When floodwaters swept through Lismore and much of the Northern Rivers, David Gray’s thoughts turned to his community, but as the owner of multiple offices, his priority was the welfare of his team.
David heads up the Elders Lifestyle Group, which has 12 offices across the Northern Rivers and mid-north coast.
They’ve been through floods before, but nothing quite like the scale of what’s happened recently.
Not only did floodwaters inundate two levels of the Lismore office, some of his team members lost their homes as well.
“This is the first time our team has been personally affected,” David explains.
“People have lost their homes and it’s important as Chief Executive Officer that I take that aeroplane view and ensure our team looks after themselves and only then try and help others.”
Right from the outset of the flooding crisis, David was acutely aware the next few weeks would see his large team of agents and property managers on the front line of handling countless distressing stories coming in from tenants, landlords, and property owners.
“I don’t think there’s a person untouched by these floods in this area,” David reflects.
“And I was really worried about my team.”
A welfare check on his staff quickly ascertained a husband and wife team at Lismore had lost everything, while two staff members at Evans Head had sustained major damage to their homes as well.
“The husband and wife team were forced to evacuate at 1am and they won’t be living in their home for at least six months,” David explains.
David has started a GoFundMe page to help these team members rebuild, and already the campaign has raised more than half its $20,000 goal, with real estate businesses and suppliers among the many donors.
In the meantime, David’s focus is also on the morale of staff members who might not have been personally impacted but are now dealing with watching their community in turmoil.
“Emotionally many of the team have been affected just from the stories they are hearing and what they are seeing,” he says.
David notes many of his team were keen to don gumboots and get out into the community to assist with the clean-up.
As a result, he’s created a rotating roster so they can each spend a couple of days doing just that while still being paid and without impacting their annual leave.
Meanwhile, David notes the role they play as real estate professionals is an equally important community service.
“It’s a big community service taking calls and ensuring have housing,” David says.
“We’ve been doing a lot of coaching on that, explaining the importance of our role and the service and reassurance we offer our clients.”
Of the 4000 properties that are under management with the Elders Lifestyle Group, over 200 are affected and many have been completely inundated.
With the Lismore office currently closed due to flooding, the phones were swiftly diverted to other Elders Lifestyle offices, with staff on hand to take those calls and assist.
David notes he was lucky to have alternative offices to direct those inquiries to.
In the interim, Elders Lismore is cleaning up in a bid to get back to business after flooding that was unlike anything they have seen before.
Not only was the first level of the two-storey office completely under water, the second floor of the Woodlark Street location was flood-impacted too.
“Many people who’ve been in the region a long time say they’ve never seen anything like it,” David says.
“It was different in the 2017 floods because the region came in to help Lismore, but this time the whole region is also affected.
“The Northern Rivers community will take a while to come back from this one. The photos and videos don’t do it justice.”
David notes personally he’s been in the region five years, and the recent floods have proved a humbling experience.
“The real strength is my team,” he says.
“It is humbling to see them under such pressure and it is inspiring to witness what they can do.
“Our strength is our culture, and we will rebuild from this.”