As a fourth-generation real estate professional, Chisholm & Gamon director Sam Gamon grew up living and breathing the industry. This year marks two decades since Sam officially embarked on a career in real estate and as he tells Kylie Dulhunty, starting out in a difficult market prepared him well for some of the challenges of the past 12 months.
Real estate is in Sam Gamon’s blood. The Chisholm & Gamon director grew up around the profession talking sales at the dinner table with his real estate agent father, Brett Gamon.
But the connection to all things property-related goes even deeper than that.
Sam’s a fourth-generation real estate agent following in his great-grandparents and grandparents’ footsteps.
“My great-grandmother, Ethel Gamon, bought a real estate agency in St Kilda in 1927,” Sam recalls.
“As far as I know, she was the first licensed female real estate agent in Victoria.”
The agency was passed down to Sam’s grandfather Eric Gamon, while his grandmother Merlin also had a stint at the helm during World War II.
“I was really close to my grandmother,” Sam says.
“She was granted a special licence during the war so she could run the business when my grandfather and his brother were conscripted.
“She didn’t drive a car, so she used to go around St Kilda collecting the rent money from the tenants on a bicycle and a big sack.
“She also had my uncle, who was about two at the time, in a basket on the front of the bike.”
Sam’s father took over the agency but later sold it and started Chisholm & Gamon in 1983 when his father, Sam’s grandfather, retired.
“My dad has been in real estate since he was 16, and he’s still in it now. He works two days a week,” Sam says.
“So he’s been in real estate 56 years.”
For Sam, that has meant growing up surrounded by the industry.
There was always talk at the dinner table about the market and the business, and with the home phone number always printed on signboards, it meant Sam and his sister quickly learnt how to talk the talk and take a detailed message.
“There were no mobiles, so our home number was on all the boards,” he says.
“So from a very early age, I was taught how to communicate on the phone.
“Then I started as the office cleaner when I was about 13. My sister and I would invoice the office and we were called Keen Cleaners.
“I also used to help Dad out if somebody couldn’t do Saturday reception, so I’d come in and answer the phones.
“It gave me a really good understanding of the business.”
CATCHING THE REAL ESTATE BUG
Sam notes there was a pivotal moment that led him to really catch the real estate bug.
He says he was about 14 when, one Easter weekend, his father could not get an extra set of hands to help him sell a block of flats in Brighton.
So, always one to think outside the square, he bought Sam a suit and had him help out.
“We sold three apartments on Easter weekend,” Sam says.
“That was my first real foray into property and it was exciting.
“The other thing that resonated with me back then, and it’s still true now, is that if you put in the hard yards, you’ll get the reward.
“That’s always been my ethos.”
This year marks the 20th year Sam has officially been in real estate.
He says he toyed with the idea of a different career path and studied archaeology, anthropology and professional writing and editing for a little while but was drawn back into the real estate fold.
“I thought I might do journalism or PR,” Sam explains.
“I considered that because it sounded boring doing what your dad does… but in the end, I realised that I love auctions, and I’ve always been theatrical.
“I realised I could find a balance between writing, advertising, being a marketer and being an auctioneer in real estate.
“Real estate ticked all of the boxes.”
While Sam was studying at university, Brett sold the agency to Torsten Kasper, and it was he who finally convinced Sam to come on board.
Sam says Torsten, along with his father, have been his mentors over the years, with his dad emphasising that someone ‘independent’ needed to guide Sam as well as himself.
GETTING A START IN A HARD MARKET
Sam started his real estate career just two days before the September 11 terrorist attacks, in what he describes as “a hard market”.
“What was hard was that we had the twin towers collapse, and we had the Ansett airlines collapse,” he says.
“So people were very uncertain at that time because they didn’t know where the economy was going and the local economy was suffering.
“The global stage was uncertain and that combination of factors meant that people stopped buying and put a halt on everything because confidence was low.”
Sam says the tough market taught him how to strategically position properties, as well as how to talk buyers and sellers through a difficult market.
“That set me up for my career because once you can endure that, you can endure anything,” he says.
That experience stood Sam in good stead when the global pandemic struck last year.
He knew he had the confidence and the experience to navigate the uncharted waters and lead his clients through the maze.
While the agency wasn’t able to operate at its normal capacity due to lockdown restrictions, Sam says he knew he was doing everything he could for his sellers and buyers.
This included selling properties via Zoom without buyers physically stepping foot in the homes.
For one particular vendor, that meant they had to show the potential buyers through their home via video call themselves.
Sam says the vendors had already purchased another property, the bank wouldn’t bridge their finance, and with Stage Four lockdown in place, he could not do the showing, even via Zoom.
“They had their eyes at the end of the barrel … and when (Victorian Premier) Dan Andrews announced the extension on the Stage Four lockdown, they rang me in tears,” he says.
“I said to them, ‘we’re just going to have to try this. If anyone inquires, we’re just going to have to try Zoom’.
“My clients had to do the walkthrough because we weren’t allowed to go into their property. So we had to upskill them, and I did a practice run with them to work out how we would do it.
“So we took three buyers through, we got three offers and sold it for $15,000 more than they were expecting.
“It was a major relief.”
ON PAR WITH HIS BEST YEAR
Despite COVID-19, Sam says 2020 was on par with his best year in real estate and he recorded about $110 million in sales.
He says some agents struggled as they were used to an easier market, but clients turned to his agency for their experience and the fact that they are boutique and still a family business, with just two offices in Elwood and Port Melbourne.
“All of a sudden everything turned on its head, and people realised they needed an expert,” Sam says.
Sam notes that as well as keeping in constant contact with clients, the Chisholm & Gamon team also established a WhatsApp group so they could stay connected and keep morale high.
Sam says one of his most successful business strategies is his simplest – pick up the phone.
He’s big on making prospecting calls and is constantly in touch with his database.
He agrees that many agents are a little scared to pick up the phone but says it’s one of the best ways to nurture leads.
“I also spend a lot of time communicating with buyers because I know they grow into something bigger,” Sam says.
“I get a lot of buyer referrals. People say, ‘I didn’t buy from Sam, but you should sell your house with him because he follows up’.
“I’m very personally involved in all of the transactions and I think that makes a difference.”
Sam says Chisholm & Gamon has 12 people working in sales across the two offices, as well as a property management department and administration and support staff.
He says there are no plans to expand at the moment, with the agency keen to keep the brand boutique and client-focused.
ADDING MORE STRINGS TO HIS BOW
Sam does plan to bolster his skills when it comes to social media marketing and video.
“I want to upskill myself in my ability to communicate with people and grow an audience,” he says.
“On the technology side of things, I’m always trying to be ahead of the curve.”
If you check out Sam’s social media, you’ll discover the usual just listed and just sold posts, but there’s also him out to lunch, taking the cat to the vet and cooking up a paella.
Cooking is one of his other passions and he loves choosing a difficult recipe and trying to recreate it.
Sam says while it’s important to include real estate content such as market reports, it’s also vital to be yourself.
“You need to try and impart some information that’s valuable for people,” he says.
“I do everything from videos of me cooking to me talking about what’s happening in the market.
“People are very observant, and you have to be there in that space.
“You have to be there passively even though someone might not be ready to sell yet. You need to be there imparting information and giving some takeaways, so it’s not just about sold stickers and happy photos but about helping to educate people.”