Henzells Agency: shaping a community

For 86 years, Henzells Agency has been selling property at Caloundra in Queensland. More than that, they’ve been shaping the community. From a sleepy Sunshine Coast holiday strip to a thriving city, much of what Caloundra is today has involved three generations of Henzells and their vision for a town. Cassandra Charlesworth takes a look at what it’s like to be a real estate agency whose legacy is its community.

It was 1935 when Roy Henzell Snr rolled into the relative backwater of Caloundra seeking business opportunity.

An accountant by trade, he’d tried his hand at a few things prior, including a stint as an oil tycoon.

But in the untouched paradise of the relaxed Sunshine Coast, he saw an opportunity to make his mark, joining forces with a friend to create a real estate agency.

Fast forward 86 years and the name Henzells is not just synonymous with real estate but with the evolution of Caloundra.

Roy Snr had a vision for Caloundra and over the course of three generations, it has come to fruition.

By 1941, he had bought his business partner out, identified key tracts of land for future development and began carving out a legacy that continues to this day.

A proud family business

For the next 20 years, Roy Snr built the business, while also identifying sites for potential development.

His ethos was simple: buy land in the area he loved and let progress and development catch up with him.

His aim was to see Caloundra become the same ‘resort centre’ as its southern counterparts and he brought this to life with the creation of iconic suburbs like Golden Beach and Aroona.

When Roy Snr passed away in 1961, his son Bevan continued that legacy, expanding the business to include three salespeople while developing shops on the main street.

General Manager Katherine Allan has worked at Henzells for more than 16 years, and notes it is a prime example of a successful family business.

When Bevan passed away at a young age, his son Roy, three daughters and wife Judy took over the running of the business.

Katherine explains, Judy was a pioneer, establishing holiday letting in the area while also renting holiday supplies.

Meanwhile, Roy took the helm of the agency aged just 29.

“In the 1980s Roy was joined by Garry Waters, and they’ve now been business partners for 30 years,” Katherine says.

“It’s the perfect yin and yang partnership where they’ve continued that vision.”

From its prime location on the corner of Bulcock Street, the agency now includes 38 staff across sales, property management, holiday letting, and commercial real estate.

More than real estate

Katherine explains Henzells role in the development of Caloundra elicits an immense sense of company pride.

“About half the land that Caloundra is built on today has been either directly owned or transacted through Henzells Agency,” she says.

Among those developments is the master-planned community Pelican Waters.

Now a thriving suburb of nearly 7000 people, the land was bought by Roy Snr in 1946.

It wasn’t until 1989 that construction of Pelican Waters commenced, but over the three decades since, it has evolved into a community featuring multiple schools, parks, and shopping centres.

Over the years, Henzells has sold more than 2750 home sites at Pelican Waters and Katherine notes they’ve also forged long-term relationships with residents.

“There are many instances where people have bought the land from us, then they sell their house, and buy another. Some are now at retirement stage and we’re seeing them downsize or move into our aged care communities.”

Now, Katherine explains, the final stage of Pelican Waters is under way with only four years of land supply remaining.

Community and culture

“Pelican Waters has now become what the Henzells always wanted it to be,” she notes.

Katherine says the family feel and commitment to community is evident in all areas of the business. Perhaps most importantly it’s reflected in the long-term tenure of staff.

An honour board at reception boasts a lengthy list of names including employees who have been with Henzells 12 years, 15 years, 20 years, and in some cases even longer.

Roy has been at the helm for 49 years, while Garry has been in the business for 32.

“We display that honour board with pride,” Katherine says. “It’s a big deal and it’s like family.”

She notes much of that comes down to the company culture, which Henzells focusses on heavily.

“When we are hiring it’s all about the person and the fit,” Katherine says.

“We will not tolerate toxic behaviour and our team is mixed together with no division between rentals and sales.”

Katherine says people stay with a business when they know what to do and they’re happy, so systems and procedures are a must.

Meanwhile, there are regular staff events and Katherine says her door is always open, so any issues are quickly resolved.

“Look it’s not perfect,” she concedes.

“We’re like family and in a family you can’t get on all the time, but we have great people and a team who are genuinely interested in each other and the length of time many people have been with us is testament to that fact.”

Together through the good times and bad

In a business that has been running for the better part of a century, there will inevitably be good times and bad.

The past 18 months have delivered both, Katherine reflects.

“When COVID hit, we weren’t sure what would happen,” she says.

“The most important thing was that our staff got paid. We were crystal clear that we were never going to lose staff, and we didn’t. They appreciated that loyalty.”

As a multifaceted business, Henzells found the impacts of COVID affected them in different ways.

“Initially it was all about our holiday department, which was decimated for about four months,” Katherine reflects.

The letting team found themselves developing cancellation policies, while feeding holiday rentals into the permanent rental pool.

Meanwhile, they proactively came up with a marketing plan that delivered real results.

Targeting the areas where many of their holiday clientele reside, Henzells created a video campaign with the tagline ‘Drive to Paradise’.

It showcased Caloundra as the ultimate destination for residents who could no longer travel beyond the border of Queensland, and Katherine says it had instant results.

“We had to do it in a new way that drove people to come to us, and we’ve been solidly booked since then,” she says.

In the sales department a different trend was emerging, with property values rapidly rising.

“On average house prices in Caloundra have increased 32 per cent to 35 per cent over the past financial year and we’ve sold $140 million in residential property,” Katherine says.

The biggest challenge in sales remains listing volumes, and Katherine notes that’s contributing to rising prices.

“We sold one property recently at $600,000 over the asking price. We’re at the stage where we’re not surprised any more by the prices achieved.”

The property management department actively works in with sales, handling a rent roll of about 800 properties.

Katherine notes when the sales department secures a listing, a property manager automatically conducts a rental appraisal.

“In 99 per cent of cases, if we sell the property to an investor, that property comes back to us as a rental,” she says.

But again, it’s a sector being impacted by rising prices due to increased demand.

Katherine says each month there are now between 800 and 2500 inquiries regarding rental properties in Caloundra.

The toughest element is managing long-term tenants whose rental properties have now sold.

“We recently sold a property at Golden Beach where the couple had been tenants for 30 years,” Katherine says.

“Now the rents have gone up and we’ve been working to find these tenants somewhere to live.”

In the commercial sector, property is also in demand, with Henzells recently clocking up the biggest year they’ve ever had.

“We sold $14 million worth of commercial property last year,” Katherine says.

That interest is translating to a thriving central business district, where Caloundra’s main street has come back to life.

“Five years ago, there were a lot of empty shops in Caloundra, but now the city centre is 99 per cent full for the first time in 20 years.”

It’s not business, it’s personal

For an agency that has been central to the evolution of a city, this new lease on life is not business, it’s personal.

Katherine says Henzells is acutely aware of the role it has played in the community and continues to honour that commitment.

Its fundraising division has supported countless local groups and charities over the years, including organisations like the Metropolitan-Caloundra Surf Life Saving Club.

Henzells provided the land where Caloundra City Private School now stands and has donated land for parks. That’s in addition to an array of community initiatives.

Katherine explains one such program supports young people emerging from the foster system, and includes education on how to get a job and secure a rental property.

“We’re proud to be part of the community,” Katherine says.

“It’s in Roy and Garry’s nature to give back to the community that supported us. We are carrying on what Roy Snr started all those years ago in the knowledge when you have been here as long as Henzells has you want to give back.

“It’s about the legacy you leave behind and when you look at Caloundra and Henzells’ involvement, we’re all pretty proud of that.”

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Cassandra Charlesworth

Cassandra Charlesworth is a features writer for Elite Agent Magazine with over 15 years’ journalism experience in metropolitan and regional newsrooms. She has a specialist interest in real estate, tech disruption and a good old-fashioned “yarn”.