EPMEPM: Case Studies

Helping hands: Meet the PMs giving back to their community

According to Roy Morgan data, one in 10 people find real estate agents ethical and honest, putting them at 28 on the list of 30 professions (just above advertising professionals and car salesmen).

“In every industry you will get people who don’t do their job well,” says Alexandra Haggarty, managing director of First National David Haggarty, Maitland.

“I think it’s very hard sometimes to get good stories out there, and there are so many out there.”

Alexandra is one of the property managers across Australia who are doing their best to help not just their tenants and landlords, but also their community. Alongside Rebecca Want de Rowe of Want de Rowe Real Estate and Liz Charles of Property Initiatives, these women are putting property managers in the spotlight for their community efforts.

Helping at need tenants get back on their feet

Alexandra is practising what she preaches in her region of the Hunter Valley. She’s forged a partnership with Carrie’s Place, an organisation which provides resources to women dealing with homelessness or domestic/family violence.

Through the partnership, Alexandra is now able to help women in need, and their children, find homes. Some of the issues facing women who have left abusive partners, or families, is that they may not have the information needed to rent a property – whether that’s rental history, or a consistent work history.

“Carrie’s Place do an assessment of whether Department of Housing is appropriate, or is it a refuge, or are they likely to get housing in the current rental market. Then the women who, with a little bit of help, would be successful in the rental market, get referred to us,” says Alexandra.

From there the agency sends them a stock sheet each week with which properties are available. When the case worker and the woman select a property and apply for it, a privacy declaration is signed, which allows Alexandra’s office access to any information needed during the process, and allows the case workers to speak to the office.

“Over the duration of the tenancy we all work together to get a complete history and provide the women with a safe place to talk about their past,” says Alexandra.

She’s quick to say that there’s still a clear line between the property managers who are working with the case managers and the case managers themselves.

“We are just the property managers. That’s why we have the privacy declaration that allows us to work with the case managers for the duration of the tenancy.”

Alexandra says she’s been happily surprised with the reception from landlords. The process her office follows is one of complete transparency, the landlords are briefed of the client’s situation before the agreement is entered into.

“The conversation we have with the owner is that we are not going to push anyone onto them. This is their decision, if it’s not something that they are comfortable with then we don’t recommend that they go with that tenant, because it doesn’t result in a successful tenancy,” says Alexandra.

However she adds that there haven’t been many landlords who rejected these tenants, and in return the landlords who do take them on are rewarded with reliable and long term tenants.

“I reckon 80 per cent of our owners that we have offered it to have taken them up.

“The thing that people don’t realise is that one in three women will be exposed to abuse from a family member in their lifetime, whether it’s a partner or a parent or a child. We’re talking about a high percentage of the population here, and we’re already leasing to them.

“The abuse may have happened at the last property they were at, or the one before that, these are things we find out from the case managers and it’s information that is passed on to the owners. They could have been in a refuge for the last nine months and they now don’t have rental history.

But with one in three, it’s not just tenants, it’s owners as well. The owner might go, my sister escaped violence, I’d like to be able to help someone not go through what she went through.”

Using a community to support a tenant in need

Another property manager who’s been working hard to provide the best service for her community is Rebecca Want de Rowe. She made national headlines recently when she and her agency, Want de Rowe Real Estate, crowdfunded money to cover the rent of a tenant in need.

The Darwin-based property manager realised her 65-year old tenant Derek Holbrook had fallen behind on his rent and took it upon herself to find out what the problem was. She uncovered that due to an issue with Centrelink, Mr Holbrook’s pension had been cut off, leaving him unable to pay his bills.

Rebecca decided to rectify this, trying to help Mr Holbrook with the paperwork to fix the issue, and then when the bills remained unpaid, she turned to the local community and social media to crowdfund the money needed.

“I went out on social media asking for advice on other services that may be able to help. Instead the community come together and offered to help,” says Rebecca.

“My assistant and I were completely blown away by the support. We had people offer groceries, new bed sheets, towels etc. We even managed to get him a new bike to help him become more mobile.”

Reaching out to help Mr Holbrook was important to Rebecca because she cares about the community she works in, and her tenants.

“I like to give back. Life doesn’t always have to be about take take take. Some of the best feelings come from helping others in whatever way that may be,” she says.

Rebecca is mum to two small kids outside of her work as a property manager, she works as an Alderman with the City of Darwin Council to improve the city, she’s always trying to find new ways to better herself and her community, which she says is just part of the job.

“Us property managers get a bad rap, but we really are just like everyone else, doing a job as best we can. I give back as much as we can, this time it just happened to be by helping an old man keep his home. I think a lot of property managers would have done the same thing,” she says.

Raising money to stop homelessness

“Property Initiatives is a real estate agency that handles the sale and management of residential and commercial property. 100 per cent of our company profits help to build homes for women and children at risk of homelessness,” says Liz Charles, Head of Property Management at Property Initiatives.

The agency started in April 2015 after Women’s Property Initiatives (WPI) were trying to come up with a revenue stream to build more homes for disadvantaged women and children.

The capital funding from government and other sources was proving to be both limited and unreliable, so WPI reached out to Social Traders who support the establishment of businesses that trade with a social purpose.

After 6 months it was decided that a real estate agency operated as a social enterprise was a viable option. After some investment, and donations from several philanthropic organisations, Property Initiatives got off the ground.

“The number of women and children approaching specialist homelessness services continues to increase and is increasing at a much greater rate than for men. The majority have experienced family violence.

“It is well known that women and children return to unsafe environments due to a lack of safe, secure, affordable housing. We focus on women because they face the greatest disadvantage in their access to stable, secure, affordable housing. Due to gender inequality in our society women earn less, have fewer job opportunities and greater limits on their ability to work because they are primary carers for children. All of this means they have less money to spend on their housing,” says Liz.

Research has proven that by helping these women and children, Property Initiatives is helping to end the poverty cycle. Liz says that some of the children who have been through the homes are now in university, proving the benefit of stability.

“Property Initiatives Real Estate takes pride in operating at a subtle cost, as our passion is to create more social housing. Many of our clients have joined us with the knowledge that the costs incurred help create a better lives, and don’t fund monthly bonuses.

“We all benefit from any activity that creates positive social change, so it is really important to give back and help those who have not had the same opportunities. Joy and determination will always drive us forward,” says Liz.

Changing the narrative 

In the grander scheme of the changing face of real estate, and improving the reputation of agents and property managers with the general public, it’s actions like those of Liz and the Property Initiatives team, Rebecca and Alexandra that are working to get the good stories out into the world.

“We need to show more empathy. Of course our priority is always to our owners/landlords, however that doesn’t mean we can’t try help. Sometimes just giving people your time can go a long way and if we listen more we may just find that we can help people,” says Rebecca.

“It builds trust and the relationship in the community, with our tenants, and our landlords,” says Alexandra about her work with domestic violence survivors.

“My husband and I own the business, and we really want to run it in a different way to a lot of
traditional real estates. We want to give back, increase social responsibility, client service and trust so it adds value,” she says.

“It was my passion for social housing and helping women and children in need that attracted me to working with Property Initiatives. It’s a fantastic feeling to know you are making a difference to people’s lives and in particular the next generation,” says Liz.

If you, or anyone you know, need help call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 toll-free or visit whiteribbon.org.au/find-help.

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Hannah Blackiston

Hannah Blackiston was an in-house journalist with Elite Agent. She worked with the company from January 2018 to January 2019.