Rebecca Halton: How self-care leads to professional success

For 24 years Rebecca Halton had put her family, her friends and her business before herself. In an interview with Kylie Dulhunty, the Accelerate 2021 winner revealed the sobering moment she knew she had to invest in some serious self-care and what it has done for her personally and professionally.

When someone recently asked Rebecca Halton what she did for fun, she cried.

She simply didn’t have anything to tell them.

At that poignant moment in time, the LJ Hooker City Residential chief executive officer, mother of two boys and wife realised she always put her family, friends, and business first.

It dawned on her that in her 24 years in real estate, she’d never prioritised self-care.

“Six weeks ago, when someone asked what I did for fun, I broke down and cried because I didn’t have an answer,” Rebecca admits.

“I couldn’t sit there and think of a single thing that I did for fun.

“I had just been running on auto-pilot.”

Time for self-care

With this wake-up call in mind, when Rebecca was asked during the recent 30-day Accelerate challenge that Elite Agent runs with LJ Hooker to declare one task she would commit to every day for the next 30 days, she chose self-care.

That may sound easy, but as Rebecca reveals, self-care involved applying a lot of conscious effort to changing a mindset that has, for multiple decades, prioritised everything but herself.

“In many ways it was hard to think about, ‘what am I going to do for myself today’,” she says.

“I think as a busy working mum, it’s always that the kids come first, then your husband and your home, then the business, and for so long everything else has just been clutter.”

Rebecca says she started with simple self-care tasks such as taking her morning coffee down to the banks of the Swan River, which is just a short walk from her East Perth office.

She grew this to other self-care tasks like getting her nails done, going for a skin check, joining the gym and booking in a monthly facial.

“It was definitely a guilt exchange for me,” Rebecca explains.

“If I want to have a massage, I have to decide do I do it on family time or on work time?

“I know that I’m going to feel guilty, so it’s about which guilt is going to feel less guilty.

“If I’m flooded at work, then I do it on family time and vice versa.”

But there’s no question in Rebecca’s mind that the hard work and prioritising self-care, even if it’s just five minutes a day, has been well worth it.

She plans to continue the self-care practices she’s established well into the future.

“It’s really changed my mindset from, ‘I don’t have time’, to ‘if I make time it will happen’,” Rebecca says.

“I’ve realised that my boys are still getting everything they need, and the business is still thriving.

“Plus, in the last 30 days, I’ve become a far better mother, wife and leader in the business, all without fail because my energy is better.

“Even on the days where my little boys have woken up during the night, I’m going, ‘that’s okay because I know at some point today I’ll get to stop and regroup’.”

Rebecca says self-care is important because “as a busy, working mum, you just have to be kind to yourself.”

An emotional win

That decision to focus on self-care is one of the reasons Rebecca won the Accelerate crown, after giving a real and raw pitch that meant there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.

But Rebecca says she almost didn’t get to give her final pitch to the judges as one of her children was sick in hospital and on the morning of the presentation she had to take her husband to the doctor.

“I didn’t get a chance to work on my pitch until late Thursday night…and then I just got back in time to deliver it,” she says.

“So it was rushed for me, but it was such a raw presentation that I think it just came from the heart.

“It was a really nice surprise (to win).

“So many times over the 30 days I had so many things thrown at me and I thought, ‘Something has got to give’, and that would have been the thing to let go because you can’t let the business go and you can’t let the kids go.

“But it was the big thing I was doing for myself so I just stuck to it and did all of the (Accelerate) tasks in my own time.”

In her typical selfless fashion, Rebecca plans to use her $5000 prize money on putting together a professional development day for the team.

“It will be about finding your balance and making sure you’re looking after yourself so you have longevity in the business and in the industry,” she said.

Second generation agent

The importance of self-care is just the latest in a long list of lessons Rebecca has learnt over 24 years in real estate.

A second-generation real estate agent, Rebecca got her first taste of the industry as a teenager when she’d pencil at her mother’s auctions.

“To be honest, it was never really something I thought I’d get into,” she says.

“As a 14 and 15-year-old, I had better things to do on weekends than help mum at her auctions.

“I wanted to be a professional athlete as I’d represented Australia playing soccer, and I wanted to go to the Olympics, but that didn’t work out, and so I wanted to be a doctor. However, I wasn’t probably dedicated enough at school to get the marks I needed to get into med school.”

As school wound to a close, Rebecca found herself wanting to follow in her mum, Sue Freeman’s, footsteps and sought a job at her LJ Hooker Coolangatta agency.

“But mum was an astute businesswoman and she wasn’t just going to hand me a job,” Rebecca chuckles with reflection.

“So I went out and found another job at another LJ Hooker office.”

Never too young

Rebecca started in sales administration but quickly pushed to move into sales, fighting the misconception that she was “too young” and would fail.

She did well and then joined her mum at her business, working her way up to become the sales manager.

“I’ve always worked for LJ Hooker; I’ve never worked for another agency,” Rebecca says.

Rebecca says she clearly remembers her first two sales with two auction properties selling on one incredibly nerve-wracking day.

“I wasn’t an auctioneer back then, so the auctioneer intimidated me, all the other sales reps turned up, and I was just really nervous,” she recalls.

“When I was setting the reserve price with the owners, I think they wanted $500,000, and I remember saying to them, ‘what do we do if it gets to $490,000’ and they thought I was trying to push their price down.

“So when the first bid came in at $510,000 I nearly fell in the water. 

“I had two auction campaigns that day, and they both sold under the hammer …  I remember going home that night and thinking, ‘Oh my god, I just sold two properties’.”

Time for a change

By 2006 when her mother decided to retire, and Rebecca wasn’t able to buy the business, she knew it was time to make a switch.

Rebecca started working as a trainer for LJ Hooker, based in Sydney but travelling across Australia and New Zealand.

“I was training salespeople and business owners across the network, which I loved,” she says.

It didn’t come without its frustrations though, and after five years, Rebecca accepted a role with mentor Frank Newtown as LJ Hooker City Residential’s sales manager.

“I loved that (training) role, but one of the most frustrating things was going into a training room, having a great day of content, scripts, dialogues and setting targets, and then coming back three months later because they’d just gone back to their businesses and nothing had changed,” she explains.

“I was in Perth to do some training, and I caught up with Frank Newton, who had some really big offices, and I said, ‘I think I’m done with the training thing, if I get back into business, into real estate, I want to be in a management role’.

“I jumped on a plane to go back to Sydney, and by the time I landed, there was an email there with an opportunity to come to Perth.

“That was 11 years ago, and I haven’t looked back.

“I was the sales manager when I started with Frank, and then I became the licensee. Then I became the CEO of the company with multiple offices under it, and then I became a partner in the business and financially bought into the business.

“So we’ve got three franchises at the moment. I’m only a partner in two of them. But I’m the CEO of all three.”

Those three franchises include City Residential in East Perth, LJ Hooker Mandurah and the new office in Mount Lawley, which is still being fully set up.

Across the established two businesses, there are 60 staff, including 13 selling agents, and a rent roll of almost 2000 properties.

Auction action

Rebecca is no longer a selling agent, but she still calls the odd auction.

She says auctioneering has formed a “massive” part of her career, starting about 16 years ago when she trained with LJ Hooker to be a rookie auctioneer.

For the first few years she only competed in rookie competitions, but when she moved to Western Australia, Rebecca got her licence.

“It was very much male dominated and I was quite intimidated by it, but some of my biggest advocates for auctioneering are males,” she says.

“They’re inspiring businessmen and auctioneers themselves, and one of them said to me, ‘Don’t go out there and try and be a male auctioneer, just go out there and be yourself’.

“I’ve got a very light-hearted, engaging way of calling my auctions…and I’ve got agents that use me all the time because they feel I can empathise a bit more with their clients.

“Some people want more bravado, and that’s fine because every auctioneer is different and everyone has their own taste in auctioneers.”

While Rebecca by and large keeps her weekends free for her children, she said calling the odd auction now and again helps her keep her finger on the pulse of the market.

A growth mindset

Rebecca says her primary role now is to grow the business and foster a strong culture that places significant weight on innovation.

“Our goal is to get to 5000 managements, and in terms of the number of salespeople across the business, we’re looking at about 30,” she says.

“Our business is very efficient. About five years ago, we started the process of having a ‘plug and play’ business.

“That meant if we acquired a rent roll of 200 (properties), we could just plug them in and they’d just go.

“We want our salespeople, when they come in, to just plug and play with everything ready to go for them.”

The plug and play approach meant every system and process had to be carefully considered and refined, with an emphasis on simplicity.

“We didn’t want growth to feel hard,” Rebecca explains.

“When I was training, coaching and mentoring, I learnt that one of the biggest handbrakes on growth was a team that was scared of growth because they felt it just meant more work.

“That’s a really bad place to be in as a business.”

Rebecca notes that the team has worked hard to build a mindset that growth is easy and well rewarded.

Every member of the team, be they working on reception, selling properties, working in property management or administration, is open to growing, changing and building a bigger, better and stronger business.

“We like to think, ‘when we get to 5000 managements, it’s going to be great’,” Rebecca says.

“We’re not thinking, ‘Oh my god, how are we going to do that’.”

A rewarding experience

One way they are fostering growth is with a good bonus structure for their property managers and maintaining a first-rate support team so that PMs can solely focus on building relationships with owners and tenants.

Rebecca says that while most rival property managers look after 120 to 140 properties, hers take care of 240 to 250.

“Because of the way the bonus structure works, they’re constantly asking me for more,” she says.

“As a business, we wanted to be in a position to pay our team well, reward longevity and reward working towards our goals with us.”

One of those goals was to be number one in Western Australia in the LJ Hooker group.

Rebecca says they’ve achieved that goal, but now the real test – to retain the top spot – starts.

“I’ve always believed that being number two is better in the sense that you’re always chasing,” she reasons.

“Number one is dangerous because you can take your foot off the accelerator.”

“So every day I’m looking at where we are at and asking, ‘Are we number one? How do we stay there? How do we grow the business? Are my people happy?’

“There are different levers that I know make for a good business.”

One of those levers is creating a strong team culture. 

A successful culture

A key element that helps drive that culture is building the right team; a team that can work under its own steam and respects the way management wants the business to run.

“I’ve worked really hard on building a culture of everyone having a responsibility, but how you do that and what timeframe you do it in is up to you,” Rebecca says.

“We don’t clock watch … it’s a much more free-flowing environment.”

The group also has a work from home policy and prides itself on having the structures, communication, and technology to make key business decisions and change direction swiftly.

“I often say to the team, ‘we need to be big, but we need to be agile’,” Rebecca says.

“I don’t want to get to a point where we’re so big that we say it’s too hard to change. 

“So I want the big, but I always want to have the mentality that we can change at any point if we need to.”

Words of wisdom

Rebecca has learned many lessons throughout her years as a selling agent, auctioneer, trainer, and management.

As well as taking out time to practice self-care, she said one of the most important is to accept that not everyone will like you or choose you to sell their home.

“I’m okay with that now, but in the early days, I got really upset,” Rebecca says.

“That would then affect the flow of the day.

“What you need to be able to do is acknowledge that you didn’t get it and move on as quickly as you can to the next listing.”

She also implores all agents, particularly those just starting, to stay in their lane and remain focused.

“Don’t compare yourself to the top writer in the office,” Rebecca advises.

“If you’re just starting, you’ve got to be laser-focused on what you’re doing and doing the small things every day that will lead you to the big things.

“The million-dollar writer is not going to be doing the same things you need to be doing when you’re starting out.”

A new chapter

Rebecca says there are many exciting things on the horizon business-wise and personally, not least of which is that her husband, Lee Halton, will join the business in 2022.

An account partner with REA Group, Lee has solid sales experience, but this will be his first foray into selling real estate.

At the moment, Lee is taking some time at home with their boys, Parker and Greyson, before joining the fold “full bore”.

“That will be a big learning curve again,” Rebecca says.

“It will be another shift in our work-home balance because he’ll be working weekends and I during the week, but we’ll just make that work.

“ I think we’ll make sure we have a day off during the week as a family.

“As long as we’re moving forward every year.”

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Kylie Dulhunty

Kylie Dulhunty is the Deputy Editor at Elite Agent.