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Generation to Generation: Sean Hughes

At just 37 Sean Hughes has been in real estate longer than most. He bought his first house while still at school and became a real estate agent while in his teens. Like all good sons, he’s not afraid to admit he couldn’t have done it without the help of two special women: his mother and his grandmother.

As a teenager Sean Hughes was a “hustler”. Don’t worry, we’re not talking anything illegal. Just good, common-sense entrepreneurship – with a dash of cheekiness thrown in.

After all, you’ve got to have a bit of pluck to save the $12,000 deposit needed to buy your first house when you’re just 16.

“I was a little hustler back in the day,” the Realmark Coastal principal recalls with a chuckle.

“I bought my first house when I was still in high school for $120,000. I had seven or eight guys working for me in a paper run and a milk run, and that’s how I saved the money for the deposit.”

Sean and his twin brother Simon also bought and resold cars to make extra cash, despite the fact they were too young to drive themselves.

“We’d buy them, do them up and resell them. This was back in the day when there was a fair bit of money to be made. We were always looking at the Trading Post for good deals.

“I remember one deal; a guy came to view the car and asked for a test drive, and I had to say, ‘Sure, but you need to do the driving because I don’t have a licence yet’.”

IT’S IN THE BLOOD

It was Sean’s mother, Jenny, and his grandmother, Pat Davidson, who encouraged him to buy that first property.

The women were both real estate agents in Perth’s beachside suburbs and have remained a constant source of inspiration throughout his career.

“The best advice Nana gave me is, ‘If you list you’ll last’ and I’ve never forgotten that.”

In fact, Sean has worked his entire career alongside Jenny, with the pair taking the mantle of Realmark’s number-one selling agents or principals for the past 12 years.

“Mum has taught me everything I know,” he says earnestly.

“Nana is such an inspiration as the original matriarch of our family. She’s coming up to the dark side of 90 and she still plays golf twice a week; she plays cards and she’s very active, very competitive.

“That is vital in our industry, which is commission-based. It goes back to that hunt-or-be-killed mentality. Whether you get paid next week depends on what you do today.

“The best advice Nana gave me is, ‘If you list, you’ll last’ and I’ve never forgotten that.”

When Sean left St Mark’s Anglican Community School in Hillarys he gave up surfing at state level and his job at a surf shop to work alongside Jenny in real estate. What followed was a true baptism of fire and a battle to show clients that a fresh-faced youngster could cut it in an industry where knowledge was equated with age.

“The week after I got my real estate licence, Mum went overseas for two weeks and gave me seven listings she had at the time,” Sean says, still incredulous at the fact.

“I bought my first house when I was still in high school for $120,000.”

“It was sink or swim time, and at that point real estate was very much an older person’s game. Here I was, straight out of school, and I think people thought, ‘What can this kid know about buying and selling?’.

“I made sure I knew as much as I could about the property, about the market and about the industry. I was lucky in that I had Mum there 90 per cent of the time to watch, observe and learn from.”

Now, at just 37, Sean already has almost 20 years’ experience in the real estate game.

It’s a game he’s played as well as his father, former Australian Cricket captain Kim Hughes, played test matches.

“While Dad wasn’t fazed whether we played cricket or not, he was always keen for us to compete whether that was in sport or in business,” Sean recalls. “He and Mum really instilled the importance of dedication and discipline when we were growing up. To be an elite sportsman and captain Australia takes a lot of dedication and sacrifice.

“If you want to be the best you have to train harder, work longer and make sacrifices to get the results.”

In his 20s and early 30s Sean consistently worked 70 hours a week. He was first into the office, the last to leave and would spend most of every evening at appointments.

“Dad definitely instilled that if you do something, you do it properly.”

The hard work has paid off and as a team he and Jenny have moved through the ranks. Selling more than $50 million worth of property annually has seen them claim the coveted REIWA Grand Master award eight times.

“If you want to be the best you have to train harder, work longer and make sacrifices to get the results.”

FRIENDS FIRST, CLIENTS SECOND

Sean says forging strong, long-lasting relationships with their clients has been the backbone of their success.

“Helping people has to come first. Of course there’s the commercial bonus off the back of that, but you won’t achieve that if you don’t put the effort into building those relationships.

“It’s amazing these days the number of hats you have to wear… you’re a problem solver, a counsellor, a mediator between buyers and sellers, between buyers and buyers; you’re constantly mitigating.

“This is a marathon; real estate is the long game. It’s about people, because people remember and it’s what they say about you when you’re not around that matters.”

Sean and Jenny now manage a team of almost 40 agents, property managers and support staff, with plans to expand further and in different ways in the future. New and diverse processes is something they know a lot about, having introduced auction sales and colour, vendor-paid marketing back when few others were.

“In Western Australia we were traditionally a non-auction state and a non-colour marketing or vendor-paid marketing state,” he says. “Back then you just had lineage; no one ran a colour page in the paper.

“But we had some mentoring with Mark McLeod and his message really hit home. So we had colour pages in the paper at $8,000 a page and now they’re $1,600 a page. We also did auctions. Those two things were catalysts for us.”

Sean believes auction is the “purest form” of selling and keeps agents “accountable”. He knows it’s hard work, but that’s something he’s never shied away from, and he appreciates that the auction method helps keep systems and processes tight.

“You have to stand up in front of the community and sell, and if you haven’t done the work then you’ll end up with egg on your face. We were the top auction office in the state last year.”

RING IN THE CHANGES

Sean’s experience and long family history in real estate means he’s seen a few changes in the industry; perhaps none more prevalent than improvements in technology and the way agents do business.

“Nana was one of the first agents to have a mobile phone, which was the size of a brick; the battery packs for those things were so big they had to go in the boot of the car,” he says.

“In the beginning I had a Nokia 6210 and it didn’t even have a camera. So technology and the way we work as a result has changed a lot. We now have the digital letterbox on our phones rather than the physical letterbox at a property.

“Marketing is also more heavily orientated towards social media. What you can do with push marketing is amazing. Many people who go to Bunnings are doing up their house and sometimes that’s to sell it; we can actually target people who have shopped at Bunnings in the past seven days.”

But it’s not entirely out with the old, in with the new at Realmark Coastal. Sean and Jenny have reintroduced the regular caravan, where agents tour each other’s listings so they can better know the market and match properties with buyers.

“It’s about people, because people remember; it’s what they say about you when you’re not around that matters.”

Sean says it’s a great way to see what stock is on the market and helps to create a vibrant, happy environment for their team.

He acknowledges Jenny has been instrumental in creating an enjoyable work culture, which includes having everything from office cook-offs to visiting AREC annually and giving staff meaningful birthday gifts based on their interests.

A team member is also in charge of organising team building exercises, such as a recent race with bouncy balls. “We want people to make money and have a lot of fun doing it,” Sean says.

But all joking aside, Sean explains how part of the succession plan includes looking at ways of repaying great agents’ work, in a similar fashion to lawyers who work their way up to become partners.

“We’re working on a model that enables good agents to be part-owners, but which still has managers to run things so that those agents can still do what they do best, which is selling,” he says.

“It’s similar to lawyers who write lots of business getting their name on the door. A lot of agencies have higher commission payouts, but I think there’s a lot to be said for ownership. You can really see people’s mindset change when they’re a financial part of that team.”

So the only question left to ask is: how has Sean gone on working with his mum for almost 20 years?

“We haven’t had a blue in all of those years. It’s a unique relationship. The male and female synergy really works well for us, as does having the two age demographics. We just get along so well.”

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Kylie Dulhunty

Kylie Dulhunty is a freelance writer and Managing Editor of Connected Media Solutions, which specialises in real estate content and marketing solutions. For more information visit connectedmedia.com.au.
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