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Cara Atchison: Survivor, people skills and real estate

It was always likely a real estate agent would make a formidable contestant on Survivor. After all, it’s a reality TV show where agent skills like strategy, understanding people, and playing the long game all come into play.

Last year 1st City Real Estate Director Cara Atchison not only put that theory to the test, but exceeded expectations with a lengthy stint on Australian Survivor: Brains v Brawn that highlighted her unshakable personal integrity and incredible resilience.

The Survivor experience

Cara filmed Survivor in early 2021, and while she always thought the show was about surviving the challenges, it turned out it was more about the human experience.

“It was really brutal. You try to navigate this human life game. It is seriously confronting – you know physically, mentally, morally, everything,” she says.

Cara agrees there are parallels between Survivor and real estate.

“When you own a business and are a real estate agent, particularly, it’s all about politics and strategy and managing human beings and trying to get win-win situations.”

As an agent, she notes her role involves corralling the minds of vendors, purchasers, solicitors and tradespeople.

“You’re just completely managing expectations and definitely planning for the long game, but keeping people on side.

“They were kind of the main things that I went in (to Survivor) wanting to do and having the skill set to do.”

Cara went into the show committed to retaining her own integrity, as well as that of her company and business, while also ensuring her children were proud of her.

“The producers and the executive producer told me I was one of the only ones in the history of Australian Survivor to actually go through and pretty much tell the truth the whole time.”

The Duchess of Double Bay

Cara explains her nickname ‘the Duchess of Double Bay’ is slightly tongue in cheek.

She actually grew up in Campbelltown, which is quite close to Bankstown where fellow Survivor contestant George grew up.

Cara says the term the Duchess of Double Bay came from George early in the Survivor experience, and soon everyone started calling her that.

“I’m a Campbelltown girl, so it really was tongue in cheek. I’m a hard worker. I live in Double Bay. I love Double Bay. I love nice things. There are no ifs or buts about that, but I work for everything I’ve got, I’ve never been given anything.”

Cara says she felt a natural affinity with George, but her need to save him from elimination early in the series also came down to personal integrity.

There was the shared underdog element between the pair but also the knowledge that as a mother, she felt the need to protect him.

“It was me as a mother just going ‘I feel like he’s my little brother and I’d like to protect him’. And I felt that no one else had ever really done that in his life, and he desperately, desperately wanted it.”

Cara and King George

Cara and George forged a friendship that endured to the end of the series and beyond. The pair still remain in regular contact.

In the show, that friendship was also based on strategy and Cara said this began early in the series.

“As soon as he started to save me, and as soon as I got him, we started strategising. We were strategising all the time that we were allowed to.

Cara says honesty was critical to that relationship and the pair always told each other the truth.

“It actually went down to trust and having each other’s back the whole way. And to me, that’s again paramount. It’s important in life, important in friendships, important in everything.”

The value of being an empath

On Survivor Cara was described as an empath and it allows her to quickly identify issues or even physical pain in other people.

Cara says this was invaluable in Survivor.

“So people feel immediately very close to me,” she explains.

“And I play back their own language to them. I use body language. I’m actually just like a really good people person, but I’ve also got a brain and a conscience about it.”

How to have more empathy in real estate

Empathy and the ability to understand people’s emotions and drivers are critical to real estate.

Cara says being present is key to this skill.

“I would say when you’re sitting next to people, ask them why they’re selling, why they’re listing? Why are they moving? Is that actually in their best interests?”

Cara says people remember that connection, and they want to be heard.

“People just want connection. And they want to find markers where they’re like, ‘oh, okay. I know you. I like you. I’ll probably list with you, if not now, perhaps in the future.”

The 1st City Real Estate journey

1st City Real Estate has been operating since 1989.mCara and Brad joined the agency around 12 years ago and run it alongside husband and wife team Julian and Ashlee Hasemer.

1st City handles everything from traditional residential to commercial and developments, while their property management department also handles residential, commercial and retail.

Cara comes from the corporate world after 15 years in insurance and superannuation.

“I’m all about systems and processes. I was a business analyst, so I have a good brain between business and programmers.”

She says Brad is an amazing salesperson who is great with people, and they manage the team with a focus on psychology.

“We do a lot of psychology with the team. We do psychological assessments where people come in, so we know their best learning capabilities, whether they’re good at maths, how they like to be rewarded,” Cara says.

No prima donnas allowed

They are also highly particular about who they bring into their team.

“We don’t want prima donnas. We want a nice team environment.”

She explains that she and Brad work together well, with Cara in the background following his projects and meeting his clients.

“So I know all the clients. We will go to dinner. I can also keep them up to date if Bradley’s unavailable, so I kind of oversee all of that, but we also manage the team as well.”

Selling one of the biggest projects in Double Bay  

When she appeared on the Elevate Podcast, 1st City had just sold one of the biggest projects in Double Bay.

Cara says it was an interesting journey that was five years in the making, and saw Brad attend everything from planning proposal meetings to getting the DA approval.

“I remember the day just recently when they actually gave the approval and he was just sitting there kind of all misty-eyed and we caught up our clients, we actually saw them later on and they were just crying, just so grateful.”

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