We Are Real Estate

Hugo Ortega: How to get your first listing

Hugo Ortega from Etch Real Estate in NSW tells us how he got into real estate, why he does not fear tech disruption and the changes the industry needs to make for a better future.

On getting into real estate
I chose to get married – I fell in love at first sight, and with all cliches aside, I knew my wife would be my life partner from the moment we met. So if you ask me did I choose real estate, or did real estate choose me, then all I can say is my wife chose real estate and I followed.

All comedy aside, my wife and I have worked together since we met. We enjoy working together and after we sold our previous business of 15 years – working in the IT sector – we were looking for something completely different and more local. As a family of five, we wanted to reduce the travel and be more available for our children.

Real estate kept coming up, and with that in mind we explored the industry by attending an AREC seminar before joining the industry, and we loved every moment. We knew we could bring value to the industry and carve out a niche for ourselves.

The biggest underestimation we made, however, was how difficult it would be to get our first listing. We worked our database of contacts leading up to the launch of our newly-created brand, and it very quickly became evident that vendors choose their agent way before they think of selling. With that in mind, I proposed an idea to my wife (which in hindsight most partners would dismiss), which was that we sell our family home as our first listing.

It was laughable – almost ludicrous – and a little akin to gambling. In building up the IT company worldwide, we’d managed to own a rather nice French provincial-style home in the affluent suburb of Balgowlah Heights. We listed, marketed and presented the home over the course of a six-week campaign (in retrospect it was three or four weeks too long). We practically suffocated every prospective buyer with our enthusiasm and passion for the home, and with our newfound joy for the industry. The culmination of our efforts was a successful sale, and the crowning glory of the street record at the time.

The happiest moment in my career…
We’ve had several wonderful moments and they have almost always involved the interactions with our vendors, or a buyer. We’ve been blessed with a spectrum of sales which have involved multi-million dollar windfalls, emotional deceased estates and some of Sydney’s premier property developments.

It’s usually the moment that a vendor accepts an offer that is truly wonderful. The alleviation is immediately witnessed in their demeanor and the happiness we have shared in these moments has been wonderful.

One sale that sums this up well for me was that of 15 Monash Crescent, Clontarf – a beachfront home we sold for $8,500,000 that had been held in the family for more than 50 years. Our vendor’s husband, who had built the home, had passed away only 18-months prior after a short fight with cancer. The home held so many touching moments for the family, that our vendor letting go would only occur if we respected those memories..

Our vendor was tender throughout the process. Being a married couple of almost 20 years ourselves, it was easy to empathise with her pain and we felt well-equipped in literally holding her hand through the process.

Prospective buyers came and went, but the moment John Kolenda (who we later found out was the Chairman of The Agency) attended a private showing, we knew we had to lock all doors and windows until he bought the home.

They had spotted the home from their yacht one day, unknowingly ending up in the enclave of Clontarf and said the area took them by surprise and reminded them of their travels in Croatia.

We spent several hours showcasing the home to them and battling out the terms of a potential agreement. We have since grown close with John and his family and he admitted that his intention wasn’t to buy the home on the day, but that it all fell into place and the way I handled negotiations made him comfortable.

The happiest moment in my career was inviting Joanna (our vendor) home to meet John and his family that evening, especially as she’d been waiting outside throughout the negotiations and really wanted to come home. She’d built-up the concept of selling her home to such an extent that as she walked back through the door – for the first time as a visitor – she and I burst into tears. John and his wife were wonderful in acknowledging the significance of the event and shared a hug, a glass of Champagne and stories through the night.

My wife and I aren’t entirely motivated by the money. We’re motivated by the story-lines. Joanna and John have become close and we’ve caught up for several dinners together. The happiness of witnessing Joanna’s growth and release of her family home to someone new was truly mesmerising and reminded us of why we got into the industry and why we’ll stay forever.

The most memorable moment
The most significant sale was our first-ever sale – 49 White Street Balgowlah, our family home. There have been many sales worth a lot more monetarily, but none have been more significant in etching a lasting memory in the history we’ve created.

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I don’t recommend selling your own home. For one, we had to clean up the breakfast, the bathrooms and fluff all the cushions, while donning our professional attire and doing our hair before opening our front door to the public.

There are just too many moving pieces to make the experience worthwhile, but when you consider the strategy we took, and that we launched our company Etch Real Estate with this sale, then the significance of how we launched our company will never be lost on us.

It was a huge risk as my wife and I had never worked in the industry, or for another agency, or ever sold a home prior. In fact, we’d only ever bought one home – this home. So the chances of successfully selling the home, coupled with the burden of launching a new agency brand, was less than sensible.

I remember the final negotiations with a local couple. The husband and I battled through the night, me fighting tooth and nail to achieve a $2,000,000 sale, and he trying desperately to buy the home with a leading $1 in the price. He knew it was our family home and that I was too engaged to be an effective negotiator, but my goal was to create a benchmark for how we do business, and what we can achieve as sales agents.

The final result was a $2,000,000 sale and a street record. We both had a laugh after it was all said and done, and the family has since enjoyed the home for many years.

The happiest, most memorable moment from the process was putting up the SOLD sticker as seller, vendor and entrepreneur. The level of emotion was likely unprecedented in the industry and may never occur again. It’s takes a whole lot of courage and more blind faith than most people would stomach to be vendor, selling agent and business founder simultaneously.

I don’t recommend selling your own home. For one, we had to clean up the breakfast, the bathrooms and fluff all the cushions, while donning our professional attire and doing our hair before opening our front door to the public.

Best advice he’s received
The best advice I’ve received was from the most successful entrepreneurs I ever met: to “remain lean” in business. This does not relate to one’s weight, but to one’s overheads. I’ve been advised by many great business leaders to never grow your business ahead of your gross profit. Where possible, be conservative with staffing decisions, marketing decisions and shopfront decisions.

Biggest challenge
Coming from an IT background, it’s easy to see that disruptive technologies will continue to play a role in most industries, including the real estate industry. Companies like Uber, Amazon, Facebook, Airbnb, Google, and Apple have disrupted our way of life and all of them have the capacity to revise the way people purchase a home. The biggest disruption, however, may come from a technology or company that has yet to be developed.

It’s naive to think that the industry is immune to technological disruption and that “an agent” is irreplaceable. Virtualisation technology like Augmented Reality, and hardware technologies like robotics and Artificial Intelligence, all have the ability to automate services and potentially add value to the industry that simply cannot be replicated by a human.

While it’s important to note that the human element is irreplaceable, the value of that facet of our role can be hugely diminished via technological disruption.

I don’t fear tech disruption, especially as I have a tech background and have witnessed firsthand the strengths and limitations. I think Jack Ma of Albaba said it best when he said we should not fear machines, as machines do not have a soul. Our goal should be to be more empathetic, more passionate and embrace the coming change. By remaining human in the process we can welcome disruption but remain valued by vendors in the sales process.

Change for good?
Coming from a professional background where qualifications carry weight, I believe that the barrier of entry into real estate sales in particular needs to be revised. Current reforms being driven by REINSW and others are important for the future of the industry to remain sound and professionalism to increase.

The challenge we face is that agents will continue to tarnish the industry by acting unprofessional and untoward when handling negotiations by being under-skilled in their execution. In increasing the barrier of entry, via education and certifications layers, and the professionalism in the industry, more vendors will value the agent’s services and it will increase their desire to work with elite agents. I believe these reforms will also have the additional side-effect of squashing the onslaught of the fixed-fee model, which is focused on process rather than skill-set.

‘Elite’ agent means
A good agent is motivated by monetary gain, a great agent by performance, and an elite agent by compassion. It may sound far-fetched but the fact that we have created an industry full of transaction driven negotiators is also the same factor which can instigate the demise of the industry we all love. It should never be lost on us that we are often representing families with their number-one major asset, and often an emotional process in selling their home.

I believe that realestate.com.au’s implementation of agent reviews is a perfect example of my point. This feature alone has the power to transform the industry in a positive manner and highlight further that compassion is part of being an elite agent and is potentially the best way to add value in the sale process. I sincerely believe that agent reviews are the perfect platform to distinguish an elite agent from a great or good one, as an exceptional review is often less focused on sale price and more often focused on overall emotional closure by the vendor.


#WeAreRealEstate is a series of short interviews with 140 agents all over Australia exploring the industry’s hopes, concerns, future challenges, and what it really means to be an Elite Agent.

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