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Kate Strickland: Playing to Win

TO SUCCEED in real estate, you’ve got to have a competitive edge, and that’s probably why Kate Strickland has done so well. As a former elite athlete, Kate’s mindset, ethics and discipline were bound to pay off when it came to a change in career. Now a Director of Marshall White Bayside in Victoria, Kate is not afraid to bring a touch of femininity to what seems mostly a man’s world, playing to her own strengths and playing to win. Story by Samantha McLean.

BEFORE ENTERING the real estate profession, Kate Strickland was a professional athlete with only one thing on her mind: the 2008 Olympics. It was a goal she had set her sights on her whole life, one which she would pursue while studying and doing various part-time jobs, including teaching a specialist sports program at a private girls’ school in Toorak and completing a PR degree at Monash University.

“Being an elite athlete is extraordinary. It’s an absolute honour and a privilege, and I always wanted to represent my country. To get to do that from the age of 21 was incredible,” she says.

But sadly Kate missed out on that dream by the narrowest of margins.

“Every young athlete’s dream is to go to the Olympics. It was a huge disappointment not to get to that pinnacle, but I played softball for Australia 143 times and I’ve travelled the world as a paid athlete, which doesn’t happen for a lot of females.

“[After the Olympics] I didn’t really have a plan B. My only plan was that I was going to be an Olympian. When that didn’t happen, I had to sit down and reassess my life. I’d already bought a property at a young age and was quite keen to buy another one. I found that a lot of people used to call me for advice on property, and then I thought one day, ‘You know what? I’ve always wanted to kick off my sneakers and put on my heels when the time came, and this is the time.’ So I enrolled in a real estate course and within a couple of months I started,” she says.

In 2011, after a short three years in the industry, she opened her first office in the Brighton area and hasn’t looked back. I ask her if it was scary or exciting. “I guess it’s my character,” she says. “I start things and I know that I’m going to do it. I’m black and white. I’m all or nothing and I just throw myself into it. Day one, when I joined the industry, I was always going to have some sort of success.

“I always say with being an athlete, or let’s say a musician, to be at the top you have to be so disciplined and focused to put everything into your training or practice, despite the fact that sometimes the results might not be there.

“I remember when I started in real estate everyone said, ‘Oh, you’re not going to have a weekend!’ Well guess what? I’m 26 years old. I’ve never had a weekend. I don’t know what one looks like. I was always throwing on my gear and going to softball from Thursday to Sunday. Now, at least I get the occasional Sunday off – and I get paid better!

“But it’s the same focus. Real estate has to be number one for you in your life, which is hard for a lot of people to deal with; same as being an athlete. You’re in your bubble. You need to be quite selfish and you have to be very motivated for yourself. That’s similar to real estate, because if you get a call on Christmas Day and someone wants to put in an offer on a house, you’ve got to say to your family, ‘Enjoy the turkey. I’m out of here!’ (laughs). But that’s my personality and I wouldn’t know any other way to be. I want to give my clients that sort of commitment.”

Says Kate, “[In real estate] you’re judged on your outcomes and your performance and your results, same as being an athlete. A lot of the time, you’re like a duck where you’re going crazy underneath the water and you remain calm on top. It’s all that underneath work that people maybe don’t see or understand, and you don’t get a pat on the back for it.”

Our conversation turns to the working week; while Kate admits to the hours in real estate being tough, she has also learned to manage her workload by working in what she calls ‘sprints’. “Yesterday and the day before were 14-hour days, getting cracking at 8am and finishing at 10pm. At this time of the year that’s quite normal. I am committed to 10- and 12-hour days. This is sprint time. You go in eight- to 10-week blocks where you sprint and you need to be prepared to put in that sort of time and effort. Then guess what? You get a couple of weeks where you can actually relax and you can take the school holiday period, or take the time out.”

Kate also says gender has a lot of influence in the real estate industry and believes being a woman has both disadvantages and advantages. Sometimes it’s noticing the little things, as a woman, that make the biggest of differences.

“Yes, it is a very male-dominated industry and a lot of women don’t survive. It’s funny, you don’t see a lot of young girls growing up saying, ‘Oh, I want to be a real estate agent.’ They usually say, ‘I want to be a news reporter’ or ‘I want to be a marketing specialist.’ Real estate doesn’t seem to be high on women’s agendas because they see male auctioneers and they see men in suits. That’s the vision you have when you see real estate. I came into this industry saying, ‘I’m never going to wear a suit. I’m just going to be me.’

“I’m proud to bring an element of femininity to real estate. We know over 80 per cent of decisions to buy and sell houses are made by a female – what an advantage for me! It’s the little things. I said to someone the other day [after noticing a female seller was very dressed up for an auction] ‘She’s ready for a sold sticker photo’. If she’s ready for a photo you can bet she’s going to tell her husband to keep bidding. A man may not notice that. If I was selling, I’d want someone representing me who could pick up on those small elements that might end up getting me a bigger price or a sale at all.

“Here, in 2015, real estate has evolved. This is a relationship-building game now, and women are fantastic at building relationships and guiding people. I become a part of my clients’ lives. I don’t just sell or buy a house. I am in your world and we are going to be together for a long time.”

I ask Kate what sort of things she does to ensure she stays top of mind with her clients. “For me, with every transaction, I want them to enjoy their experience buying from me and I go out of my way to build trust. It’s sharing experiences. I touch base on the phone. It’s knowing their children and what they are up to.

“I went to a finance seminar for women with a client recently because I just thought, ‘You know what, a lot of my female clients might not have that great knowledge in finance so why don’t we all go along together?’ Little things like that. I just become a part of their world.”

And her colleagues agree; Marshall White Director John Bongiorno says Kate’s success is down to her great personality that connects with buyers and vendors. “Kate’s energy, passion and drive and her true desire to fulfil the needs of her clients are what make her successful. She just has that vibrancy that people want to work with.”

Marshall White is also known in the industry as having some of the top (and most experienced) agents in Australia. Kate says she is privileged to know and work with people like James Tostevin and Marcus Chiminello.

“Tostevin mentors me personally, and I’m so privileged to have his time, to bounce off him and to learn from him and progress with him. A lot of what he’s taught me has been outside real estate, just in the personal development side. We’re really similar, and we’ve got the ability to break through some of the barriers which others might not have. We both operate at an extremely fast pace; we put our clients first. He has also guided me in terms of the ‘work sprinting’. He also works in short sprint blocks, and that’s where I learned it from.”

Kate says when she first started working at Marshall White she thought she was already good at real estate, but soon found herself in a world on another level of elevation.

“I say to people now when they join, ‘We have an expectation at this company that you will be a performer’. We’re all on the field, no one’s in the grandstands. Everyone’s out there together.

“Even when you think you’ve done well, someone sends an email of a story of what they’ve achieved [in the group] and I think, ‘Oh! Okay, now I want to step up and do better’. We’re also accountable to one another and get together every week. I feel like we set the pace for Victorian real estate. It’s the people and the culture. We genuinely are like a family. Despite our size, we are such a tight-knit bunch.”

As a leader of ‘Team Strickland’ within Marshall White, Kate runs the team with two other agents plus an assistant, comfortably carrying five to six prestige listings ($2-4million) at any one time. “Basically we talk about ‘wax and flame’. I want to sit in my flames. I want to be just out talking to buyers and sellers all day long, and then allow that back end of my business to be running smoothly without me having to worry about it.”

Now that she is an experienced negotiator, is there any advice she would give to her younger self starting out in real estate? “To bring in better structure from the outset, time management and not to be so reactive to the marketplace and the public. Also, I would say work-life balance is important.

“I also schedule time for myself now. I do yoga on a Monday night, because Mondays can be long. You’re having lots of conversations with people and that can be quite exhausting. Now I know that by 7:30 pm I’m on my yoga mat and I am really committed to that. I don’t do Monday night appointments.

“Earlier in my career I thought being bulletproof was necessary. I wasn’t accepting of the fact that I wasn’t; but now I think it’s never going to be a perfect ride and things aren’t always going to be smooth. You can put your hand up for help and it’s okay to say maybe things aren’t going so well… So if things do get tough, I draw a line in the sand and talk to someone who can help.

“I think something else that James [Tostevin] taught me was never to practise on a client. Never practise at real estate in the real world because it’s going to be a pretty expensive training wheel. Practise outside of someone’s lounge room so when you go in, you’re already exceptional.”

I asked Kate about her goals for 2016. “I feel like I’m in a really beautiful, balanced place, so I aim to continue with that. Certainly to continue growing my business, my team. I’d love to recruit. Recruit more young ones and help build them in my team and feed them opportunities so they can grow. To continue growing our market share at Marshall White in Bayside. We’ve got extraordinary market share already, but to make more of an impact on the market. Just to continue and dominate.

“Also that mentoring side of things. As an athlete, once I got to the top, I could give back. I felt that I could actually help someone to be a better athlete. Now in real estate I’ve got to that point where people call me who I don’t even know and say, ‘I’d love to get into the industry. Could I have a coffee [with you]?’ I run the mentor group at Marshall White for the young agents and now I’m an REIV mentor as well. That’s a new string to my bow. I think you need to keep reinventing yourself because you don’t want to get bored (laughs). As if real estate could ever bore you! But I guess that giving back by coaching and mentoring has become a massive part of my real estate journey this year, and I am really looking forward to that.”

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Samantha McLean

Samantha McLean is the Co-Founder and Managing Editor of Elite Agent and Host of the Elevate Podcast.