Working at a drive shaft and hydraulic spare parts company in Hobart back in 1997, one half of the NOW Leasing NT team – Joely Sullivan – never imagined that a three-month job placement in the Top End would set the course for her future career in property management. Now with business partner Jo Griffiths they have taken the leap from employees to business owners, using all of the benefits of modern technology to their advantage. Story by Sarah Dawson and Iolanthe Gabrie.
“I just loved Darwin,” Joely remembers. “I loved the lifestyle. I loved the weather. From the moment I arrived for what was supposed to be a three-month stint, I just knew this was where I wanted to be. And I quickly made the decision to make the move permanent.”
Taking up an admin position in an accounting office soon after she arrived, it wasn’t long before the opportunity to work in property management came knocking at her door. “A friend who was working in the real estate industry mentioned that there was a traineeship position coming up in another agency and she really encouraged me to apply. I did – and the rest is history. It’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
“I have to admit, a career in property management was not a conscious decision for me back then. That first job quite literally fell into my lap. In a lot of ways, property management chose me. But I’ve never looked back. From the first day of my traineeship, I knew property management was the career for me. New challenges to tackle every day. New people to meet every day. And new things to learn every day.
“It’s what I loved about property management when I started out and it’s still what I love about property management almost 20 years later.”
FROM THE GROUND UP
Joely has spent her career successfully building and growing property management portfolios for a number of leading agencies in Darwin. Then in November 2015 she decided to take the plunge and open her own agency, NOW Leasing NT, with business partner Jo Griffiths.
“I’ve always wanted to work in a business where I could do things my way,” Joely says. “I finally realised that the only way I could do that was to start my own agency – one that specialises in property management and where I could build all the systems and procedures from the ground up.”
And she’s found the perfect collaborator in Jo. “We really complement each other,” Joely explains. “We had worked together before at a number of different agencies, and we knew we’d work well together in our own business. We both know what we want to achieve and we both do what we need to do to work together to achieve it. We complement each other in so many different ways. We support each other’s strengths and weaknesses.
“My Dad always used to say to me ‘You can’t please everyone all the time, but you can try’. And he’s right. In property management there will be the odd landlord or tenant or tradie that, for whatever reason, you just don’t gel with. In these sorts of situations a level of accommodation is needed – a change of tack may be in order, or it could be best to allow someone else to handle the situation. For Jo and I, if that’s the case for either of us, the other just steps in. We really do balance each other and the dynamic of our relationship means we’re able to work together to achieve the best outcome in every situation.”
For Joely, taking the leap from employee to business owner has been a bit nerve-wracking, to say the least. “But it’s all been completely worth it,” Joely says, smiling. “We’ve just been overwhelmed with the number of clients who have made contact with us and the number of referrals we’ve received. Both Jo and I have worked in the Darwin market for many years, and we’ve worked really hard to build our reputations and network of contacts – and it’s all beginning to pay off!”
100 PER CENT FOCUS
A boutique agency specialising in property management, NOW Leasing NT was born out of Joely and Jo’s desire to provide the highest level of service. “I’ve always wanted to be at the top of the property management profession,” Joely says. “I’m completely committed to always providing an outstanding level of service and making sure everything we do is personalised. We’re 100 per cent focused on property management – and I believe that gives us a huge advantage. We’re not distracted by sales or strata or other things. It makes us better at what we do.”
“I’m completely committed to always providing an outstanding level of service and making sure everything we do is personalised…”
While Joely’s goal over the next 12 months is to grow the business, she won’t ever compromise on service. “We don’t have any aspirations to build the biggest rent roll in Darwin, because that would mean we couldn’t keep doing what we do so well – communicate effectively with our clients, provide them with the best solutions and maintain the highest level of service,” Joely says.
“Steady growth is what we’re after, which means we’ll likely look to bring on another property manager in the near future. This will free up some time, so I can work on the business rather than spending all my time working in the business.”
EASE AND CONVENIENCE
Joely was single-minded from the start in her aim to set up the business’s systems and procedures in the best and most efficient way possible. “Having the right technology in place is the cornerstone of our business. We need to always be at the top of our game, so we can deliver the standard of service our clients expect and we expect of ourselves,” she explains.
Enter PropertyTree. “I’ve used REST Professional for my entire property management career and, I have to admit, I was reluctant to learn a completely new system,” Joely says. “But when we looked into PropertyTree, it just made sense. The set-up costs for us were lower with no servers required – a major cost saving and we don’t need to do backups. If a disaster were to occur our business data is safe. And it’s just so easy to use.”
For Joely, having a cloud-based solution in place was essential. “Both Jo and I have young children, and we’re often doing things on the fly or at home – so being able to access everything we need whenever and wherever is priceless.” Using technology across their business also differentiates NOW Leasing NT’s service, as Jo identifies. “We’re one of only a few agencies in Darwin using cloud-based software, which allows us to reduce our overheads. It enables us with mobile accessibility, so if we’re meeting a client in another suburb we can show them property data in real time.”
Jo and Joely both agree that technology is having an impact on the real estate industry. “Everything we do is surrounded by technology: we do our inspections on apps on a mobile device, all our filing is electronic and the software we use is cloud-based. We don’t go to the post office anymore – everything is emailed out,” notes Joely.
“It has enabled us to do more than we could previously,” adds Jo. “We are able to manage more and spend time more effectively. Once upon a time, doing three or four routine inspections would take up half a day. Cloud-based software enables us to be out and about – we can do everything from mobiles these days. We can work from home if we need to – we could even do our owner payments from a pool bar in Bali if we needed to!”
SOCIAL PROSPECTING AND GENERATIONAL CHANGE
The Top End is no stranger to digital strategy, thanks in part to forward-thinking agencies like NOW Leasing NT. “Facebook is our platform of choice at the moment,” says Joely. “We’ve been advertising on Facebook since we opened, and we also boost our posts. We’re getting a lot of good feedback, numerous enquiries and new managements from our Facebook advertising.”
Generational change in the industry is a challenge to many businesses who fail to embrace the benefits that technology and social media can bring to an agency.
It’s interesting that digital platforms can actually humanise a brand, as Jo explains. “Darwin isn’t a big place compared to other capital cities, and clients do love a personal touch. When they see you on their Facebook feeds regularly, they feel like they know you. Facebook gives us the ability to get inside people’s homes without having to physically be there.”
Generational change in the industry is a challenge to many businesses who fail to embrace the benefits that technology and social media can bring to an agency. “Some property managers feel that if they go forward with improvements to trust accounting software or the way they operate their role will become redundant. They cling on to old ways because of fear,” says Jo. “Most real estate businesses are run by an older generation. The younger ones are those who know the technology that’s driving our industry – which is changing whether we like it or not. The big platforms like Console and REST and REA are changing their product for a newer generation – so if we don’t keep up as an industry, we’ll fall behind.”
Joely adds that “with change to a business comes a cost of time – you’ve got to have the time to implement those new systems. It’s a catch 22; you’ve got to find the time to improve if you want to save time in the long run.”
From the sound of things, Joely and Jo will have all the technology and systems they need to keep growing their business into the future.
Sarah Dawson (left) is the Account Management Team Lead at Rockend, Australia’s leading provider of property software. With over 20 years’ experience in the industry and extensive experience in management roles, Sarah understands the needs of real estate businesses.
Iolanthe Gabrie (right) authors Home Truths Melbourne, which is a unique Melbourne zine covering auction culture (visit it at www. hometruthsmelbourne.com). She is also a Director of Ruby Slipper Consultants, providing written content for the real estate industry. For more information visit rubyslipper.com.au.