EPMEPM: Feature Interview

Serendipity and Success

It’s not hard to see why Jamie Billerwell has been awarded the 2019 Gold AREA for Property Manager of the Year. She’s smart, determined, innovative and down to earth. Here she lets Kylie Dulhunty in on the secrets to her success and the role a car accident played in getting her to where she is today.

Jamie Billerwell’s philosophy on life is a simple one.

The effervescent Code Property Group Business Development Manager believes in serendipity.

“I’m a big believer that things happen for a reason and that you are right where you are meant to be at any given point in time,” Jamie muses.

That doesn’t mean the 28-year-old Queenslander was expecting to take out the 2019 Gold AREA as Property Manager of the Year at the Annual REA Excellence Awards in November.

“I’m not psychic,” Jamie jokes.

“It was such a big surprise, especially as the other nominees were such golden geese in the industry.

“I couldn’t believe it, and I’m not really into receiving accolades, so I found it a bit uncomfortable.

“I was certainly not my normal cool, calm as a cucumber, self.”

Born in Canberra, as the eldest of five girls to two police officer parents, Jamie and her siblings moved around a lot in their younger years before settling on the Sunshine Coast.

She was working in marketing and advertising and skirting around the periphery of the real estate industry, speaking at REIQ events around the state.

“I was addressing real estate principals with 220 people in the room,” Jamie recalls.

“I always wanted to get into real estate, but I just hadn’t made that jump.

“I think I needed a push.”

That push came in the form of a car accident when Jamie was just 19.

“A man under the influence of drugs t-boned my car at a red light,” she recalls.

Jamie suffered a severe back injury that saw her go through a long recovery, including three years of osteopathic and chiropractic treatments.

In typical, humble Jamie fashion, she stresses that her accident was “menial” compared to those who fare far worse.

“I’m a big believer in serendipity,” Jamie says.

“I may have been broken, broke and no longer had a car, but I don’t believe life throws anything at you that you can’t handle.”

Without a car and unable to travel as she did in her previous role, Jamie found herself out of work.

This soon changed when she secured a job within walking distance of home at Ray White Kawana.

The plucky go-getter scored the job after meeting with a property manager she knew at the agency and also impressing the principal when she essentially interviewed him in what was meant to be her interview.

“At the end of the interview he gave me my uniform,” Jamie laughs.

“There was no doubt in my mind when I went to that interview, I was getting that job.

“I had to.”

Jamie started in sales administration and after six months moved into property management administration, then became a sales associate and finally a property manager with a small portfolio.

She laments that while she was good at every role, she still didn’t feel as though she was the “perfect fit”.

After three years, Code Property Group bought Ray White Kawana, and Jamie has gone from strength to strength as the Business Development Manager ever since.

She’s finally found her place.

Innovative and dedicated, Jamie says the AREA is just reward for her goal to “change the way property managers are spoken about”.

“My vision has always been to change the way property managers are seen … and that starts with all of the ants out there,” she says.

To do this, Jamie has tackled technology head-on to enable it to give herself and her property managers more time to spend with landlords and tenants.

She has templated hundreds of email responses to save her PMs time and created checklists for every procedure to ensure nothing slips through the cracks.

Jamie recognises that one of the greatest challenges a busy BDM faces is being available when new business walks through the door.

With this in mind, she has trained all front office staff to gather a carefully crafted set of information if she’s not immediately available.

“I want to know exactly what a client is looking for,” Jamie says.

“Everyone thinks selecting a property manager is fee-driven, but that’s not always the case.

“We ask the address, why they bought that particular property and what they’re looking for in a property manager.

“It’s also really important to gather information that will tell me what type of person the client is, including how they hold themselves, how they speak and what language they use.

“This lets me prepare to serve them in a manner in which they wish to be served.”

Jamie says she “personality types” every client so that she can make them feel comfortable and understand exactly what they are looking for.

That way, by the time the question of fees rolls around, the client is already feeling and thinking, “this is the right fit for me”.

“Recently we had a gentleman on the phone aged 60 and his first question was ‘how long have your property managers been at your agency for’?

“Right away that tells me he’s looking for a senior property manager, that he’s serious and stern and he doesn’t want a high pitched 20-something talking to him.

“So I adopt a serious tone and take him through some credentials of our most senior property managers.

“This process is not about who I am; my job is to make sure the client feels comfortable.”

In a fast-paced world where technology and artificial intelligence is increasingly becoming a way of life, Jamie prides herself on being innovative without losing human connection.

Jamie says her clients range from the young to the elderly and across a range of socio-economic backgrounds.

She’s helped everyone from a Qantas engineer who lives in his van and showers at the gym to buy investment properties, to an 83-year-old client who was nervous about buying his first investment property.

“I met him at a sales open home and later he told me, ‘Jamie, I would not have had the courage to do this without you’,” Jamie recalls fondly.

“It’s so nice to see people at the start of their property journey as you’re dealing with people’s primal needs – shelter and their livelihoods.”

Communication is a huge part of what Jamie does and her dedicated approach has seen her introduce chatbots on social media, live-streamed property inspections and detailed, touch point plans to ensure clients are always kept up-to-date.

“We shouldn’t think of property management as just a transactional industry,” she says.

“You have to stop, be thoughtful and connect and develop real relationships with people.”

When promoting a property that’s available for lease, Jamie has introduced live Facebook walk-throughs that allow prospective tenants to comment, ask her to move to another room, to focus on a particular feature, and to make an inspection available to more potential renters.

“I’m comfortable chatting on camera and what you see is what you get with me,” she says.

“What you get is real, raw and live.

“I think the live element makes it more interactive and more human, and that’s important.”

Jamie’s also able to have a laugh at her own expense, which was evident when she recently visited a landlord at their rental property to find cereal and breakfast spreads lined up in the walk-in robe.

“During the live walkthrough I’d accidentally called the walk-in robe a pantry and the client was having a laugh with me,” she recalls.

“In a world that’s so busy, it’s good to stop and have a laugh and people really appreciate that.

“If you can make people laugh they usually trust you.”

Another of Jamie’s passions is narrowing the gap between sales and property management.

Often viewed as competitors rather than teammates, Jamie attends weekly sales and property management training and briefing sessions.

She also encourages her team to sit in on listing presentations so they understand a sales agent’s role, and brings a sales agent into the weekly property management meetings and has them assist in making the “happy calls” to their landlords.

Jamie says developing close relationships with the sales team ensures a two-way information highway where each team can refer new business leads to the other.

When a property becomes vacant, Jamie also likes to take a sales approach to market it being for lease.

This includes encouraging landlords to invest in professional photos, floor plans, video and online marketing campaigns.

Jamie backs this up with examples of successful campaigns and data on where to position the property in the market.

“I do everything the sales agents do including flags, welcome mats, speakers, Mentos and Doterra oils to make people feel safe and comfortable,” she says.

“I even carry a measuring tape so people can double-check that the fridge will fit.

“This kind of approach usually means you attract high-quality tenants and keep vacancy rates to a minimum.

“If you can rent a property out in two weeks, not six, it’s a no-brainer.”

Jamie also recognises retaining landlords is the key to success, so she has introduced a communication plan to keep clients abreast of all developments with their property.

She handpicks property managers and matches them with landlords and regularly takes clients out for coffee or a cocktail to make sure they are satisfied with how they and their property are being looked after.

“I ask them if there’s anything we need to change, if they understand the owner portal and things like that,” Jamie explains.

“I recently had an owner call me to say they weren’t gelling with their property manager so I told them to select a new one and I made the switch then and there.

“Being a good BDM means you have to have good retention.

“We’re not perfect but if we fix any problems as soon as we can, then retention is there.”

Jamie hasn’t forgotten about the tenants either, having employed and trained a tenant liaison officer about a year ago.

“I’ve always hated the way tenants are sometimes treated like second class citizens,” she says.

The process enabled Jamie to discover tenants wanted easier access to inspections, help with the application process and to be treated as equals with landlords.

She’s been able to develop solutions for all of these issues, including creating a video on how to apply for a property and use the online forms.

Other videos Jamie has created and pushed out to landlords, tenants and on Code Property Group’s social media channels include an interview with a quantity surveyor on what a depreciation schedule is for and a chat with a building inspector about why protecting your property from pests is a must.

Jamie says her one piece of advice to someone starting in the industry would be to learn from each rejection you face.

“Don’t be so arrogant as to think everyone in the world is going to love you,” she says.

“Take things personally, but in a positive way, so you can learn from it and use it to better yourself.”

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Kylie Dulhunty

Kylie Dulhunty is the Editor at Elite Agent.