Elite AgentFeature Interviews

Take back the market: Michael Coulson

While the downturn in the market in the eastern states is still relatively fresh, agents in the west have been battling tough conditions for some time now. Nikki Horner sat down with Michael Coulson, director at Coulson & Co in Perth’s southern suburbs, where the average time on market hovers around 80 days, to see what critical processes are needed to not only survive but conquer his core area.

When prospective clients ask how the market is going, how do you respond?
Brutal honesty. I’ll tell them it is a tougher market than we’ve seen in a good 10 years or so, so that they’re not under any illusions or false expectations. We want to let them know that it’s not a great time to sell unless you’ve got a good reason to and I get them on the right platform straight away. We educate them and let them know that it is a tricky time to sell, but the properties are selling if they’re priced correctly and presented well.

What are you seeing as the primary motivation for people selling?
Unfortunately, there have been some distress sales and, again, that’s where you have got to be really honest. Some of the sellers we are taking on have been on the market with another agent for three or six months and were given unrealistic expectations. We’ve seen the market drop in that time, so if they were put on the right track straight away, they could have sold already and be out of their situation. Then some sellers are recognising that it’s not a great market to sell in, but they’re taking that opportunity to buy and upgrade. They’re typically more realistic, as they’re researching the market they want to buy in.

Are you using expired listings as a source of lead generation?
I’ve never been a big fan of it. However, I have always said if the person you’re contacting doesn’t have a good relationship with their agent or isn’t being communicated with frequently, then there’s an opportunity there. I advise my team to do it subtly, rather than banging down the door or sending the ‘I’ve noticed you’ve been on the market for 90 days’ letter. I recommend by day 60 that’s when we can drop in just listed, under offer and just sold information, making sure they hit that letterbox frequently.

So more like brand recognition?
Exactly. Rather than directly target the expired, we focus on the street, so that if they do talk to the neighbours it’s more of a ‘did you get this as well?’ conversation. If the relationship with their current agent isn’t great and they’re looking for a change you’re going to be on the shopping list.
How do you manage carrying extra stock?
Trying to keep your stock numbers down allows you to give a better level of service and it’ll also help you get your sellers aligned to get to where they need to be. If you’re running with big numbers, you can’t communicate with your clients enough to educate them as to where they need to be to get their properties moved.

What methods of sale are working?
We will start almost every property as a closing date, similar to an auction. In my previous company, I was very traditional: put it on the market, put a price on and if that doesn’t work then you drop the price until something happens. I prefer closing the date sale, purely because it gives you that window of time where you can create competition.

How are you quoting price in those campaigns?
We’ve been finding that if a property isn’t a real standout, if you haven’t got a price on it, you just won’t get the enquiries or the inspections. We’ve now started putting price guides into the marketing. That’s been quite successful. We are constantly experimenting with what we can do differently, to keep changing until it hits the right spot with the market place and the buyers.

How many buyers would you expect to see during a campaign and how are you stimulating buyer interest?
I’d say you’re probably looking at 10 to 16 buyers across a 60-day period. We are pushing properties through social media. Even if it just generates someone that’s a passive buyer, you can appreciate that if you’re expecting zero, one or two groups through an average home open, you can get one extra person there, it creates an extra sense of competition.

How are your team working with buyers?
We will show them everything we have that may be slightly suitable. Buyers are gold now. Once you’ve got a buyer that you know is ready, they’ll be on a hot list and we’ll be contacting them until we’ve found them a property. Almost pushing until you’ve got a listing that suits rather than the other way around. We are maintaining contact with them weekly and sending them automatic alerts as we list anything in their price range. Our CMS has buyer match capability.

How often are you meeting with vendors and what conversations are you having?
The main thing is consistent communication once or twice a week. Having a good conversation with them on how the property’s positioned, what they’re now competing with and keeping them up-to-date on the market. We let them know what sold in their area and what we have sold in their area. The danger is, your sellers can start to lose a bit of faith if they’re on the market and you’re not letting them know what’s going on. If you’re not then there’s a good chance your competition will be.

You’ve got a property that’s starting to get stale, it’s pushing 60, 90 days on market, how are you realigning vendors on price and helping them move on?
It’s making that decision as to whether they are going to sell. It’s talking to them about what’s similar that has sold or what’s better that has sold and how much it sold for, so that they can understand where their property is positioned. Finding out what they’re prepared to sell for so you can make sure that your actual pricing strategy is correct. One of the things that we quite consistently find is our sellers will be adamant that they need a certain figure and the property will be priced to reflect that. We also explain to them that by pricing it aggressively you get more competition.

How are you handling low offers and re-aligning sellers?
Even in a buyer’s market, we’re still finding that if a buyer likes the property and the property suits them, if it ticks the right boxes, they will move for the property. It is still a case of 100 per cent working to the sellers and trying to get the buyers up as much as possible and then it’s also about helping the sellers to move. If the price is good and it will allow the sellers to do what they need to do then, it’s really about us saying ‘this is the best offer we’ve had. We’ve had a couple of runs at the buyer, this is their best price, we now need to decide whether we’re going to cut them off or make a move.’

How do you keep your vendors happy and in line with the market?
It’s a balancing act, not missing the listing by being too realistic or not being overly optimistic and then you’ve got to come back and say, ‘we actually need to realign’. We provide them with the evidence but try not to own the price. Sell the client on the process that we use to get the best price out of the marketplace. By day 30 we’re going to have a good indication as to what the market’s prepared to pay.

How are you prospecting and continuing to drive business?
It’s about attracting the sellers who want to sell. We promote community efforts that we’re doing so we are branding ourselves as part of the community. Our “slow down, kids around” wheelie bin stickers send a good message and it’s also incredible branding. We pay $2 per sticker, give it to a local resident and it’s out there once a week every week. We also promote all the results we achieve and are selective about what you put on your marketing as well. If it took longer to sell but you achieved a good price then you promote the price. If it was a quick sale but average price, then you promote the timeframe you sold it in.

What’s your advice for agents who are struggling to clear their stock?
Grade the stock – hot, warm and cold. Work out what will sell, or who you need to tell to come off the market. Until you’ve got a certain level of experience in your career, it can be hard to tell someone that you don’t want to sell for them. Sometimes if you’ve done everything you can and you haven’t achieved a result, it’s often worth having that conversation with the seller and saying, ‘Why don’t you guys have a break? Maybe we revisit it again in six months or maybe you try another agent. Here’s someone I can recommend’. Clients will be quite happy when they have that conversation with you because they’re almost waiting for you to have it with them. You need to help certain clients make the decision that now is not the time to sell; having tough conversations with vendors so that they price themselves to a position where they can sell before the market drops out from under them.

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