Technology and Teamwork: Tracey Fellows, REA Group

TRACEY FELLOWS took some time out at AREC 2016 to speak with Elite Agent’s Editor Samantha McLean. A digital innovator through and through, Fellows has enjoyed roles as Executive GM of Communication Management Services at Australia Post and as Microsoft Vice-President for the Asia-Pacific Region before joining REA Group as Executive Director and CEO.

S: You went to Silicon Valley last year to visit companies like Google, Facebook, Uber – what did you take away from this experience that relates to the Australian real estate industry?
T: The biggest thing I took away was innovation and the imagination of people: it doesn’t take 100 people to have a great idea. Some great ideas have a really small start. Innovative people try something. If it doesn’t succeed, they change the idea – they repivot it. They didn’t start off with their final idea – they repivoted their original idea and came up with something great.

S: does a lot of research on consumer behaviours, particularly when it comes to property advertising. What insights have you gained from that?
T: You can absolutely see how different presentations of product appeal to consumers. Our Premier product absolutely grabs the eye. There’s a lot of science and research our teams put into the consumer experience. How do you make things less confusing for consumers, more appealing? We do an enormous amount of testing before we release any product, whether on desktop or on mobile.

S: Virtual reality and augmented reality are becoming part of the property industry’s digital marketing landscape. Can you explain the difference between the two?
T: Virtual reality is an image of the real world which you are immersed in by putting on a headpiece powered by a processor – a phone, for example. Augmented reality is taking something real and extending it to make it seem more real; it’s slightly confected. You don’t require goggles on your head to have an augmented reality experience. Virtual reality can, unfortunately, make people a little dizzy and be a bit nausea-inducing. There is a small percentage of people who get this!

S: Do you think virtual and augmented reality will take over video in property marketing?
T: I think there’s still a case for video, because it offers buyers a broad perspective on a property. Over time, I think augmented and virtual reality have the potential to take over as a medium. Consumers want to be in control. With video, you’re only seeing what someone has decided you’re going to see. We do see people bailing on lifestyle videos in five seconds – they really do. One part is cynicism and the other is ‘you are not showing me the things I want to see’. Mediums that let people be more in control, spend more time exploring where they want to be, look at things the way they want to are more appealing and more engaging for consumers. Many property videos are a bit like something on MTV: there’s music, crashing waves, but not as much substance. That is what they don’t like.

S: REA has expanded into both Southeast Asia and the US with stakes in iProperty Group and Move as well as operating businesses in Italy, Luxembourg and Hong Kong, plus the Chinese language website Can you tell us about any other expansion plans moving forward?
T: Yes, they’re pretty big expansions. The acquisition in Southeast Asia is the biggest acquisition we’ve ever made. Really, for us, right now, it’s how we expand those businesses in those countries, how we move into some of the areas that we are [currently] in, which they’re not in today; they are pretty basic listings businesses. Equally, how we help our customers reach consumers in those markets, which we think is a great opportunity, and even connect those experiences. That’s really the focus right now, versus into other areas.

S: Is the Australian real estate industry more mature or advanced than those in Asia or the US? How do our industry professionals compare?
T: I think we’re much more advanced. I don’t know quite why that is – perhaps it’s our obsession with property, but how we present properties, the digital awareness of our agents [is ahead]. How we present property for sale is certainly more advanced than in Asia. Consumers in Asia are absolutely online, they’re absolutely digital, but I think Australia’s real estate industry has really shown that the way we market properties, and bring them to life in print and digital formats, is way ahead of what we see almost anywhere else in the world.

S: You’ve made it clear that plans to continue to work more closely with agents. How will you help agents bring bigger audiences to their vendors?
T: The agents are the industry, and feels part of the industry too. We’ve made investments to support agents; for example, the AREA Awards we announced just a little while ago. We invest in educating agents digitally, and around Momentum events too. We want to help agents to digitally market themselves – that ‘digital interview’ is so important!

We think there’s a great role can play in this connection, because consumers are already on our site looking for property. When they’re thinking about selling their property, we’re also a logical place for them to go. has the largest audience of property seekers – we want to help agents (on behalf of their vendors) reach this audience. Increasingly we can do that in Australia, but we can do so equally overseas. We know that Australia is the number one destination for 30 per cent of property investors in Southeast Asia.

S: At AREC this year, it’s all about rainmakers and people making their own rules. If there was a rule you could make right now, what would it be?
T: I’m probably not really one for rules, but I think the best thing to do is to embrace the fact that there’s going to be new ways of doing things in the real estate industry. Sometimes the real estate industry is resistant to change – there’s almost a mistrust of it. In the world we live in, so much is changing so quickly. Don’t mistrust it.

Think about how change can create a win for you, about how it can make something better. Whether it’s how you engage with your customers, new business opportunities, making something easier for you to do. You can’t pretend things aren’t changing and look away. Embrace the new ways of doing things.

We live in a global world. We all have to be doing different things to keep consumers engaged. If we’re not, somebody else is! We’re better off thinking, ‘How do I lead it?’ rather than being caught flat-footed saying, ‘What do I do now?!’

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Samantha McLean

Samantha McLean is the Co-Founder and Managing Editor of Elite Agent and Host of the Elevate Podcast.