WHEN IT COMES TO property management, Suzie Hamilton-Flanagan has the experience to know what works. With a career spanning over 30-years starting in South Australia with top boutique agencies Toop & Toop and Harris Real Estate, she has recently made the move to Sydney to continue her journey with BresicWhitney. Suzie tells us what it’s like to ‘make the move’, along with some of the valuable lessons learned on the way.
THOUGH SHE started out in advertising, a desire to follow in her parents’ footsteps and to own investment properties prompted Suzie to switch to real estate. She developed a real passion for the industry, selling her first $2 million property within 18 months. Property Management came later.
“I can blame my husband, Marshall, for my time in advertising. I was studying radio production when I met him; he had come from Sydney to take up a position with Young & Rubicam Adelaide as a Creative Director. He introduced me to the advertising business and I finished up working as a producer for Y&R in Adelaide. We moved to the US just after we were married.
“My real estate career started after we had our children, Olivia and Henry. I wanted to return to work and my dear friend John Colley offered me a position as property manager with his agency in North Adelaide, fulfilling my long-term ambition to get into the industry.”
But there were many takeaways from her time spent in advertising. “Without doubt, my key learnings from my time in advertising were marketing-based,” says Suzie. “Knowing your consumer (landlords) and more importantly, consulting with them through market research. Gathering information not just on their perceptions and needs but on the competitors, industry trends and the price environment. Above all, creating a point of difference and having a plan moving forward, and the importance of your team. These are all a business’ greatest assets.”
Having spent a long time in the industry, Suzie has seen many changes, but says the fundamentals are still the same.
“In terms of the role and tasks to perform, property management is the same as it was 20 years ago, but the biggest changes are in the expectations of our clients. Both landlords and tenants [have greater expectations] in terms of service deliverables and time frames for resolving issues, due to the technology available today and the information we can now give clients through software.”
One of the highlights of Suzie’s career to date has been her role at Harris Property, working alongside Phil Harris and growing the rent roll from zero to 1,900 properties within three-and-a-half years, through a combination of organic and acquisition strategies. In 2014 Harris also undertook a large rent roll acquisition, with challenging settlement terms and conditions. This created operational and HR challenges including the transfer of 10 staff which needed to be met by Suzie and the team.
Then, after three years with Harris, Suzie has now made the move from Adelaide to Sydney, this time taking on the role as Head of Property Management with another powerhouse boutique agency, BresicWhitney, who have 2,300 properties under management.
“Moving from Adelaide to Sydney was one of the most difficult career decisions I have had to make,” she admits. “Leaving a well-respected business in the Adelaide market and the team I had built at Harris Property Management wasn’t easy. However, the opportunity to work in Sydney and enhance the property management business with BresicWhitney was also very compelling!
“I have always admired what Shannan and Ivan have achieved in the Sydney market with their business, and their vision and core values matched my beliefs both professionally and personally.
“But, interestingly enough, there is not too much difference in operating a property management business in either market that I have been in. The market is more transient here [in Sydney], and there is a stronger rental market, and the issue of maintenance is a constant challenge given the climate. But both Harris and BresicWhitney are large boutique businesses and the ‘engine rooms’ are fairly similar, even though the geography is quite different.”
She says, the big differences are always about the people and getting that right.
“Everyone is different: different personalities, different markets with different landlords and tenants. The solution rests in evaluating every aspect of the business and then engaging the people in creating a sustainable plan that everyone can take ownership of.”
She says the unique characteristics that make BresicWhitney successful are in the area of customer service. “As an example, we do not distinguish between a single-property owner and multiple-property owners. All deserve quality service and tenants. We are, a boutique real estate business and we work to ensure the best return for our landlords’ investment.”
Suzie emphasises that looking after staff is of paramount importance, providing them with opportunities to grow within the business, so they can manage their portfolio of clients to a high level and feel valued; loving what they do.
As for some of the many things she has learned on her journey, Suzie says two pieces of advice come to mind.
“My husband always says, ‘Gather all the information and look at the facts before making any decision’. And the other comes from my previous career in the advertising agency Young & Rubicam. The MD, David Minear, told me, ‘the most consistent thing about business is change’. It is so true – a business has to change due to real estate market conditions, economic factors, financial pressures, team members’ requirements in terms of development and training, and the demands and needs of our clients.
“I’m always working with the team on ‘how can we make things better?’. That sometimes means changes to our internal processes to ensure our clients are looked after and we deliver a high level of customer service every day. Feedback from everyone is so important.”
What advice would Suzie give to others who may be starting their careers in property management? “If you want to progress your career quickly, you need to go over and above expectation in your role. Be passionate. Love what you do – it’s infectious, and people love working with people who are positive and happy in the workplace.
“Read, read, read, attend seminars and gather knowledge from people in the industry. Go to as many industry seminars as possible. It’s a good idea to have an understanding of the sales side of the business, not just property management, so you can provide your client with the highest level of professional advice.
“And don’t underestimate the value of a business mentor, someone who is an expert in their field. Develop your skills by listening and learning. It will fast-track your career more than you realise.
“I’ve been lucky enough to have several mentors, from both within and outside the industry. Don Tepper – CEO of REEF (the Real Estate Employment Federation), my husband Marshall and Fiona Blayney – she has been my business coach for the past four years and an integral part of my career success to date.”
2016 is shaping up to be an exciting year within the BresicWhitney business, says Suzie. It will be all about client relationships, customer service and being flexible to adapt to clients’ needs.
“2016 in real estate is going to be about diversified income streams – sales, property management, conveyancing, finance, in-house photography and videography, scalability and keeping consistent systems and procedures, as well as the need for continued differentiation.
“We are currently working on a plan for 2016 that will reveal some different and improved service deliverables, as well as diversified business opportunities that will benefit our landlords and tenants. The BresicWhitney team are amazing and this year will be exciting.”