EPMEPM: Leadership

The D-Word: Brock Fisher

Disruption rarely occurs from within any given industry. It is usually ‘outsiders’ looking in and seeing tremendous opportunity who capitalise on what has been missed through consistently insular thinking. Time for property management to embrace the future, says Brock Fisher.

What strikes me when I think back to the start of my accidental property management career in 1998 is that the fundamentals of what we do are still very much the same.

Sure, our trust accounting software is now a bit fancier. We market properties on the internet and take online bookings to view them. We usually do our inspections on an app rather than with pen and paper – but not a great deal has changed in how the cycle of managing a property actually occurs.

That no longer applies to many industries on this sort of scale. Think about how you book a flight and catch a plane, how you order a pizza or buy your grocery shopping to arrive at your door, or how the video store experience is now entirely a relic of the past, thanks to services like Netflix and Stan.

The rate of change we’re about to experience in property management will be so very much faster than we’re accustomed to. It’s all a bit confronting, and it will push many people right out of their comfort zones.

That D-word, Disruption, has been bandied about in real estate to the point of cliché. But there’s another D-word that is so much scarier, and that is ‘Denial’.

Uber is most people’s favourite disruption example, but its relevance to us is huge. It wasn’t taxi drivers thinking of ways to solve the customer experience gripes within their own industry. Others came up with a simple and fast solution for booking and tracking your ride, an easy payment experience when you get there and a rating system that practically guarantees you’ll have a great trip in a clean car.

There’s another D-word that is so much scarier, and that is ‘Denial’.

Right now, there are very well-funded, smart and powerful global organisations looking at property management from the outside and preparing themselves for a great big go at changing the face of what we do. To the critical business thinker, we’re a huge industry that is largely unchanged and super-fragmented, one that hasn’t kept pace with changes in customer experience trends and demands for a ‘frictionless’ service.

That’s where the real challenge comes from. We shouldn’t be too concerned about another slightly tweaked version of how we’ve always done it, because we’re already saturated with those business models.

The fee discount debate is one that always rages fiercely, but what if someone figured out an entirely different way to monetise the management of property, and your commission rate and leasing fee were just a thing of the past? Wow.

Should we all be fearful that we’re on a sinking ship? No way! Aside from that being no way to live your life, the fact remains that just as technology evolves so too do jobs. Being adaptable, agile and receptive to applying your skills and expertise, but perhaps in a different context to what you’re used to, will be vital attributes.

Consider our current unemployment rate, which is around 5.5 per cent in Australia. In 2010 it was 5.2 per cent, in 2000 it was 6.3 per cent, in 1990 it was 6.9 per cent and, way back in 1980, it was about 6 per cent. Aside from a couple of spikes in 1983 and 1993, the unemployment rate has remained pretty consistent for the last 40 years in this country, despite significant population growth and huge leaps forward in technology.

Renting is also not disappearing any time soon; in fact, it’s likely to become even more prevalent in years to come.

My current role is a good example of a job that didn’t exist 10 years ago. The type of systems, software and support functions that I work with on a daily basis simply weren’t around then.

But a critical part of my capacity to do this job is the fact that, when it comes down to it, I am a property manager
first and foremost. Without that level of understanding it’s very difficult to pull the technical and practical parts together successfully.

With advancements in software and technology, and the likelihood that very different business models are coming, I believe present-day property management roles will evolve in several directions, providing solutions where even the smartest piece of software cannot.

Renting is not disappearing any time soon; in fact it’s likely to become even more prevalent in years to come.

BACK-END MONITOR, TROUBLESHOOTER AND ESCALATION POINT

Big, automated systems and software always need people to monitor, people who know how information flows around it and what the customer is experiencing using the program from the front end. In addition, there is always a need to manage ‘exceptions’ that the system can’t yet accommodate. Property management retains that ability to surprise with its randomness, which is difficult to program for.

EXPERT ADVISER AND PLANNER

What if you could spend all your time discussing with owners how to optimise their investment, improve their return and capital growth, helping them solve their problems that you’re not a party to, or just generally providing expert advice, guidance and troubleshooting?

None of us want to be the Kodak of the property management industry.

INSPECTIONS AND SERVICES PROVIDER

From a legislative, risk management and practical perspective, the need for ‘field work’ remains for the foreseeable future. But perhaps how that takes place might be very different. Imagine if you weren’t tied to a particular office or agency, but could work flexibly within your chosen area and do as much or as little as you liked, depending on your earning desires and the other demands on your time?

Change is often an uncomfortable feeling and an intimidating journey. That’s a natural reaction – but I encourage everyone to enjoy the ride, rather than resist and swim against the tide. Has there ever been a better time to be in property management? What an exhilarating mix of scariness and excitement!

Just remember that the only thing you get looking back is a sore neck; and the risk of resisting change is that you become a redundant resource and skill set. None of us want to be the Kodak of the property management industry.

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Brock Fisher

Brock Fisher’s experience in property management spans almost two decades, having started his career in the 90s as a property manager in regional NSW. With Little Real Estate’s acquisition of Rental Express, Brock is now the National Manager, Operational Excellence for Australia’s largest property management company, managing approximately 23,000 investment properties across Australia. For more information visit littlerealestate.com.au

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