Philip Webb: What I’ve learnt about real estate after 50 years in business

As Philip Webb Real Estate celebrates its 50th birthday this month, I have had the chance to reflect on how my journey into real estate, how Melbourne’s real estate industry has changed since 1972 and also the aspects that have remained the same.

Diving head first into the industry as a land salesman, the first block of land I sold was for $5600 in Doncaster, which would probably be worth close to $1 million in today’s market.

After working as a land salesman for one year, I took a chance and opened my business at the age of 19 years with my business partner Jim Reed. Starting a business so young was crazy, as I had more ego than anything.

Our business started out selling homes in Doncaster East and Lower Templestowe, which was a relatively new region but quickly became popular with the opening of Westfield Doncaster, formally known as Shopping Town, in 1970.

The average price for a brand new four-bedroom home in 1972 was $22,000, and if you had told me then Melbourne’s median house price would surpass $1 million, I would have called you crazy.

So, what’s changed over 50 years?

A significant change has been the steady increase and prevalence of auctions.

In 1972, almost every property sold was done via private sale – it was very rare to sell a home via auction.

Agents would have listing books with 50 to 100 listings and would drive potential buyers around all day until they found a house that suited them.

There were far more properties than there were buyers, so the need for an auction was far less, but over time as populations have grown, auctions have been essential to the selling and buying process.

The most transformative event to happen was the digitalisation of the world.

Photocopiers and fax machines were introduced first, followed by computers, the internet, mobile phones and the iPhone, which has completely transformed the way real estate agents work, communicate, and sell homes.

Before properties could be advertised online, we would take out an ad in the newspaper and buyers would get in contact with us that way.

The onus was much more on the real estate agent to educate buyers, whereas today, a buyer will pretty much know everything about the home and if they want to buy it before even approaching the agent.

However, despite a person’s ability to sort through thousands of properties a day and have access to a 360-degree view of the home, the role of the real estate agent has remained essential.

People still need to connect with people. Whether it was 50 years ago or today, buying a home is still one of the biggest decisions people will make in their lifetime, and they need people they trust who have their best interests at heart.

Despite enormous change occurring during my 50 years in business, one thing has remained the same – the reliability of property as a long-term investment.

Despite what the next six, 12 or 15 months has in store for the industry, a property’s worth will double in the next 10 years.

No matter how inconceivable it may seem, we have seen this trend in Australia over the last 200 years and I believe the trend will continue going forward.

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Philip Webb

Philip Webb is the Director of PhilipWebb Real Estate