Face to Face, One to One

IN AN EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW for Elite Agent Magazine, CEO of Century 21 Australia Charles Tarbey spoke with Samantha McLean about marketing, communication and what it takes to have a successful real estate career with future-proofed longevity.

The biggest changes in our industry in the last few years have really been in delivery. Delivery of our product, and delivery of our marketing and presentation to the market. When you look at the industry itself, the most most successful people in real estate are the ones who really know how to communicate one to one; whether it’s voice to voice, face to face, or belly to belly, they’re the ones who are really the most significant and successful people in the industry.

But what’s really changed is how we deliver our message. In the past it used to be by fax or by mail, sometimes flyers; but even now in the digital age it’s still about delivery, whether it’s by post or an email or a broadcast – although with digital I think some agents lean on that a bit too much. When you send out several thousand emails and you think you’ve done your job, the person who gets on the phone and speaks to five people will probably do more business than you. So it really is all in the delivery.

There are ‘stars’ and ‘celebrities’ being created out there because of the way in which social media marketing works. But I still think that the reality is when you get out of the marketplace that we’re in right now (and we will, it will change) it will be the agents who go back to the basics, the nurturing, the customer service where human contact is maintained, who will be the most successful. The agents who have been relying too much on online marketing strategies without the human content will struggle when the market changes, because real estate isn’t just about promoting yourself; it’s about being a good negotiator and putting yourself in a position to negotiate.

Think about this: You’ve got lots of real estate agents out there who are saying things like, ‘We achieved $104,000 over reserve!’, and it’s just completely wrong. It had nothing to do with them. It had a lot to do with the market. And when that market changes, then I’d like to see those agents still be able to say, ‘we achieved $104,000 over reserve’. It’s the agents who can do that in any market, the good negotiators, who will have longevity in their careers.

When I was listing and selling real estate full time, I would visit two to three clients on the way to the office, have my cup of coffee and some conversation, and before I knew it it would be noon. So my day starts the same way now. I get in the car, and I move into prospect-mode and talk to people who will help me grow my business and grow their experience in real estate. That’s the very first thing. I then have block-out times, and this allows me to communicate with people who have asked me questions. So I shut the door and start that process of maintaining the relationships I already have. If I do this well I’m able to add to my existing relationships, rather than adding new ones.

I still do sell a bit, actually. But as far as my ‘ideal day’ goes, nothing has changed for me; whether it’s selling real estate to what I do today, I still work from the same platform. These are very simple rules I follow, pretty much every day. It’s also what we teach, which is that today started last night. It started before I went to bed, in preparation for today. When I started, just as I do today, I plan what I’m going to do; so as soon as I get in the car I already know who I’m going to call. I always say to people, ‘Do the things you dislike most first. Get those out of the way and the rest of the day seems to be a breeze.’

When I’m talking to people, the method of introduction is critical. If you wanted a job in real estate and you called or emailed me directly, as the owner of Century 21 Australasia, I’d chat to you, I’d email you back, I’d give you some direction on where you should go. However, if you rang me after an introduction from somebody who knows me, my conversation with you would be very different. So I do say to our people, ‘It’s not about running out and throwing flyers everywhere. It’s getting out, meeting the people you’ve done business with first, doing work for the people you promised you’d do work for, and then building your relationships with the people from within your organisation already, using a method of introduction that would take you straight to where you need to go.’

But I also don’t see any point in knocking on a hundred doors (as I used to) and asking people if they want to sell. Eventually I’m going to be right; but now I can knock on twenty doors and know that there are four or five things I look for: whether it’s overgrown, whether the gutter is falling down or whether there’s somebody who might have a relative who wants to move into that street that I can help buy a home. It’s looking for different things with a smaller group of people, and expanding the questions that I might ask that has changed the way I do things, and that’s what I would recommend as a real estate practitioner today.

In my view there are two types of real estate agents, and there are two types of real estate businesses: activity-driven and performance-based. I can make you super busy as a real estate practitioner, have you work seven days a week every week; or I can get you to be performance-based and do a lot less, in a lot less time, and achieve a great deal more.

The majority of agents are activity-driven; they believe that the more For Sale signs they put up, the more successful they are. When somebody says to me, ‘Which agent should I pick?’ I say, ‘Number one rule is don’t pick the agent with the most signs, because all you’re doing is believing in the perception that they’re successful! If they’ve got a significant number of signs out there, they aren’t successful. You go to the agents that have ‘Sold’ stickers. That’s where you go, because they need your stock. If you want to find out how good they are, you knock on the door of the property that sold and you find out from the person who’s had the experience.’

For me, activity versus performance is a critical indicator in our industry. Most of our industry is activity-based: Facebook, podcasts, emails, all the social media marketing that makes it look like you are significantly successful. It’s like seeing people on television who are actors and actresses and you think, automatically, they’re successful. Trust me, a lot of them are struggling to buy a home, and the image they have to upkeep costs them more than buying a home, but you believe they’re successful. So that to me is the same in our industry. There are all these agents who are activity-driven and promoting themselves as successful. When the market changes (and it will), they are the ones who are going to be disappearing off the face of the real estate industry.

As far as the market is concerned, there are only two types of markets. There’s the one where you get the buyer up to meet the vendor’s ridiculously high price, and that’s called a ‘boom’. The other is where you get the seller down to meet the purchaser’s ridiculously low offer, and that’s called ‘real estate’; and that’s what we’re in 90 per cent of the time.

Right now, parts of Australia are going through a boom; but the reality of real estate is your job as a real estate practitioner is to take a property to market, and then bring the buyer up to that seller’s price. Now, at that point in time, the buyer’s saying, ‘You’re too high’, and then you’ve got to try and negotiate that path. That’s real estate. We haven’t been in that for a long time, so this is why, when more stock comes on the market, we’ll find ourselves in that position. And this is where the real estate agents who are simply trained social media marketers, who are untrained in the essentials like diary control, client retention, negotiating, are going to struggle.

So our challenge at Century 21 is to consistently present to the consumer a product about our brand and what we can do. We think there are three levels in business, in my industry and probably in others. There’s a creative mechanism, there’s a service mechanism and there’s the administrative mechanism. Now, most agents are creative – too much so; their service thins out and the administrators are standing on the top of a pyramid. I see it the other way. Our focus, our marketing is so that people can clearly see what we do as an organisation, and what we offer. Give people service greater than they expect; and alongside have a platform that administers the entire process, so it’s smooth.

My objective for the next 12 months is to continue to go down the road of ensuring that our core foundations, which were there when I started my company, are firmly in place. To grow as an organisation, but not just in terms of number of offices. That’s not necessarily a true indicator of success. It’s also about the office that goes from five to 10 sales people, which is in effect doubling their business. I really admire the people in the industry who have been in it for a long time; the agents who, 20 years later, are still driving real estate businesses successfully. It’s not just building business; it’s keeping that business and maintaining it. Those guys who drive these businesses and are able to build their teams and maintain their teams continue to inspire me, and their success is really all about that delivery.

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Samantha McLean

Samantha McLean is the Co-Founder and Managing Editor of Elite Agent and Host of the Elevate Podcast.