Elite AgentFeature Interviews

Lessons from 25 years in real estate: Richard Luton

There’s a decent portion of those in our industry who quiver at the thought of managing a team or office, let alone over 160 staff spread across nine agencies as part of Canberra’s largest privately-owned real estate company, Luton Properties. But Richard Luton’s 25 years in the industry have seen him overcome a range of market challenges as he takes it all in his well-dressed stride.

A true embodiment of the term ‘attraction agent’, Richard’s larger-than-life personality has not only built a successful business for himself as an agent, but has helped him master the three ‘C’s of leadership: culture, continuous improvement and community outreach.

After 25 years, what is your proudest moment in business?

It was on 28 August 1999, [when] we opened up our first office in Manuka; we actually invited about 200 people. I had already been in real estate six years with another company, so it was really good to get our brand out there.

How did you know it was time for you to take the step from high-flying sales rep to principal?

At that stage, in the late 90s, the market wasn’t great. We went through the Howard years of government where things were very, very tough, especially in Canberra [with] the public service cutbacks. We thought, ‘Okay, we’ve got three children under 10; what are they going to do for jobs in 10 years’ time?’ So we opened up the office.

What do you think is essential from a leadership perspective for nurturing your newcomers to the industry, especially if they’re completely green?

Having a detailed induction for a new person to the company. We have a Head of Sales and a Head of Marketing and they are involved from day one to welcome that person, so they’re not out there lost. We put them with somebody as a mentor; they’re with them for the first few months. We don’t want this affecting their performance, but also [the chance of] our agency losing a listing because somebody was not educated in our brand and in the market.

It’s important to have that smile, that personality and have the energy to make it contagious.

You’ve got such a widespread base of employees – how do you keep your training on track and your staff motivated?

I can’t do it all by myself these days. I like to get around every week to each of the offices and talk to people and see if they have any issues. I’ve got managers in place, not only the directors in each office, but our Head of Sales is in each office weekly. It helps me to not have as many calls from agents.

Sales is not the only thing that’s important in a real estate team. We also have a Head of Property Management, and the driver behind the sales and property management is a successful admin team. We also have HR and administration managers to assist those people.

You can never have too much training. We bring in four successful international or interstate trainers each year, sourced from real estate trade shows. Every three months we have a new person coming to train our staff and we set aside a full day to have our agents and property managers sit with those trainers.

We had three children under 10; What were they going to do for jobs in 10 years’ time? So we opened up the office.

What are the top three qualities you see in successful agents?

Successful agents have empathy, enthusiasm and an energy. It’s important to have that smile, have that personality and the energy to make it contagious to the rest of the people in your office. Have the empathy, you know.

I came from the airline industry. I had 15 years with Ansett Airlines before I got into real estate [and] we always had empathy for our customers. If the airport was fogged in we had to say, ‘It’s clearing a bit’, you couldn’t say, ‘Well, I don’t know’. If an airplane broke down, you had to show some empathy for those people when they’ve been disrupted in their flights. The same thing when a home goes to market and doesn’t sell; we have empathy for those owners. In a falling market, you’re probably explaining why it hasn’t sold more than in a buoyant market when people are getting 100 per cent clearance rates at their auctions.

How important is community to you?

It’s hugely important. I suppose I go back to my first years in real estate; I used to get a bit of feedback that ‘You real estate agents are making too much money, you’re charging too much’. So every year we do a charity ball; we’re about to do our 16th this year. We help put money back into the community in different charities and we’ve raised probably close to $4 million in total.

Sales is not the only thing that’s important in a real estate team.

What would you say to someone thinking about taking the leap to start their own agency?

I wouldn’t say it’s good for everybody to do it. You can just work for a strong brand and make your name strong underneath that brand. Leveraging off that is really important. You have no overheads, you’ve got no rent to pay every week, you have no wages to pay every week, so it’s a lot easier if you work underneath somebody else’s brand.

Looking back now, is there anything you would do differently?

I suppose it always goes back to the world of databases. Start a database from day one. The real estate market in my 18 years of Luton Properties has changed a little bit; it’s far more digital.

What are your goals for the next 12 months?

I have to look at succession planning, I suppose. I’m 60 next year and looking at retirement in 20 years’ time! The current situation with our office partnerships is probably more of a sell-down for me and purchase from the current directors. Also bringing other people into our offices to keep the brand hiring young people, to keep modernisation and that energy that I’ve had for the last 18 years – to keep it going forever.

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Nikki Horner

Nikki Horner is a sales consultant with Luton Properties, Canberra’s largest privately owned real estate agency.

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