AS A UNIVERSITY STUDENT, 2016 Real Estate Results Network (RERN) Hall of Famer Stefanie Dobro, an associate director at Fremantle-based independent Caporn Young Estate Agents, swore off a job in sales. Yet almost 25 years later, after a being a trusted advisor in politics and academia, Stefanie is now a trusted advisor in all matters property and without doubt one of WA’s most successful real estate sales agents. Story by Anthony O’Brien.
STEFANIE DOBRO’S TROPHY cabinet is impressive. It includes the coveted RERN Australasian Agent of the Year 2014, and in 2015 she was the WA Agent of the Year for the third consecutive year. Locally, she’s a multiple recipient of REIWA’s Grand Master award. While she only made the switch to real estate in 2009, at the time of writing she has just achieved her highest sale ever under the hammer, a $4.1 million on behalf of a Perth family. And this year, she has also entered the RERN Hall of Fame.
Canadian-born Stefanie decided against a sales career as a teenager after witnessing the trials and tribulations of her father, who was a telecommunications salesman. “Dad’s occupation was not something we talked about around the dinner table,” she recalls. Instead, she completed a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science and a Master’s in Public Policy before immigrating to Perth in 1993 with her partner, Alan. Her qualifications also include a Graduate Diploma in Business from Perth’s Curtin University of Technology.
Despite immediately falling in love with the charms of Fremantle’s property market, Stefanie decided against joining the real estate ranks on her arrival in Australia. She put her academic qualifications to work, taking an apolitical job with the Parliament of Western Australia. Over the next 10 years, she worked in research and senior advisory roles supporting some of the Parliament’s more significant committees and offices.
In 2006, Stefanie shifted to a role as a strategic advisor to the Vice Chancellor of Murdoch University. “I managed high-level projects on behalf of the Vice Chancellor, including the development of a business case for government 35funding for an immunology and infectious diseases institute,” she explains. “In May 2007, we won a $19.5 million grant from the Federal Government, which was fantastic.”
Working in academia and politics taught Stefanie the value of research and the importance of providing the right information and advice, as well as the ability to influence outcomes – all skills that would later prove useful when she started her real estate career.
In 2007, Stefanie took a sabbatical to focus on her daughters, Catherine and Sophie. She also sought to create an income by investing in real estate and day trading on the share market. She became Chair of the East Fremantle Council’s Town Planning Committee, an experience that would translate well to a career in real estate. Stefanie was elected as a councillor for the city’s Plympton ward and between March 2005 and October 2009 she was deputy mayor of East Fremantle.
While Stefanie was very engaged in her civic duties – she was also a member of the Parents and Citizens Committee at her daughter’s school – there was a nagging itch that she believed she still had more to offer. Then the global financial crisis struck, and Stefanie made a decision to return to the workforce. “I’d done so much community service that it seemed the right time for me to make some money and work in a job where you get financially rewarded for the effort you put in,” she says.
In late 2009, Stefanie joined Caporn Young Estate Agents because, she says, the firm is synonymous with professionalism and high performance. “I was impressed by founder Richard Young as an agent and loved what he and [business partner] Steven Currie were creating at Caporn Young. I really liked their branding, approach and results,” she says. Stefanie initially did some photography and copywriting, then took on a consulting role, assisting senior management with business development.
Stefanie’s interest in sales was sparked when she began attending sales meetings. “I realised that the strategies the agents were discussing came completely naturally to me,” she says. “At the age of 40, I determined to make the switch to sales.”
Stefanie was such a natural that she landed a listing even before she was fully qualified. A friend who is one of Western Australia’s leading young entrepreneurs told Stefanie she was moving house. “She didn’t have an agent, and I suggested she should list with Caporn Young,” says Stefanie. The friend accepted her advice, and Stefanie had her first listing. She adds, “The listing was posted to the web on my first day as an agent in April 2010 and the phones started ringing almost immediately.” They haven’t stopped since.
WORKING HARD AND SMART
Several personal traits have been elemental in Stefanie’s real estate success, including a love of hard work, a preparedness to put in long hours, a laser-like focus and enormous discipline. Stefanie says, “I really wanted to succeed – and I was prepared to do everything necessary to make it happen – because if I was going to be away from my kids, it was going to have to be worth it.”
She adds, “Real estate sales is so demanding and there’s so much hard work, multiple challenges and long hours. And there has to be a reason you want it. You really need to know why you are doing it.” For Stefanie, sending her children to private schools was a significant financial driver in her early years in sales.
Stefanie decided early to work smart: after just a year as a sales agent, she took some advice and put on a PA, at first part-time, and then very quickly a full-timer as her business gathered momentum. Finding the right assistant proved to be an early management challenge, and she went through several personnel changes. “Getting the right structure and right people in those positions is crucial to an agent’s ability to achieve personal success without burning out and be the best they can for their clients,” she explains. “You have to recruit people with the right combination of mindset and skillset.” Bringing on Michael Harries in the buyer manager role was a turning point.
Getting support at home was also essential to juggling a fledgling real estate career and a young family. “None of this would have been possible without the unwavering support of my partner, who stepped in to run the household and manage the girls’ schedules.”
The drive to go the extra mile is another factor in Stefanie’s success. “Every night when I get home, before I go indoors, I make two more calls to a potential client, a vendor or buyer, as I know the average agent will just head inside,” she says. “There are no traffic jams on the extra mile.”
Accountability is also key. “From the very beginning I was told that this is a numbers game and that I needed always to know the number of calls, appointments, appraisals, listings and sales to achieve my goals. From that moment on I carried my sales numbers with me all the time. I am very clear on what I want to achieve and I track everything,” Stefanie says.
Stefanie’s political training also comes in handy. “I’m very strategic when it comes to listing and selling property,” she says. “Being a political and business advisor, you get the information and it gives you influence. It gives you influence over winning listings, influence over getting the right strategy and pricing with your sellers and influencing buyers to work with you. That said, while I’m very strategic, I’m also very passionate about the people I’m helping. It’s not enough to have the skill – you need to have the passion, the work ethic and the desire to serve.”
Stefanie’s wealth of in-depth local knowledge and passion for the area are proving genuine advantages for clients. So, too, are the ties she made in the Fremantle community while working with the local council and P&Cs. As Stefanie says, “Life is about building relationships and that’s what I love about real estate – the wonderful people I get to know and work for and with.”
Early in her real estate career, she learned from her mentors at Caporn Young that showing an interest in what customers have to say helps foster relationships. “Asking questions comes naturally to me and I love focusing on my clients. People love talking about themselves and I love hearing their stories,” she says.
“I’ve just reviewed my sales from last year and referrals from past clients and personal contacts represent the majority of my listings,” Stefanie adds. “I work hard for my clients and listen to their goals and as a result they trust me and refer me.”
The interpersonal skills Stefanie developed while in politics have also helped. She recalls, “An old friend from politics recently asked how my sales career was going. I responded that you have to be nice all the time, which he says is exactly like politics. It doesn’t matter what people do or say, you have to be nice.” She adds, “It has been a challenging property market in Perth in recent years and a lot of clients are under pressure. Staying focused on giving the best advice and results and not taking things personally is paramount.”
MENTORING AND SUPPORT
In 2011, Stefanie was named the RERN Rookie of the Year and at the time she was approached by an experienced agent, who offered to be her mentor. “I was thrilled by the accolade but then also determined to prove to them that they’d made the right choice in investing in me” Stefanie reflects. “You’ll find that successful people will give their time to people who are committed. If you implement and perform, they will continue to make time for and help you to be your best.”
Stefanie also recommends taking the same attitude to real estate that a professional athlete takes. “You get a coach or mentor and you have to do as much training as you can, which is where the Real Estate Results Network and its founder, Michael Sheargold, have played such an important part in my growth,” she said. “It’s important being around like-minded people and wanting to improve every day through training, learning and being coachable.
“The support I get from RER Network, the knowledge I’ve gained, the opportunity to give back to other agents in the network and the friendships I’ve made with real estate agents from around Australia that I’ve met at conferences has been amazing,” says Stefanie.
Michael Sheargold, founder of the RERN, likewise speaks highly of Stefanie. “Stefanie has won the WA Agent of the Year over three consecutive years in 2013, 2014 and 2015. At the 2016 ARERA (Australasian Real Estate Results Awards), Stefanie was inducted into the Hall of Fame for this award category.” Sheargold continues, “An agent that achieves Hall of Fame status truly demonstrates ongoing consistency and excellence. One of the things Stefanie has done remarkably well is produce outstanding results in her marketplace and deliver exceptional service for her clients. That in itself is an outstanding achievement, let alone the contribution she is prepared to make for other people in the Caporn Young agency and the greater profession at large through RERN. She is also willing to mentor and support the growth of anyone who is really committed to be successful in the profession, which is also one of the many things we admire about her.”