Commercial connections that last: George Burbury

When Knight Frank agent George Burbury picked up this year’s REIA award for Commercial Salesperson of the Year it was welcome recognition of a career defined by planning, teamwork and successful long-term relationships. As he tells Cassandra Charlesworth, these are also the skills he honed on the AFL field in a previous life playing professionally for Geelong.

Imagine making your career debut in front of 50,000 people, most of whom are barracking against you.

Envisage the roar of the crowd, the spike of adrenaline. Feel the fear that comes with the knowledge one wrong move will be captured by cameras and relayed across Australia.

It would take focus, a clear mind, a sense of team spirit and an inner belief to quell the nerves. That moment would rely on hours of practise, a game plan, and an ability to silence the white noise.

George Burbury knows this feeling all too well. As a former professional AFL player, George made his career debut for the Geelong Cats in Adelaide in 2013 in front of a home crowd keen to see him and his teammates fail.

“Nothing compares to that sensation,” George reflects of the moment he ran on to the field.

It was the realisation of a lifelong dream, and the start of a two-year career with one of the best-known AFL clubs in the country.

And, as far as the AFL field might seem from commercial real estate, that moment and that experience has stood him in good stead as an award-winning agent for Knight Frank Tasmania.

Born to compete

Long before George was drafted into one of the AFL’s oldest clubs, he was the type of kid who excelled at sport.

Athletics came easily, footy came naturally, and professional rowing was also on his radar.

“I spent a bit of time in rowing throughout the latter years of high school,” he says.

“It was sort of rowing in the summer, footy in the winter and eventually we went down the path of professional footy.”

His selection came down to a whole lot of natural playing skill and being in the right place at the right time, but for a country kid from Tasmania it was the realisation of a childhood dream.

“I was obviously very passionate about football from when I was about eight. Then working through my teenage years, playing was always something in the back of my mind,” he says.

“As I got older, I knew that the chances of it happening weren’t that probable but I was fortunate enough to be spotted by the right people.”

Drafted straight out of high school in 2010, George made his professional debut for Geelong three years later.

“It was round nine, 2013. We were playing Port Adelaide over at Port Adelaide, which is a pretty passionate supporter base,” he recalls.

“I debuted with 16 All-Australians, so that was pretty phenomenal. I was lucky enough to play with Matthew Scarlett, Joel Corey and a few of those old hands in the twilight of their career.

“Just a to play alongside them, I was very, very fortunate.”

As for the sensation of running onto the field, George concedes he was nervous.

“I competed at some pretty competitive levels across the athletics and rowing but nothing compared to running out in front of 40,000 or 50,000 in Adelaide, and in latter games of up to 85,000, 86,000 against clubs like Hawthorn.”

Gifted with opportunity

George notes the thing he loved about Geelong was it was the type of club that afforded him the opportunity to do all the things he had loved doing while growing up, whether that was riding motorbikes or going camping.

It also offered him the chance to study. The AFL Players Association funds educational and vocation opportunities, and George opted to undertake a Bachelor of Applied Management degree.

It would prove a lifeline when his career was cut short by injury.

“Footy’s a pretty ruthless industry and the last year-and-a-half of my career at the professional level was fairly interrupted with injury,” George says.

“I broke my jaw, had a hamstring surgery, and a fairly significant quad tear.

“So, like any business, if you aren’t performing for a longer period of time, it’s probably time for them to move on and that was the case with me.”

While some might bemoan the fact a stellar professional AFL career was cut short, George counts it as a blessing.

Only 22, he had the opportunity to re-evaluate and consider the future, with time on his side.

Real estate beckons

Armed with a degree, George notes he fell into commercial real estate by chance.

“To be honest, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do,” George says.

Knight Frank Head of Tasmania, Scott Newton happened to be a family friend and made some introductions in the real estate industry.

Soon George was working alongside a property consultant, learning the ropes before he was offered a job at Knight Frank Victoria as an Institutional Sales Analyst.

George explains the role involved analysing cashflow modelling and the feasibility of commercial deals including large shopping centres and office blocks in the major markets.

But it quickly became apparent the personal side of real estate and putting deals together was where his talents lay.

A love for commercial real estate

George says the experience as an analyst served him well, creating solid foundations for what has proved a fruitful career in commercial.

And commercial is a real estate arena he loves due to the long-term relationships involved.

“Someone buys or sells a home every seven years on average,” George notes.

“Whereas in commercial, our clients have got retail leasing tenancies that they need continually renewing or there’s sales transactions. There’s development side acquisitions.

“We find we have a much more repetitive client base so through that you obviously form close relationships, and that’s fairly special.”

He also reflects he had a great colleague and mentor in his three years with Knight Frank Victoria in the form of Martin O’Sullivan.

“I learnt a lot from him. We did about $300 million in deals in about three years, which was awesome – car parks, hotels, development sites, office buildings, strata retail, strata office.

“At that time I didn’t profess to be an expert in any of them. And I certainly wasn’t, but just getting that exposure, that helped set me up.”

It also honed the skills he says are essential in commercial, including organisation, planning, attention to detail, and integrity.

Home to Tasmania

In 2018, George took a year off to go backpacking with his now wife.

When they returned, they moved to Tasmania where George rejoined the Knight Frank team in Hobart.

He says he arrived with big plans, but the start of a global pandemic quickly turned things on their head.

“I don’t think I did a deal for about four months,” he notes.

“Then after that, our market just went ballistic.”

George credits that boom to the perception Tasmania was a safe haven. He also notes the commercial market in Tasmania is fairly government-centric.

“About 70 per cent of all our office tenants are government – state and federal and then a further 15 per cent on top of that are not-for-profits or GBEs (government business enterprises).”

The agriculture sector also picked up, with people valuing the clean air and space available.

“We stayed fairly stable and that saw a lot of fresh capital come down with new eyes looking at our state,” he notes.

An REIA award

In April this year, George received the coveted Real Estate Institute of Australia Commercial Salesperson of the Year award after taking out the state award in 2021.

He describes the recognition as “pretty special” and made all the more significant due to the fact he comes from a smaller state.

“It’s extremely big and something that I and the team are proud of,” he notes.

And team is a concept George mentions a lot. It’s also a theme that translates from his previous sporting experience both in rowing and AFL.

Noting Knight Frank might just be one of the most harmonious real estate businesses in the country, he says every campaign has two agents assigned in an approach that’s a lot like football.

One team member shepherds, the other gathers and together they work towards a common goal.

He also reflects the high-pressure environment of real estate is a little like the pressure felt on the football field.

Managing that involves planning, preparation, training, and due diligence.

“I watched some very, very professional athletes – just their prep and the due diligence, the care taken with their body.

“I like to think the way we go about our sales campaigns is similar.

“You can’t launch a campaign if you are not fully organised, just like you can’t expect to play 22 games of the year, unless you take care of your body.”

Show More

Cassandra Charlesworth

Cassandra Charlesworth is a features writer for Elite Agent Magazine with over 15 years’ journalism experience in metropolitan and regional newsrooms. She has a specialist interest in real estate, tech disruption and a good old-fashioned “yarn”.