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Front Desk To Business Owner

WHEN LAURA LEVISOHN started in real estate as a receptionist she didn’t have a definite career plan. Now, with almost 20 years’ experience in all aspects of real estate and a business owner herself, Laura is self-motivated, positive and committed to her job and her clients. Having been nominated for (and won) several prestigious property management awards, Laura spoke to Samantha McLean about some of the ways she has put her own stamp on this very successful business.

IT WAS BACK in 1991 when a very young Laura Levisohn first sat down at a desk in a real estate office – as a receptionist. She never would have imagined one day she would be a 50 per cent owner in the same business.

Back then, it was called McCamey & Co (located in South Perth, WA), owned by husband and wife team Warren and Lynne McCamey. “I was pretty young but thought it was exciting that I was dealing with owners who were investors and then coming back and dealing with tenants and putting them in homes. I started picturing myself in years to come being that investor.”

Laura continues, “I guess it was a huge eye-opener for me to see all the different aspects and just how buying one property provides so many opportunities. Not only do you have the opportunity to rent it and have it return income, but you also have that opportunity to add value to it by renovating it and selling it to get a good profit.”

It was seeing the benefits of investment that inspired Laura and while taking a break from the company she also bought and renovated properties. At one stage, she had 11 houses on the go.

“That excited me and inspired me, and I thought the experience and knowledge I gained from doing it for other people would then help me as well.”

After experiencing a marriage breakdown and then returning to the same business after 10 years, Laura’s property management career really took off. With the business now operating under a new name and owned by the son of the original couple, Garrick McCamey, Laura was made head of the property management department. Within a year, she was a 25 per cent shareholder. When Garrick decided to sell at the end of 2014, Laura bought another 25 per cent and sales agent Lee Riddell bought the other 50 per cent.

Today they operate the company together, with Laura focusing primarily on business development – something on which she prides herself for increasing the success of the business – and Lee managing the sales under the new name of M Residential.

“When I came back into the business I made a few rapid changes. For example, our PM department was organised as task management (as opposed to portfolio). We had a lot of people working on one property – a tenant liaison officer, a leasing consultant, someone who liaised with the owners. After a year I could see cracks in the system where no one was taking accountability and it was enough for them to say ‘Oh, that’s not my role. You should have done that.’

“I decided I’d change it all and bring it back to portfolio management, with a leasing consultant and myself doing all the business development and my property managers just managing properties, which is what they do best.”

Laura particularly attributes the company’s success to the team of property managers working with her. A major point of difference is that Laura doesn’t employ anyone who already has experience in the industry, only those who are inexperienced and ‘who have just finished their education’. The reason is that she prefers to mentor them and train them to work to her systems and business platform – which means they get taught good service habits from the word ‘go’. And, when it comes to finding the right people for the job, it is attitude that is most important. As the business is built on solid checklists, procedures, policies and templates of every letter a property manager may need to use, Laura is easily able to pass on her knowledge and skills to new staff members. “If they have the right attitude,” she says, “I know I can teach them the skills they need for success.”

However, Laura also freely admits that having people come in so young does have its drawbacks, particularly as the young women tend to leave to have children; but with persistence and by testing different techniques (including bringing the children into the office with babysitters), she has found that introducing the ability to work remotely has been the biggest benefit to the business.

“M Residential wouldn’t have the recognition that we have without such an amazing team and we have such great team culture and loyalty. The last people to leave the business did so to have children, so I’ve been changing how we work in the office to allow those girls to come back on and work on a part-time basis, or to work remotely as assistants for our full-time property managers. That just means I’m not taking them away from what is a really special time for them starting their family, but I’m still giving them the ability to be a part of the team and employed.”

Staff members are able to log in remotely and work on exactly the same system as they would if they were working from a desk within the office. There is no concern from Laura about managing her team because they are all well trained and very loyal.

“It’s such an amazing thing for my business, because my team know my systems, they already know my processes, they already know the properties. I’ve seen people a bit sceptical about having remote workers whom they don’t know that well. The fact that I know and trust these people who are in my team means that if they say to me ‘I worked five hours today’, I’d never have to monitor that because I have faith they’re being honest. I’m also confident they are completing procedures correctly and in the way that I want them to.”

Next we discuss marketing, another area where M Residential does things differently. There is a great relationship between the management and sales teams in the business; managers have direct access to investors, so keeping systems up to date and highlighting points of difference is key to creating new business.

“In our area, we’re the only ones using video tours in property management, plus some other points of difference such as online bookings. If I don’t win a listing, I know I didn’t sell my points of difference enough because I know we’re doing things our competition doesn’t do.”

And Laura says it’s often not about fees. “I sent a survey out to our clients and what came back was really interesting to read. Not only were they (the clients) happy with us, but it was good to get feedback on the questions – particularly where I asked ‘When you first looked to take on a property manager, what were the main deciding factors?’ Out of the options listed in our survey, fees came out as the third most important, yet this is the first question we’re always asked. But it was really interesting to know this is not the deciding factor for the majority of people.”

Those that know Laura say she is a bundle of energy who manages to pack a fair bit into each of her busy days. She says her stamina is down to keeping fit and healthy, and being prepared the night before. She also talks about the benefits that physical exercise has on the mind that allow her to make the time and effort to look after herself in between juggling her busy career and motherhood.

“I’ll get up at 4:30, go to the gym about 4:45 for an hour and a half, come back and get ready. Keeping in mind that I’ve already done everything I possibly could the night before, I eat breakfast, get changed, drop my sons at school, go into the office and set myself up with an ideal week in my office so I can keep on track and not fall behind. Going for a run is often the best time to clear the head of any worries and come up with solutions to any issues, or simply a great start to the day.

“I’ll go through my emails, block out some time to do my business development management work, go back through my emails and my diary system to see everything I need to do for that day. Then I’m home, preparing for the next day and then I go again.

“By the time I get to work [after an early morning gym session], I don’t have a foggy head like, ‘I’ve just rolled out of bed; quick, give me my coffee’ – I am absolutely ready and raring to go! I think it’s really important for everyone to have that in their lives because they’ll be amazed what a difference it makes to their productivity and their focus during work.”

Laura continues, “I also go to a nutritionist; I was having a chat with her the other day, and she had read an article saying that an unhealthy person only works 43 effective hours in a month, compared to a healthy person who works 149 effective hours in a month. And that’s just in their work life. Imagine the benefit for every other aspect of that person’s life!”

According to Laura, there is always something to do when it comes to her business, and in the next 12 months she hopes to focus more on the business management side of things.

“I’ve got so many ideas running through my head at the moment that I just want to be able to commit the time to get those ideas in place and underway. I also want full recognition for M Residential and a win at the Leading Property Managers of Australia for Property Management Company of the Year. We’ve been the finalists for the last two years and I want the win!” she laughs.

Lastly I wonder whether there was anything she would tell her younger self starting out in property management, knowing everything she knows now.

“I would tell my younger self, ‘Don’t hold doubt within you. Look at what you’re doing and trust your process is right.’ Having that confidence in what you’re doing is key. The best piece of advice I’ve ever been given was that you can do anything if you’ve got the right focus, commitment and passion. You’re not going to please everyone, but you have to fix your path and work on that.”

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