After reaching the top of her game as an agent in her home country of Scotland, Louise Barton and her partner packed their bags and relocated to Australia four years ago. The now Sydney-based Richardson & Wrench agent tells Kylie Dulhunty why she believes change is good for the soul.
When Louise Barton bid farewell to her flourishing real estate career in her home city of Inverness, in the Scottish Highlands, she was at the top of her game.
Working for a boutique agency, Louise was the go-to agent in town who specialised in selling grand Victorian homes.
But Louise isn’t one to take the path of least resistance. She loves a challenge.
So with that in mind, Louise and her partner Bruce decided to pick up their lives, fly across the other side of the world and start from scratch in Sydney.
“I was at an appraisal recently, and a gentleman asked me, ‘Why would you have left somewhere where you were top of your game? You didn’t have any competition, you were at the top and you were comfortable’,” Louise recalls.
“I’ve never taken the easy route. I don’t like comfortable.
“I think if you’re comfortable, then something is wrong. If you’re uncomfortable, then good things are happening; you’re pushing yourself out there.”
AN ACCIDENTAL AGENT
A qualified dental nurse, Louise says she fell into real estate by accident back in Scotland after taking on an administration role at a new real estate agency while she finished her health degree.
“My boss phoned me one night to say she couldn’t get to a showing and could I grab the keys, open the door and let her know what the buyer thought,” Louise says.
“I ended up selling the house and they said, ‘Right, we need to get you into sales’.”
Louise bypassed the usual route of going through property management and says sales came naturally, as she was able to use her warm, genuine people skills to good effect.
As she climbed her career ladder, Louise realised there was limited opportunity for growth at her existing agency, and she needed a change.
“Change is good for the soul,” she says.
“It was about the challenge of a new market.
“I was doing very well where I was, but if you don’t have any challenges coming up, if you don’t have much competition, you become complacent.”
FROM THE HIGHLANDS TO THE HARBOUR CITY
In July, it will be four years since Louise and Bruce landed in Sydney, and while they had an apartment at Bondi to call home, she didn’t have a job lined up when she arrived.
Louise quickly found work in temporary administration roles but couldn’t find anything in real estate.
She discovered she had to retrain and get her license, as well as navigate working holiday visa restrictions that limited her to working six months at the one company.
“I was so naive,” Louise says.
“I came over here and I thought I was just going to slip into a role in real estate, and I was going to be a million-dollar agent, and it was going to be fantastic.
“I think I’d watched too much Million Dollar Listing.”
Instead, Louise became frustrated at recruiter appointments as they tried to push her towards receptionist roles.
In the past, when she’d hit tough times, she’d always taken comfort in her family, friends and her career.
Now that was gone too, and Louise says she felt lost.
“No matter what has happened in my life, my career has always been where I’d turn to,” she says.
“You’d leave everything at the door. You’d show up to work, which I loved, and suddenly that was gone too, and I didn’t know what to do.”
Louise tried her hand at recruitment, thinking that it was another form of sales, but it didn’t fulfil her like selling real estate did.
Eventually, she found a role as a sales associate for a boutique agency in the Sydney CBD.
While she initially wasn’t too keen on not being a standalone agent, Louise now says taking that job was one of her best decisions.
“It was so stupid of me, but I was thinking, ‘Why do I need to be an associate? I just want to get back into it’,” she says.
“But it was great. I learnt so much, and there was so much to learn.”
In Scotland, Louise was accustomed to selling large, detached houses in a city of about 70,000 people, but in Australia, she was working in the apartment market in Sydney’s CBD.
“There was this one particular moment where we were all in a penthouse listing in the city, and it was the most beautiful piece of real estate I’d ever been in,” Louise says.
“I was walking around videoing it and sending it to show my Mum and Dad, and I was thinking, ‘This is it. I’ve made it’.”
FROM BOUTIQUE TO BIG LEAGUE
Finally, Louise and Bruce received their permanent residency, which meant Louise could be more selective in the jobs she applied for.
With little room for growth at the small CBD agency, she decided to go back to temping roles while searching for a position as a standalone agent.
She met with several large franchises, but it wasn’t until she met with Richardson & Wrench North Sydney that she knew she’d found the right fit.
“I’d only worked in boutique agencies, and I was moving into a big brand,” Louise explains.
“I felt that was the right move for me, but I needed to be careful that I wasn’t walking into a shark pit.
“This office is just different in the sense that you really do have a lot of support.
“The culture and the people are great, and your colleagues are rooting for you.”
Louise started in the new business department but moved to sales in August last year.
Her first sale was a two-bedroom apartment with harbour views in Walker St, North Sydney.
“I won’t forget it because it was my very first auction campaign ever,” Louise says.
“We don’t run auction campaigns in Scotland.
“It was a great day, and my boss had a bottle of champagne ready for me and made a big fuss about it, so it was really nice.”
Other major differences Louise has noticed between selling real estate in Australia compared to Scotland include the price point and open homes.
“We don’t conduct open homes in Scotland; it’s all via private appointment,” she says.
Louise says one element she constantly receives positive feedback on from vendors and buyers is that she knows how to “show” a home.
Instead of just opening the door and taking names and phone numbers, Louise points out the touchpoints of a property, its history, and features of the neighbourhood or suburb, including where to find the best coffee.
“I completely understand the need for open homes because you want to get the volume, but I always accommodate private inspections as well.
“When I can, at an open home, I like to make it more personalised.
“I have been taught in a way that really showcases a property.
“It’s not just about opening a door and letting buyers go for gold themselves.”
ON TRACK FOR HER BEST YEAR
This year Louise has recorded 10 sales and is on her way to her most successful year in real estate in terms of the total value of properties sold.
Back in Scotland, she says she was selling properties worth about 500,000 pounds, which is about A$1 million.
“The price of a three-bedroom apartment here could buy you a castle back home,” Louise says.
In terms of making a name for herself, generating appraisals and winning listings, Louise says she’s had success with direct mail and prospecting calls, but she’s also had a high percentage of referrals.
“With the Walker St listing… I got three listings from that,” she says.
“I got a second one from the vendor that I sold for, and I got two more listings from two buyers that came through.
“Neither one of those buyers were the one who bought the property.”
Louise says her secret weapon in listing presentations is simply to show vendors how passionate she is about her work, getting them the best result and making the sales process enjoyable, rather than stressful, for them.
“I’m working on the lower north shore, and there are a lot of good operators that have been working here for a very long time,” she says.
“You’re up against people that have huge track records.
“So I go in and I’m just myself from the get-go. I tell them a little bit about myself, and I say, ‘No one is going to work harder on your sale. There’s no one as passionate as me. I’ve moved over to the other side of the world to do what I love and get people good results’.
“That’s genuinely the truth.”
Louise is excited about her future in real estate in Sydney and says she’s just ticked off the goal of expanding her team with a new assistant.
Another goal is to become one of the best agents in her market.
“I want to be at the top of people’s shopping lists by the end of the year and for everyone to know my name,” Louise says.
“Not just because I’m the Scottish agent but because I’ve proven my ability.”
Louise is also just as clear on her biggest tip to agents thinking of moving to another country to sell real estate.
“Leave your ego at the door and enjoy re-learning what you think you already know,” she says.