Stefon Bertram loves a challenge.
He loves being told he can’t do something, and he loves it even more when he proves people wrong.
It should come as no surprise then, that when people told the high-volume real estate agent there was “no way” he’d crack the Mosman market, he didn’t listen.
Not only has the former Ryde area specialist firmly shoved his foot in the door of one of the lower north shore’s most prestigious property markets, he’s also set Belle Property Mosman on course to triple the results it achieved last year.
“A lot of people said ‘you’re not going to be able to break the new market’,” Stefon recalls.
“‘That service offering from Ryde might not work in Mosman’.
“But you’ve got a choice to focus on the plan or listen to the negativity, and we chose to focus on the plan.”
A real estate agent for 13 years, Stefon bought the majority of Tim Foote’s Belle Property Mosman business last year, keeping Tim as a business partner and inheriting an agency with a stellar reputation, great tech base and a database with 100,000 entries.
The switch pushed him from selling 120 properties a year, with an average selling price of about $1.5 million, to a market where about 40 to 50 transactions, with an average selling price of about $6.5 million, is considered a solid year.
“With the extra time we have on our hands from not doing double or triple the volume of sales, it’s enabled us to spend that time on higher calibre customer service and focus on higher-level engagement with the clients,” Stefon says.
“The Mosman marketplace is probably a bit more down-to-earth than the Eastern suburbs, but it’s still not very forgiving if you’re not on your A-game or delivering on high standards and high results.
“And it’s just like a country town where everyone knows everyone and everyone talks.”
Stefon says when he moved to Belle Property Mosman, he had to push the fact that other agents had 20 or 30 years’ experience to the back of his mind.
He chose to leave behind what he couldn’t control and focus on the elements he could influence.
This meant Stefon brought his team of five agents and associates with him and applied the successful high-volume sales tactics that had worked so well at Ryde, in Mosman.
“I can’t control other agents having 20 to 30 years’ experience in a marketplace,” Stefon reasons.
“But I can control outworking the competition and making sure we are absolutely on point with everything we do.”
One of Stefon’s first tactics was to dispel the myth that vendors had to select the best agent over the past decade.
Instead, he used the philosophy that vendors should look to the most “market-relevant” agent – that being the one that had been the best over the past 90 days.
“The marketplace has a very short memory,” Stefon says.
“You can be a market leader in 90 days and, for me, that first 90 days was probably the hardest, but I got into as many doors as I could and met as many people as I could.
“But once you get some runs on the board and you’ve cracked the marketplace then you become market-relevant.
“I could then speak my dialogue, and all of my conversations became, ‘let’s look at the past 90 days. You wouldn’t price your property based on what the market did a year ago, so why would you select your agent based on what the market did a year ago’.
“That’s where we were able to go from strength to strength.”
The Belle Property Mosman team approached the market last year, and so far this year, with a proactive mindset and rather than waiting for buyers to appear, set about finding them and matching them to the right property.
“Tim had the buyers and we had to work out, using the team as leverage, how to reach out to them as quickly as we could,” Stefon says.
“Once we worked out who was in the market, it was pretty simple. It was like playing chess.
“We went and found the properties that would be suitable for them.”
One of Stefon’s key strategies was to target unsold properties, where prestige homes had languished on the market with other agents.
In six months he sold eight properties that other agents had previously listed but not sold, and that trend has continued into 2021.
The results have been staggering, with the Belle Property Mosman team set to achieve about $450 million worth of sales this financial year.
Stefon says that was a goal they hoped to achieve at some point over the next three years, but will most likely need to reassess now that it looks like being knocked over early.
“In November we had a record month, the biggest ever in 20 years for Belle Property Mosman,” he says.
“We had $72 million (worth of property sales) in one month.
“We certainly don’t want to bite off more than we can chew, but at the moment we’re on track to reach that $450 million goal.
“We were hoping to hit that number within the first three years, but it’s looking like we’re going to do it in the first 12 months.”
One of the key strategies leading to the agency’s success has been leveraging the team of associates to qualify buyers, generate leads, and help manage each campaign.
This includes cross-selling, which is where unsuccessful buyers are funnelled from one property to another, with the team ensuring each one is contacted by phone, not email.
“If you sell a property that had 80 people come through, and then you list another home that’s similar, including in price, you will want to reach out to those people and get them through the new property off-market,” Stefon explains.
“Sending an email saying you’ve got an off-market opportunity just doesn’t cut it anymore, but that’s what 95 per cent of the market does.
“But what we do is get the lead agent, either Tim or myself, to call the 10 best buyers from the campaign where 80 people came through.
“Our associates call the other 70 buyers in one day, not over a week, and find maybe a further 10 to 20 people to come through off-market.
“Some of our off-market properties last year had 20 to 30 people show up with three days notice.”
Stefon says another critical difference between what Belle Property Mosman does and what is common in the general marketplace is how agents deal with buyers.
He says many agents don’t speak to the buyers and while a vendor thinks they’ve hired the best agent in the market, it’s not that agent that negotiates with the buyer, it’s their offsider.
“What we’ve done is create a process that leverages the buyers that are A-class and gets them to the property,” Stefon says.
“Once they identify themselves as a chance of buying the home, the lead agent comes over the top and handles every single part of the campaign from there.
“We’ve got that leverage but, when it’s important, we’ve got the best agent on the planet having that conversation about buying the home.”
Stefon says he started his real estate career when he was just 17, working in a hybrid role comprising reception and sales assistant duties.
At 19 he started listing and selling, and when he was 21 Stefon joined forces with Michael Dowling to start his own business.
They bought LJ Hooker before amalgamating with and running Starr Partners Ryde.
“Then Shane Smollen and John McGrath knocked on the door and asked if we’d run their sales business in the area, so we did that,” Stefon explains.
“Then last year I sold my sales business to Michael, and he’s killing it there in Ryde. We’re still really good friends.
“I’ve tried to apply all the great things I’ve learned from being a leading EBU agent to a prestige market here.”
As well as ensuring the way Belle Property Mosman presents itself to the public is first-rate, Stefon says fostering a strong culture behind the scenes is just as important.
He says he and Tim tout five “success drivers”.
“Number one is we don’t have a sense of entitlement. No job is below us and no job is above us.
“Number two is we don’t get offended by feedback because we’ve got a high-performance culture. If something is not on point, then we expect the team members to tell us.
“Number three is that we have a coach. We are always coachable and, while I’m mainly the coach, I do get external coaches to come in.
“Number four is that mastery is the focus, not monetary. If you’re out there with ‘commission breath’ the clients will smell it. This needs to be what the best on the planet looks like.
“And the final one is that we get the job done. There’s something about high performers that when it’s the 11th hour, and there are three seconds left on the shot clock, they pass the ball to Michael Jordan and they always get the job done.”
Stefon expects the Mosman market will continue to be proactive this year.
With low interest rates and an increasing number of buyers looking for “destination suburbs” and homes where they can have a “staycation”, he expects there to be a lot of activity in the $5 million to $25 million bracket.
Stefon says that when it comes to business goals, consolidating on the team’s stellar start is at the top of the list, followed by slowly recruiting more agents.
He says while there is enough infrastructure and support to recruit five more agents, the critical part is not to opt for quickly putting bottoms on seats, but to find the right agents for the right roles.
“We’re going for quality over quantity.”