can still buy a good home there for less than $500,000. Caloundra offers so much diversity, from the beachside houses to the family homes in Caloundra West. Port Douglas is an iconic destination.”

Billy won’t be changing his business approach for the Port Douglas market.

“We will have the same systems and procedures we put in place in our other offices and implement them in Port Douglas because we know they work and we don’t want to change a good thing,” Billy says.

His down-to-earth style might be different to the approach in the capital cities – you probably won’t catch him in a suit and tie unless it is on auction days – but it is certainly working for him. 

Billy changed careers into real estate in 2010 and took on his first Century 21 franchise in 2015.

He now has the biggest share of the market in property sales and rentals in the Gympie region and growing businesses in the property hotspots of Caloundra and Port Douglas.

“The clothes might be casual but we are also very focused and tenacious for our customers,” Billy says.

“Whenever I make a call and say I’m from Century 21 people know the brand.

“There is an instant recognition and trust there and it has been the best platform for me wherever I am doing business, whether it’s coastal or regional.

“Century 21 is one of the biggest real estate companies in the world and that is very powerful. The marketing and the backup it provides is right there for us.”

Billy was born in Shepparton in Victoria and got to know regional Australia through the family business in hotels.

“We moved to Malmsbury, a little town on the way from Melbourne to Bendigo, where the family ran a pub,” he says.

“Later I came up to do a traineeship at Coral Cove Golf Club and Resort in Bundaberg. We came to Gympie in 1999. I was still working in hospitality but I had always been fascinated by real estate. 

“I was at one of those pubs one day and walked across the road and into a real estate office. I said, ‘I’m really keen, what do I have to do to get my real estate ticket?’“

He hasn’t looked back despite coming into the industry when the market was yet to recover from the global financial crisis.

“When I came in the market wasn’t great at all,” Billy recalls.

“In Gympie there were people trying to sell houses for a lot less than they paid for them a few years before.

“Despite that, I had a really good start to my real estate career and achieved some high individual honours for sales in Queensland and nationally. 

“It helped that I had that background in hospitality and already knew a lot of people through that.”

What did Billy have to learn when he moved into real estate sales?

“A lot of people come in and quickly go out again because they soon realise it is not just a walk in the park,” he notes.

“It is a highly skilled trade, and a tough one, otherwise everyone would be doing it. 

“It challenges you and there is monetary reward if you are good enough but it is not easy.”

Billy has seen plenty of change in the real estate world over the years.

“Once you came into the office, told the agent what you were looking for and jumped in the car to look at four or five homes,” he says. 

“Now you can inspect online and see where the property is in relation to the beach, the schools, and the pubs and clubs. 

“The vendors and buyers have a lot of information now before they look at a property, which is a positive thing.”

Billy now manages his businesses instead of working in sales and gets great satisfaction in seeing the next generation of salespeople succeed.

“Real estate suits people who come from all walks of life and people can add value from any background,” he says.

“I enjoy seeing their progression and helping them be the best they can be.

“Real estate is all about people. Agents may sell bricks and mortar but if we don’t develop strong relationships with people we won’t get the opportunity to make those sales.

“Technology can help make an agent more efficient but it can’t replicate human connection.

“Real estate still comes down to looking after people. It’s a people business and that’s why we love it.”

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Noel Mengel

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

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