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David Highland: Gearing For Growth

DAVID HIGHLAND HAS personally sold more than $140 million worth of property in the last 12 months, with an average of 32 days on market. He is a third-generation real estate agent, and part of the founding duo of Highland Property Agents in Cronulla NSW with his father Peter, a successful property developer. Their business has expanded incredibly from its inception in 2007, having purposely created a team and a culture for growth. Interview by Samantha McLean.

DAVID HIGHLAND started his career in real estate in 1997, beginning in a small boutique agency in the Eastern Suburbs as a leasing clerk. Real estate has been his only career; he confesses that he has never really had a Plan B. “I’ve always had big aspirations and big goals, and been a big dreamer,” says Highland. “I’m 34 years of age, and when I got into this I was 17. I have always had a very clear vision of where I wanted to be in the industry and I just went for it.”

Starting from a team of six, including his father, in 2007, today there are more than 65 people on the Highland Property team. I first ask David how he approaches managing such a large team. “My week is split up into two different roles,” he says. “Essentially I’m still a selling principal and I’ve got a business unit around me consisting of three other people. In terms of running the business, we have different departments which include a property management department, a creative department, and a sales department.

“Our management team now consists of six individuals, including myself, and basically we meet weekly and collaborate on decisions as far as company direction, growth and staffing are concerned.

We have gone after some pretty aggressive goals from month to month, and achieved everything we set out to.”

So, a full creative department in a real estate business? “Yes,” he says, “We’ve really gone out there and pushed the envelope as far as bringing everything in-house – that includes a videographer and photographer. I’ve got a graphic designer and two production assistants, and basically we turn our marketing collateral around internally.”

Highland continues, “It’s really fun; it’s outside of the square compared to your typical real estate office. When we hired our videographer, it was a bit like having a new toy to play with as that was completely unique – I didn’t know of anyone else who had a videographer on staff! But this decision to engage a videographer just naturally followed the decision to have our own full-time in-house photographer. We just think the direction of real estate marketing is going away from print, and I believe that digital and video features are becoming more and more important every year. One of the things I spoke about at AREC 14 and am very passionate about is the consistency across the brand with video, and one of the things we’re working towards is having 100 per cent of all listings that go online to include a video in terms of their presentation.”

Are you far away from achieving that? “No, we aren’t that far away. I know a lot of agents are getting into video, and one of the other reasons we have a videographer on our team is that the quality of the video is what’s important to us. We are very particular in terms of our standards and quality; and one of the pieces of advice I would give to other agents is that bad video is worse than no video. With video, you put everything on the line if you don’t get it right. The general marketplace will judge you for better or worse, depending on your look, and your quality, and how well prepared you are. But if you can get it right it’s such an important selling tool, because in most cases people will engage with a video and we are finding that our numbers are dramatically increasing with some of the lower price points out there.”

Do you just use video for property marketing or do you do video blogs as well? “Both,” says Highland. “If you log on to our Facebook page at any given point in time you may see a marketing report from me from a company point of view, but then our agents do their own market reports which they then send to their own databases. As far as property marketing is concerned, we’ve got a couple of different ‘tiers’ for the videos we use, depending on the price point and how much the owners want to invest in production. There is also a third thing: We also promote our community and some of the things we do on a community level through video as well.”

To achieve the sort of consistency that is in line with the Highland brand, Highland says that he also made a significant investment in training to make sure that the team were comfortable in front of the camera. “We did a comprehensive workshop with the Sky News team; basically it was a crash course on how to do video well. The thing that I have learned is that practice and presentation are absolutely imperative. Take that into account, and then also note that it’s very important that you cater to your market and to your price point. The dialogue and the presentation for a $300,000 home shouldn’t be the same as perhaps a $3 million dollar home. You should be catering to the people that are going to be looking at those properties. You also want to make it short, sharp content that is well delivered and engaging, and in our experience that shouldn’t be any more than a minute and a half in length, depending on the listing.”

There is another special member of the Highland team that you won’t find in just any real estate office, and that’s a personal trainer that the team has access to once per week. “After speaking about that at AREC I was overwhelmed by the number of people that contacted me,” he admits. “It’s not like I am trying to reinvent the wheel, but we do have a focus on health and fitness and most of the time I’m pretty good with it myself. I train at least four to five days per week before work, and I find that I’ve got more energy, can better manage stress and just perform better. Our business is all about consistency and performing at the top level all year round; for me, that means there is a requirement for me to be fit and healthy.”

And it seems that the team have caught the bug as well. “I’ve got a young team so it’s not hard for me to get them interested in some of the initiatives that we have. The personal trainer is just one of those things, but it’s been in place for almost seven years. We also do a run club on a Wednesday where our sales team will run before work. And then on a Friday we do the Highland Boot Camp, where 16 of us front up to Cronulla Beach – rain, hail or shine. I try to create some healthy competition internally and some camaraderie, and I find if the guys are training together it works on a number of levels. They have a laugh before work, but the obvious by-product of training is that they are healthier and happier people to come to work with.”

What will the market bring in the next 12 months? “I think the market will continue to perform well. I think we are potentially in for the biggest quarter that we’ve seen in the past five years. There is a shortage of stock available with low interest rates. I’ve got a friend who got an interest rate last week of 4.6% so it’s really cheap to borrow money. And I just think at the moment that some pockets are going to perform better than others. But certainly there are no signs from my point of view of things about to go wrong in the short term.” And for Highland Property Agents? “We are in the process of organising a second office, and you know we just want to create a destination where the ‘best of the best’ want to be a part of it. We try to create the optimum environment where people want to come and work for us.”

DAVID HIGHLAND’S TOP TIPS FOR SUCCESS

  1. Be humble: Keep your feet on the ground.
  2. Get out of your comfort zone.
  3. Have a clear vision of what you want to achieve.
  4. Culture cannot be copied, so live and breathe your team culture. Share your vision and get buy-in from your staff members. Get involved with the community and get your people excited about shared goals.
  5. Always play the game with a ‘straight bat’. Be transparent and open with everyone you deal with.
  6. Success won’t come easy; you need to fight for it.
  7. A focus on health and fitness will make you both happier and more productive.
  8. Property marketing with bad video is worse than no video. If you are going to use video get some training and prepare, and practice, practice, practice.
  9. Overstaff areas that you are not strong in.
  10. Enjoy the ride!

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Samantha McLean

Samantha McLean is the Managing Editor of Elite Agent Magazine.

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