Lee Dowdall: All for Harper

Losing a child is a parent's worst nightmare, but for The Agency's Lee Dowdall it's a heartbreaking reality. Lee and his wife Helena lost their beautiful daughter Harper, 3, in 2019 to cancer and suddenly found themselves without a compass in life. Here, Lee bravely shares with Kylie Dulhunty how he sought help from a life coach, what drew him back to real estate and how he honours Harper by helping others and through a charity named in her honour.

The year was 2020, and Lee Dowdall was at a crossroads in life.

In October the year before, he and wife Helena had tragically lost their daughter Harper to a severe and aggressive brain cancer.

Facing a lifetime of heartache and grief, Lee, who was at that time a highly successful agent in the Lower North Shore suburb of Hunters Hill, had also taken time out from real estate.

He wasn’t sure what life meant anymore or where he and Helena were headed without Harper.

“I was at such a crossroads in life,” Lee recalls.

“You lose your everything. You lose your identity as a father, an individual and a professional.”

While some diagnosed with fatal conditions have time to come to terms with what lies ahead, Lee and Helena were afforded no such grace with Harper.

Everything about her diagnosis of Diffuse Midline Glioma was quick. Her diagnosis came out of the blue and, just a few months later, Harper lost her brave battle with cancer.

“Life can change in a split second,” Lee says.

“My life was, in my opinion, perfect, and then I took a call from my wife to say our daughter’s left eye had turned in, and she was unsteady on her feet.

“Within an hour, we were looking at scans of a 5cm tumour that had grown on Harper’s brain.”

Emergency surgery and radiation therapy followed, but the stage IV cancer was aggressive, and Harper passed away the day before her fourth birthday.

“We had seven months from diagnosis to the day of losing Harper,” Lee says.

“It was so little time.”

Time to reassess

After Harper’s death, Lee was forced to re-assess everything in his life. Who he was, what he cared about and where his priorities lay had changed. 

He and Helena strongly considered a sea change and even toyed with the ideas of heading overseas and opening a café.

Yet despite the options and good intentions, Lee found himself with a nagging feeling, call it intuition, that his time in real estate wasn’t over.  He had unfinished business.

“I was at a crossroad with only two avenues; I could either give up or carry on,” Lee explains.

“I know Harper would not have allowed me to give up, so I made a commitment to carry on and return to the business I am so passionate about.”

For the first time in his life, Lee did some in-depth work with a life coach as he prepared to return to real estate.

He zeroed in and became crystal clear on his values and now understands his ‘why’ with precision and passion.

“I have been able to find internal happiness by proving to myself and to Harper that returning to real estate was the right decision,” Lee says.

“My perspective and outlook on life and business had changed so much.

“I backed myself, and I let go of any self-doubt and procrastination that would have typically been my blockages. 

“I had a clear plan, and I embraced the support from those around me.”

A second chance

Lee started in real estate in 2006 after he was offered a job at the now-closed Shipway Realty, in West Ryde, when he came in to pay his rent and asked for a blank condition report he needed for his TAFE course.

By the start of 2009, Lee was working in sales in Hunters Hill for McGrath and the “tough climate” that was the aftermath of the Global Financial Crisis. 

“It was a really tricky time after the GFC,” Lee recalls.

“It was a good learning curve not to start in a buoyant climate.”

Lee returned to real estate in mid-2020 and a year later aligned with The Agency, bringing the brand to Hunters Hill, where he had worked for more than a decade, for the first time.

“I felt like the opportunity at The Agency was a second chance for me,” he says.

“I felt an instant connection with the team at The Agency and feel the company really allows agents to be their own brand within a brand, which is so important.

“I could be Lee Dowdall backed by The Agency.

“I want to be Lee Dowdall before being Lee Dowdall the real estate agent. That’s really important in this industry to just be yourself and not try to be a particular ‘agent’ that speaks or acts in a certain way because that’s the way you’re trained.”

An authentic approach

Lee says it’s this commitment to authenticity and his transparent approach with clients, many of whom he considers close friends, that has fuelled his success.

It also played a pivotal role in his listing and selling a highly contested Hunters Hill property, which propelled his return to the industry.  

“This was a property that everyone was vying for, and I ended up listing it and setting a suburb record for it at the time,” he says.

“It was a real sliding doors moment. The vendors didn’t know me, but they backed me with a new brand in the suburb.

“But as a result of that sale, I had the whole community go, ‘Oh, Lee is back in town’.”

Although Lee has been a permanent fixture in the Hunters Hill market for more than a decade, he says he’s never been more driven or committed to achieving the best for his clients.

He’s continued to build on long-term relationships with existing clients, but this new chapter has also meant forging strong new connections through a commitment to service excellence and a dedication to working hard for both sellers and buyers. 

“I have always had a sincere interest in others, and my ability to relate to people and capacity to build and maintain relationships is what I love about working in this industry and is a skill set I learnt from my early career,” Lee says.

Support that counts

In the past eight months, Lee’s business has gone from strength to strength, and he has quickly become one of The Agency’s top-ranked agents, selling some of the finest homes on the Lower North Shore.

But more than that, Lee says that for every ounce of energy he has put into his business, he has received back in support from The Agency’s collaborative team.

Lee says he was attracted to The Agency’s presence in the market as well as the leadership of Geoff Lucas and Matt Lahood, both of whom he knew previously.

“I had lunch with Geoff when I was at a bit of a crossroad and was considering a sea-change for a second time, and he said, ‘Why don’t you put your toe in the water, and if it doesn’t feel right, then there will be nothing lost. But it might feel right.’

“And it did feel right. It felt like it was the right brand, the right people, and it had the right backing.

“I met my 12-month target in just five months which was exciting, and the community has really embraced it.

“There’s been an overwhelming amount of support, and that’s enabled us to sell some of the best homes in the area from $800,000 to $10 million.”

A creative outlet

Lee has also found creative freedom from a marketing perspective and now focuses on creating cutting-edge videos that tell a story about every home he lists.

The videos are one of his many points of difference in the marketplace and feature exceptional imagery that focuses on the property as a whole, at room level and right down to artistic shots of the finer and more intricate features of the home.

Lee and his partner Stephanie O’Sullivan feature in the videos, but their presence is understated, with both preferring to let the home itself do the talking.

“I’ve found a real channel through video, which is something I’ve always enjoyed, but it’s about really conceptualising what’s important about the house, and it’s not about me,” Lee explains.

“They’re also not just 30-second videos, but relatively large productions.

“One particular vendor loved the connection to the water his home had. And while it wasn’t a waterfront home, it was near the water, and it was my job, with the video, to create that connection visually.

“So I got some rowers to go out at 6am and got the drone overhead to shoot footage and combined that with soft paddling noises to frame the house.”

Dedicated to giving back

Lee is also committed to doing public speaking engagements and sees this as a way to honour Harper’s legacy and give back to the community that held him and Helena together following their daughter’s death.

He knew everything he had been through, the lessons he had learned and the adversity he had overcome would resonate, and had the power to help others, not just in real estate, but in any profession, in any walk of life.

From one-on-one sessions to group engagements, Lee offers real and raw presentations covering his journey with Harper, and the lessons he’s learned along the way, including insights on perspective and overcoming the harshest challenge life can throw at you.

“This is now a way for me to honour Harper’s legacy and to give others a new perspective, on life and on business,” Lee explains.

“After going through the most difficult challenge one would ever have to face, it is so much easier for me to have a clear perspective on what’s truly important.

“It is easy to say, ‘live in the now, find your why and don’t take anything for granted’, but I find that being able to share my story allows others to consider what it is that is important to them, and what their purpose really is.

“I know better than anyone that life can change in one moment, so I like to be able to encourage others not to sit on the fence, to be yourself and to live in the now.”

A new chapter

Moving forward in 2022, Lee has clear goals to expand his brand, gain even more market share and grow his team.

At home, he and Helena have a new family member who promises to keep them on their toes, with son, Brooklyn, already a year old.

“We knew that we wanted to be parents again and that we would have more children, but we had no idea of the timeframe,” Lee says.

“Within six months of losing Harper, we were pregnant with Brooklyn, which was sooner than anticipated, but we felt that Harper had that planned out for us.

“We’ve always felt that Brooklyn was meant to be, and we felt like it was his big sister’s doing, that’s for sure.”

Hundred4Harper Charity

The other “huge driver” propelling Lee forward this year is his continued commitment to donate a portion of his commission to a charity he and Helena have set up called Hundred4Harper.

Hundred4Harper has aligned with RUN DIPG, which is a charity that supports families, creates awareness and raises funds for ground-breaking research for DIPG or Diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma.

DIPG is rare but occurs in 20 Australian children a year and has a zero per cent survival rate. Treatment options and patient outcomes haven’t changed in more than 40 years.

“Real estate is my passion, and the people in my community have held me together in my darkest days, so I feel being able to to go on their journey, of either helping them buy or sell, is so special, although many of my clients tell me they feel they are on my journey, which is beyond special,” Lee says.

“I have been humbled when clients and colleagues have contributed to Hundred4Harper too.”

Lee says Hundred4Harper also includes a 100km exercise/sporting challenge, which he hopes will become an annual event. 

This year’s event will be on Sunday, April 3, with participants completing a beach sprint, long-distance run and a gym effort involving a cycle, row and ski.

All of the legs add up to 100km.

“I’m glad I’m able to honour Harper’s legacy in this way,” Lee says.

“We hope that Hundred4Harper will be a yearly event moving forward and a way we can continue to raise much-needed awareness and funds for our aligned charity RUN DIPG.

“Harper changed more people’s lives in four years than most 94-year-olds.”

To find out more information about Hundred4Harper or donate, go to hundred4harper.com.

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Kylie Dulhunty

Kylie Dulhunty is the Deputy Editor at Elite Agent.