From dirt to keys: 30 minutes with Brad Caldwell-Eyles

If you hear about a high-end project in Sydney’s eastern suburbs, the agent’s name following it is usually Brad Caldwell-Eyles. The 1st CITY managing director has built an enviable reputation as the agent of choice not just for selling high-end apartments, but as a trusted advisor to developers, architects and buyers. Here, Brad shares with Kylie Dulhunty how he built his business, his goals for the real estate industry and what he really thought about his wife, and fellow 1st CITY director, Cara Atchison doing Survivor.

Brad Caldwell-Eyles sells real estate under a simple but highly effective philosophy.

“If you don’t truly believe that the value clients get is greater than the fees you charge, you’ll always fear being in business,” he says.

“What that means is that I need to wake up every day, and our team needs to wake up every day, knowing that we enhance our clients’ position by more than the fees we charge.

“If that’s through sales, by generating higher revenues, by giving great advice and by walking them through the process from start to finish, that’s all part of what we offer.”

It’s hard not to be drawn in by the 1st CITY managing director’s passion for property and, in particular, projects.

From the ground up

For 21 years, Brad has built a reputation for being the go-to agent for projects in Sydney’s high-end eastern suburbs.

His first project all those years ago was the Azzura development in Bennelong Cres, Bellevue Hill, and recently he sold 19-27 Cross Street, Double Bay, to Hong Kong developer Top Spring for $94 million.

Plans have been approved for a six-storey apartment building, where penthouses will cost more than $20 million.

But rather than being just a selling agent, Brad is involved with the projects he sells long before there are any bricks and mortar and opulent fittings and fixtures you can see and touch.

With the Top Spring development, work started five years ago.

“We’ve been working on it not just to sell, but literally, from the original design competition with architects and all the planning,” he said.

“I go to all the meetings with the consultants, I go to all the council meetings, and it went to the state planning panels at one point and came back.

“We were prepared for the LEC, so from that perspective, as an agent, I work from finding the dirt, right through the feasibility, closing the sites, sales, planning and apartment types for the particular sites, all through to interior design, right through the marketing to sales and right through to the end realisation.

“We’re actively involved all the way through the process.”

Knowledge is key

Approaching the project market in this way has meant a lot of hard work to ensure his knowledge, and that of his team, is nothing but first-rate.

But Brad says it means that every client, from developers through to buyers, is confident he can help them achieve what they want to.

“We’ve worked very hard to study the Australian design guidelines, to understand all the planning, to understand construction, to understand architecture and to understand interior design,” he says.

“That really shows through then when we’re on the sales side, when we’re speaking with buyers, and they get a very strong sense, and they’re imbued with confidence that we can take them on the journey.

“There are moments where buyers throw ideas at us, and we just get to say, very quickly, ‘No, we can’t do that to that apartment. It doesn’t work; planning won’t approve it’.

“They (buyers) have worked out very quickly that we really know what we’re talking about, and when we can do what they want, we integrate it very quickly.”

Cars and real estate

Before real estate Brad, who studied literature, law and psychology, got his start in sales selling luxury cars for Jaguar and Lexus, but he notes there’s one major difference between the two.

While a car salesperson waits in a showroom and sells to buyers walking in, real estate agents have to “create the stock” by winning listings and then lead the buyers to that listing.

“There are people that come out of the car industry who are very effective in A to B selling, but when they’ve gone into real estate, they fail miserably because they’re not creative,” Brad explains.

“They’re not hunter-gatherers.”

Brad believes there are three types of salespeople and being a hunter-gatherer is just one of them. 

There are also “information givers” who focus on straight A to B selling and “chess players” who understand that what they say and do now has the power to influence potential vendors and buyers long into the future.

“Everybody’s different, and you’ve got to find your thing,” Brad says.

“I know what my thing is; it’s to be the person they want to deal with. People get a sense very quickly that they can trust and be confident in the process with me.”

Starting green

Brad says car sales did help him get a foothold in the projects market as he came into it with high-end clients and, he’s the first to admit there’s “no way” he should have had Azzura as his first project.

“I was so green at the time, but my clients loved me and trusted me, and they came to me with this project,” he recalls.

“I just learnt on the spot.”

Back then, Brad got his start with a renowned agent and mentor, Michael Pallier, after building a solid relationship with him during his time at Mercedes-Benz.

Just 30 minutes after meeting with Michael, Martin Maskin and Barry Goldman, he had a job.

“These guys took a punt on me, and they underwrote my income, and they promised to train me,” Brad says.

“Each year I’d work out a new deal to enhance my business within their business, but eventually it reached a point where I was doing some pretty great things with them, but I didn’t have any equity, and it was time to have my own business.”

In 2009 Brad joined Julian Hasemer to form 1st CITY Hasemer + Caldwell.Eyles, which has since rebranded to 1st CITY.

“We started transacting on little triplexes, and then it grew to blocks of 10 and then high-end blocks of 20, and then projects of 50 and … our market share in the eastern suburbs (now) is approximately 50 per cent,” Brad says.

Industry goals

Moving forward, Brad, who is on the Property Professionals Advisory Group with the REINSW, would like to see more stringent requirements put in place to become a real estate agent.

“If you’re going to be certified, it needs to be more like an apprenticeship,” he says.

Brad suggests one example the industry could emulate is the finance sector with financial planners and financial advisors.

“There was a massive overhaul of that business, and so they need to undertake very significant continuing education,” he says.

“Their entry-level for service is much higher than it used to be, and we kind of need to be in the same situation.”

Surviving Survivor

Working alongside Brad is fellow director Cara Atchison, who also happens to be his wife and star of the most recent series of Australian Survivor: Brains Vs Brawn, making it to the final four.

Brad admits that for the 10 weeks Cara was away filming the series, including seven weeks with no contact, it was “no fun at all”.

“Business was heavier because Cara was away, I had to take care of the three kids, I had to take care of myself, and I fed the cat too much, and it got fat,” he says.

Brad says when he finally got to see Cara when she was voted out, he was shocked by her appearance but incredibly proud of all she had achieved.

“She’d lost 10 per cent of her body weight, she had this big burn on her arm, she had dislocated a rib, lost toenails, she had cuts all over her, she’d pulled her groin, and she’d nearly broken her nose,” he says.

“We had two hours together, and she just sat on my lap, and I just said, ‘I can’t tell you how impressed I am’.”

Brad says many great things happened as a result of Cara being away, including changing their work roles so that they collaborate more.

COVID-19 has also meant they worked from home a lot more, and they’ve decided to keep working from home on a Monday going forward.

The couple also set up a gym at their house to exercise together, and Brad says the slower pace has helped him appreciate nature more and develop a more relaxed mindset.

“I just realised you need to find some real balance,” he says.

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Kylie Dulhunty

Kylie Dulhunty is the Deputy Editor at Elite Agent.