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Melanie Dennis: Australias Top Property Manager

It’s a long way to the top, but when you’re as passionate about your career and your industry as Melanie Dennis is, it’s a rewarding journey. With her own successful business, involvement in industry Institutes and a solid commitment to local and international community initiatives, it’s easy to see why Melanie has been a consistent award-winner for several years. Melanie took time out from her busy schedule to share her career experiences and insight with Leased Magazine.

Melanie, congratulations on winning the REIA Property Manager of the Year for 2009/10. What does this award mean to you?

The award has reinforced all the effort I put into the industry and our clients. It has been really rewarding to be awarded both the Victorian and Australian awards by my peers. It has made the hard work and extra hours worthwhile! Property Management can be tiresome some days and having the highest award in Australia for your industry reinforces that you are doing a great job!

How did you get started in Property Management?
I moved to Melbourne in 1996 and was looking for any job in admin/secretarial to get out of the hospitality industry and the hours! Securing a job back then wasn’t easy and each weekend I would apply for many jobs. One was a reception position in a Fitzroy agency that I was passed over for the first time – the person hired didn’t work out so I was called in for an interview and offered the position. At the same time I was also offered another receptionist position in a large city firm offering more money. I had been in the Real Estate position for two days and knew I was going to love it – so turned them down! My employers at the time gave me the opportunity to do a Traineeship through the REIV and not long after starting this I began studying for my full licence. I was hooked!

What are some of your career highlights?
Starting my own Property Management business and gaining property after property based on referrals has been very rewarding – I remember getting a listing and ringing home, being very excited as they had three properties and it took my rent roll over ten to a total of twelve!

The last three years have flown by with the biggest growth of my business to date – first was the move to a professional office (prior to that I was home based in my garage!) in 2007. In 2008 I merged with Domain Buyers Advocates to create Domain Property Advocates and in 2009 we have put our two offices under one roof in Kew. In the new location I look forward to solidifying Domain Property Advocates being the largest advocacy company in Australia.

What motivated you to establish your own business?

When I started my business in 2000, from memory there was only one other agency specialising in Property Management in Melbourne. I was tired of seeing Property Management pushed to the back of the office and as a Property Manager not having the say in an office to make the changes I wanted to. This included being choosy about the types of properties you put on, the fees charged and the services delivered around this. It is important to know your worth and charge accordingly and I wanted to begin an agency specialising in Property Management with a higher level of service (and of course fees to match!)

The motivation for the merge of my business with others was;

It allowed me to focus solely on Property Management while the two other Directors each focus on the buyer and vendor advocacy divisions
To have more heads to make decisions and help the business to move forward
To have others at the same level to rely on for the running and growth of the business

Tell us about the business and why it is unique.
Domain Property Advocates is a property advisory agency and along with the Property Management Department, we also have Buyer and Vendor Advocacy. The Buyers Advocacy assists buyers to purchase a property, from the sourcing right through to purchase and settlement. The Vendors Advocacy assists sellers to choose an agent, negotiate their terms, set a price and get the property ready for sale. We follow this through to the end – negotiations or auction day and on to settlement. We are there to make sure our clients are informed along every step of the way, removing any pressure from the transaction.

Domain Property Advocates has been the fastest growing Property Advocacy Company in Australia due to our ethical and independent advice. 95 per cent of our business last year came from referral which shows us that if you look after the best interest of your clients, they will reward you.

We are unique because we can offer a total property solution over a wider area than most agents cover. There are not very many property advocacy businesses around Australia. It is a relatively new and small industry and we are striving towards our goal of being the largest and best advocacy company. There are not many companies offering the Advocacy and Property Management under one roof. It is helpful for our clients who are purchasing an investment property as we negotiate the terms during the sale to be able to help them rent the property to get the best result.

Domain Property Advocates is actively involved in supporting the community. Tell us about some of these initiatives and their importance to the business.

Domain Property Advocates currently supports three World Vision children – our company is a family company and the small cost for our company here is making a big difference to the lives of these children. As directors, we all have small children and feel blessed that we are growing them up in Australia.

I personally travel to Fiji every year to do medical assistance with a team of doctors and nurses through the Hibiscus Trust Fiji. We travel to remote communities to take general medical aid to those who are not able to get to the larger towns where it is supplied more readily. The Trust is now focusing on women’s health and education. I love the education part of the job and working with the women and their families. It makes you realise what you have in Australia and how life really isn’t that hard!

Locally, we support schools and sporting teams – we feel it is important to support the community that is supporting our business. It is great to give back to the community and the events that are supported are great fun to attend as well!

On your website, you prominently display your organisation’s mission and culture, code of ethics and client service charter. How do you ensure your team consistently delivers to these standards?

Constant training with the team is important to deliver the level of service that is expected from the clients. Property Management is a lot about systems and procedures and our weekly training covers at least one procedure at each meeting.

We are constantly revising the procedure manual – if something has been missed or a task has been done more than once – we are revising as a team to make sure we all have input on how it should be done – then a procedure is produced!

We have an external audit of our staff and systems every three months to make sure they are keeping up our standards. We also send surveys to all our clients for feedback.

The computing software program we use has many functions that assist us to manage the properties effectively. You can set tasks in advance, reoccurring to remind you of activities as they become due. The team have their set KPIs to ensure that the tasks that they are supposed to do get done.

I am actively involved in the Property Management department and this ensures that we are all on the same path. To spot check and work in the business as well as on it is very important.

We have an open door policy so when one of the team needs me – I will be there to ensure they are delivering the service the clients expect.
The culture we have created is a caring and friendly team environment. It is not a you and us or yours and mine – what comes around, goes around – one team member may need a hand one week and another team member the next. We find it works best that way

What motivates you to keep on achieving personally and professionally?
My motivation is self – natural – not something that I have to keep pushing on I guess. I am never happy with sitting still and always thinking about things to make better and therefore striving to achieve more. I don’t think a job can ever be done – things can always been fine tuned and tweaked to make them better!

You are also dedicated to the industry in your role as Chairperson of the REIV Property Management Chapter and founder of the Property Management interest group at the REIV. What is your vision for the field of Property Management over the next ten years?

Property Management is a very complex field in regards to not only the system and procedures mentioned above but also the legislation requirements to keep it all together. It is important not to rest on your laurels and to know that you can never know it all.

I would like to see the industry as a whole recognise the service that we supply needs to have a fair fee attached to it and I am always disappointed to see rates for Property Management that are helping a company lose money – perhaps just to get the business for the sales department (in case they sell in the future!)

It would also be great to see the states get together to have one set of rules as combined – I am not silly enough to think this could happen in my life time, however! I am sure those managing properties on the states’ borders would love this though!

This vision requires a collective industry-wide approach. What are some of the things you would encourage Principals and Property Managers to do in order to help achieve this future vision?

  • Keep educating yourself don’t wait for your boss to do it – but bosses, do it!!
  • Realise that Property Management is a key function of the business and treat it with the same respect as the sales divisions.
  • Updated equipment… not back of house anymore.
  • Offering career paths within Property Management
  • Continual education is something that both employers and employees need to be aware of to keep lifting the standards of Property Management.

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