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James Dunn: Why buyers are just as important as sellers for real estate agents

Richardson & Wrench Double Bay Director James Dunn has worn many hats over his years in real estate – starting out in property management and exploring buyer management, before bringing his combined experience to a sales role. Here, James reveals how Bob Marley helped him make his first sale and why Australian agents could learn a thing or two about real estate from the London market.

Multi-award winning agent James Dunn humbly credits his long-term success to “hard work” and seeing the value in taking care of buyers, as well as sellers.

This successful strategy has been finely tuned from various real estate pathways, honed over the years as each component fits perfectly into place.

After university, James worked as a property officer while he saved up to travel overseas to London. After returning to Australia (because he missed the sunshine and beaches), James put his all into every role he had, from sales assistant to buyer manager – and now Richardson & Wrench Double Bay director.

Starting out

James hadn’t initially planned to go into real estate, despite his father Michael’s 30-plus year career as an agent with Richardson & Wrench.

In fact, he wasn’t sure what he wanted to do, eventually “falling into a university degree of commerce and property economics”.

While he studied, James would help his father to earn some extra cash, doing ‘just sold’ drops, assisting with open inspections and dropping profiles with the agents at the office.

It was only after he finished his studies that James decided he wanted to go overseas. Director Robynne Arnouts offered him a chance to save up for his adventure.

“I set a goal (to work) for six-to-12 months,” James says.

“I started in property management straight after university. I was literally cutting keys, running around and getting things organised for the leasing side.

“Then one of the leasing people couldn’t do it for two weekends so I started leasing a lot of properties and quite well. It helped me understand dealing with people straight away.

“I was there for 18 months before I went overseas for a couple of years.”

James explains his current knowledge comes from his father’s shared wisdom and his experiences in different areas of real estate.

In particular, he learnt how to interact with customers early on in his career.

“I understood from when I was in property management, a lot of the time there were not many thank you’s,” he says.

“My hat goes off to a lot of the property managers and the leasing teams because I’ve been in those trenches and there’s a lot of fires they need to put out.

“But it was exciting. Then I moved into the leasing side and that was very exciting to be able to lease properties, which is similar to selling properties as well.”

London calling

James continued to work in real estate after moving to London, focusing on the high-end South Kensington and Chelsea market.

It was there he learnt the importance of one-on-one buyer management, which has come in handy recently amid lockdown restrictions.

Before COVID-19 restrictions enforced the need for one-on-one relationships, James felt the buyer management relationship was often lost on the Australian real estate industry.

“Speaking to the buyer, you just get so much more information and what’s important for them as well,” he said.

James says developing a strong relationship with buyers helps you find them the right property, whether that’s one you have listed of via cross-selling within the agency.

“That’s one of the most important things I do in my business – I train my team and staff on the importance of looking after the buyer, so we work very closely with them,” he says.

“I just think that’s one thing we’ve always really focused on is buyer management, but even more-so now, it has just crystallised that. It’s been great.”

While it appears as though the Australian real estate industry is starting to catch up, James explains buyer management is actually an “old school” approach.

“You got people into your car and you showed them three or four properties, which is similar to what we RRichardson & Wrench) are doing now,” James says of his time in London.

“It was very different over there. There was sort of one main lister in the office and then you had a group or team of sales people who sold the properties.

“But I haven’t lost that, I’ve always worked really closely with buyers because they’ll eventually become sellers in the future and they’re your best source of referral.”

James says an agent’s best form of prospecting is to look after buyers.

“I think a lot of agents are starting to catch up,” he says.

“If you look at any of the top agents or agencies, their buyer management is one of their major strengths.”

Moving into sales

After James returned from overseas, he started off as a sales assistant and he still remembers his first sale perfectly.

“My first sale will always be my biggest,” he says.

“It was a unit in Bellevue Hill, that was my first sale. I still remember it to this day. We had great opens,” James says.

“We had music playing, which was a lot of fun. My father Michael always said your open inspections are one of the most important thing.

“So we always have a great open inspection with the music on, setting the vibe. It creates a different atmosphere for buyers coming through. Similar to if you go to a retail shop and they’ve got some nice music playing, it sets a vibe for the day and for the property.”

But it isn’t as simple as turning on Triple M when the inspection is about to start and hoping for the best.

“The type of music depends on what the property is,” James explains.

“It should be property-specific. I don’t think you’d have Daft Punk on for a charming house in Bellevue.

“The one bedroom for my first sale, they were playing Bob Marley, which was a lot of fun. It was property appropriate.”

It all comes together

While he may have played Bob Marley for his first sale, it’s likely classical music was a key component to his biggest sale to date – a $31 million property in Point Piper.

James credits his dedication to buyer management to getting the sale.

“I’d sold a house in Vaucluse for $2.6 million, I was calling around my clients in the area, just letting them know what had been sold,” James recalls.

“I spoke to this person and they said, ‘I’m not looking at selling my house but I am looking at buying something. I’m looking at spending around $15 million. By the way, I have seen a property I quite like in Vaucluse but I’m not able to get through with that agent’.

“We actually had that property also listed off-market. I took that buyer through, and their family flew in from overseas to look at it.

“They didn’t end up purchasing it but their budget went from $15 million up to $31 million and I ended up selling them something in Point Piper.”

James reveals he still keeps the envelope with the contract and cheque on his desk, even now.

“I look at that and think, ‘It doesn’t matter who you’re speaking to, good leads can come out of any calls, so just keep focusing on that’,” he says.

Buyers are as important as sellers

James describes having a well-managed database of clients as a “very powerful thing”.

He explains while many agents can boast having a large database, many are not well managed, which can be detrimental when the market changes.

“We’re in a market at the moment where it’s quite easy to sell properties but that will turn, that will flip on its head,” James says.

“I just know in a downward trending market and you’ve got good buyers, you can bring them to the properties and help get sales moving forward.

“Buyers will eventually become sellers down the line. A lot of my first listings that I had were buyers who had bought properties from us when I was working as a buyer’s assistant.

“I just kept in touch with them, looked after them. Did a good job with them when they bought, even if it was through a different office or different company. They came back to me down the line, three to five years later.”

While it used to be commonly said people would move roughly every seven years, James believes it is far more down to what stage in life the client is at.

“If you’re looking after a buyer and they buy a one-bedroom and then they meet someone, they could be moving from that within the next 24 months,” he says.

“If you look after them, you’re going to be the first person they call because they remember the service you provided for them.”

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Jessamy Tredinnick

Jessamy Tredinnick is a news journalist for Elite Agent Magazine. For current stories, news alerts or pitches, please email [email protected]