At Dowling Neylan in the tourism destination of Noosa, there’s a set of handwritten ledgers dating back more than 45 years.
Each book charts the monthly sales of the agency, capturing the region’s evolution from surfside town to property hotspot that now boasts some of the most expensive real estate in Queensland.
Director Dan Neylan explains these days the ledger entries are made in a nod to tradition, but when you flick through the pages, you can see a region evolving.
Once, properties lining beachside tracks transacted for $18,000. Now they command price tags in the tens of millions.
As one of a few real estate agencies in the area that date back to the 1970s, Dowling Neylan has been key to that shift.
A prominent agency
Founded by Peter Dowling in 1976, the agency has always been one of Noosa’s most prominent real estate businesses.
Originally known as simply Dowling and Co, it has changed and evolved over time.
In the process, Dowling Neylan has had a hand in some of the major developments of Noosa, including the sub-division of Sunshine Beach, the progression of Hastings Street, and the land release at Noosa Sound.
From tradie to director
Dan arrived in Noosa from Victoria during the recession Australia had to have.
It was the early ‘90s, he was 23 and came from a background in construction.
An avid surfer, Dan says Noosa offered the allure of great beaches, great breaks, and an endless summer.
As an added bonus, work in construction was readily available.
That’s how Dan met Peter Dowling and, when a position became available for a sales agent, he took a punt on a new career.
Little did Dan realise, within 20 years he would be the owner of the entire agency.
Sand shoes, shorts and Hawaiian shirts
Younger than most of the agents in Noosa at that time, Dan says he knew he needed to be different.
“When I started in real estate in Noosa there were guys getting around in sandshoes, long white socks, shorts and Hawaiian shirts,” he recalls.
“I felt I had to dress smarter and know more than anyone else in order to be accepted and respected.”
Dan dedicated himself to education. He undertook training, had multiple mentors and examined what successful agents did. That approach gained him immediate traction.
A highly successful agent in his own right, by 2005 he was a partner in the rebranded Dowling Neylan. Two years later, he was the sole owner.
A very different industry
Dan explains Noosa’s real estate landscape was different when he started out. Collaboration between agents was a mainstay.
Interstate buyers would contact one agent who then worked with others to showcase a number of properties available.
“Everyone worked together because you needed each other to get enough buyers for properties,” Dan recalls.
The market was different as well.
In the past year alone, prices have risen more than 30 per cent, with Sunshine Beach now ranked the most expensive suburb in Queensland.
Dan notes he’s seen the demographics alter progressively, with Noosa becoming increasingly gentrified.
The Global Financial Crisis delivered the term ‘seachange’ and a slew of retirees. The more recent boom brought a new type of buyer.
Dan explains while the Baby Boomers of last decade came with a set budget, Covid saw business owners and professionals arrive in droves.
“Their mentality is ‘well, if I’m going to move to this location, I want the lifestyle property. I want my expectations met’ and they’re prepared to spend the money to get it because they’re still high-income earners.”
The buyers might have changed but Noosa has long had a reputation as the playground of Australia’s rich and famous.
Kevin Rudd and Thérèse Rein, Patrick Rafter, Karl Stefanovic and Gina Rinehart are just some of the celebrities who helped shape the township as an exclusive property destination.
Many of these names undoubtedly feature on Dan’s client list, but if they do, he’s not one to transact and tell.
Dan says Dowling Neylan prides itself on confidentiality and it’s a commitment that has built trust and secured business.
As for whether a different skill set is required when dealing with high-end property and buyers, Dan acknowledges there is.
“Dealing with high-end clients you have to be very organised and succinct,” he states.
“You have to anticipate what they need from you, and you have to be ready to deliver.”
It comes back to trust
Trust is a word Dan uses often when referring to the longevity of his agency, but it’s not wielded as some idle real estate term.
He notes client relationships are built by listening to people’s needs, asking questions, imparting knowledge, and helping them with their journey.
“I talk about where they’re going and what the next plan is,” he says.
“I don’t like to take people down a pathway that doesn’t lead them where they want to go.”
Key to this relationship is a commitment to working with buyers.
Dan explains as a town that attracts a lot of people from interstate, often those investing have spent little time in the area.
His role is to offer the market insight that gives them confidence to make an offer.
That helps his vendors, he concedes, but also recognises buyers become sellers later.
“When you give buyers that confidence, that care and an interest in what they’re doing, often that leaves them with a good experience and there’s the next listing,” he says.
Dowling Neylan currently holds the record for the highest price achieved at auction in Queensland after the $16.45 million sale of a home at 39 Picture Point Cres, Noosa Heads.
Dan explains the owners were in their 70s and their parents had bought the land through the agency then built a home there in the late 1970s.
Key to the record transaction was the long-term relationship Dowling Neylan actively built over decades.
“You’re talking a very long-time relationship with that family,” Dan reflects.
And these relationships are central to business. They also rank as Dan’s favourite part of the job.
His standout memories aren’t the record-breaking sales but the opportunities to make a difference.
Dan cites the example of a client who purchased a property prior to the GFC for $2.4 million.
As the economy faltered, the home was sold at an $800,000 loss.
“I almost pleaded with him to buy a smaller home, still in the same area for $1 million, and promised him when the market turned around that was where he was going to pick it back up again,” Dan says.
“He took that advice, purchased that property and lived there, and then I sold that property for $2.2 million and he picked up $1.2 million, which was far more than he lost.”
The road ahead
Between sales, property management and administration, Dowling Neylan now has a team of 14.
Over the years, they’ve been larger at some stages, and smaller at others, having gone through periods of expansion and streamlining.
They’ve also evolved with technology, the market and the economy, responding to the usual industry peaks and troughs.
Dan notes in the period ahead they hope to expand again, but reflects that’s the thing about business – it constantly evolves and changes.
“A business has a lifespan and a landscape,” he says.
“If you take a mentality that sometimes you’re at the top, but sometimes you’re not and it’s going to shift, then you can be ready for those changes.”
As for Dan, he has relished a career that came about almost by accident.
“I went from long haired tradie surfer to businessperson. Real estate gave me that, and I don’t think every industry offers that potential.”