Calling Australia Home

WHAT IS IT REALLY LIKE to start your life over in a new country with a new career? Two agents, Namir Mikha of Belle Property Newtown and Jessica Chea of First National Real Estate Waverley City, immigrated to Australia each for very different reasons. Here they tell June Ramli how they’ve made a successful home for themselves in Australia and in real estate.

Firstly, tell us a bit about yourselves.
Namir: I was born in Iraq. I joined the army at age 16 – everyone did! After serving in the Iraqi Army for five years, I escaped with my mother and brother via Jordan and Albania to Greece. I came to Australia in January 1995 with little English and worked in a factory for about a year so I could learn the language. I then worked in a couple of sales-related jobs for a few years – selling first insurance and then computers. I was offered an opportunity to move into real estate sales in 2000 – first with Ray White, and then with McGrath. I am now with a very good agency, Belle Newtown.

Jessica: I was born in Cambodia, and I escaped the country due to the Khmer Rouge war. I lived as a refugee in Thailand for a while before migrating to Australia in 1983 with my family. I was about seven years old. I did about six years’ worth of school, and I haven’t been to university.

What did you do before real estate?
Namir: In Australia, I worked in a Clark equipment factory in Sydney’s northern suburbs. I spoke very little English and was often the butt of every joke because of that.

I didn’t want to be the subject of other people’s jokes, especially when I didn’t understand what the joke was about.

This was a very strong driver for me to learn to speak English – to try to lose my accent (I’m not quite there yet) and speak like an Aussie! I was trained as a mechanic in Iraq, in the army. I managed to get a job doing electrical repairs in that Clark factory.

My early life has given me a fierce determination to succeed, to be good at what I do and to provide a safe environment for my family. I have a lovely wife, Juliet – an Aussie girl – and two teenage boys, Connor and Oscar. I’ve tried hard to clear my mind of anything to do with growing up in the Middle East. Of course it’s not possible to erase those memories completely, but I’ve tried to realign my thinking to focus on being a good provider for my family.

Jessica: I was about 19 when I opened my own business; I was doing some stitching in my garage. Not long after that, we opened a factory for people to work and do sewing. Then I did hairdressing after completing one year of professional training. After a year and a half of working for others, I opened my salon with $9,000 of my savings. I enjoyed running my own business, but I sold it after 18 years because I set myself a goal to move when I was 40.

That goal was to challenge myself to see how far I can push myself to reach my full potential. Running a small business taught me to stay hungry and never take no for an answer.

How did you come to be in real estate?
Namir: With my background, it was important to both respect and help people. I try to work on solutions to problems and to make things happen. That can usually be done by talking to people, and have them talk to me. Real estate was an opportunity that I was able to grab with both hands, so I jumped at it and went for my first real estate job – in Redfern. I didn’t have any money, but I had got myself a new car. They liked my story, my determination, and my willingness to succeed. The rest, as they say, is history. It hasn’t been easy, but my life hasn’t been easy. I’m still here, and still loving the chance to help people with their property solutions.

Jessica: I knew real estate would allow me to explore my potential. I realised very early on what a privilege it really is to be an advisor and part of a journey on one of people’s most important life decisions – either selling or buying a property. I was determined to build a career on my own, so I trained hard to have better knowledge that I can pass on to my clients.

How long did it take to sell your first property?
Namir: Six months. My very first sale was 78 Eveleigh Street, Redfern. It was part of what was known as The Block – all the windows barred and secured. My first attempt to visit the property, they chased me out of the area in my Mitsubishi Magna, because they thought I was a cop – it was hilarious at the time. The lady who bought it – a true braveheart – paid $158,000 for it. I will never forget my first sale!

Jessica: I made my first sale in 2013 after joining the industry in October 2012. My first listing was a unit in Mount Waverley. I went against two other agents; I remember I didn’t have much experience, but the vendor felt I was genuine and I had connected with them and so they decided to go with me. I listed the property for $620,000 and it was sold in five days for $640,000. That was my first sale. I approached nearby property owners in the area and I found the nextdoor neighbour with a family member was willing to pay premium price to secure a property to be close, and that is how this unit sold.

What prospecting method works best for you?
Namir: I love phone calls. I love handing out business cards. I love direct mail. I dislike doorknocking!

Jessica: When I started, we had to do cold calls, door-knocking to speak to strangers. It wasn’t an easy thing to do. I found that results came when the activity was consistent. Some people do it today, but they don’t door-knock tomorrow.

When I started, I disciplined myself to speak to at least 103 people every day and I wouldn’t compromise.

It’s not set as to how many hours; I could be starting from eight o’clock and finishing at ten o’clock, but I won’t be door knocking at 10 o’clock. I do speak to people on the phone and if I can’t make it at the door, then I’ll replace it with telephone prospecting. But even with technology today, I still think nothing can replace being in front of people, building ongoing relationships and providing a personalised real estate service for all my clients.

What’s the best advice you have received?
Namir: The best advice came from one of the sales managers at McGrath, who said to me: “Always look to the future, and work backwards from there”. I like that – it says have a vision, have a plan, and work hard to achieve it.

Jessica: I remember listening to the late Jim Rohn. He said, “Even if you are new in sales, you can make up in numbers what you lack in skills.” When you are starting something new, you’re not going to be very good at it as you don’t have the skills, the knowledge; the results will be low, but you can’t let that stop you. To improve that, you’ve got to work harder than those with experience in order to improve yourself and have sharp focus on bringing in the numbers.

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June Ramli

June Ramli was a in-house journalist for Elite Agent Magazine.