The deal: Marty Fox on work ethic, success and building a brand

Marty Fox has always challenged the status quo and pushed the boundaries of opportunity. It's an approach that has served the WHITEFOX founder and CEO well, enabling him to build a highly successful boutique brand in the tough Melbourne market. Here, Marty explains the ethos behind his successful 14-year real estate career, his vision for building and expanding the WHITEFOX brand overseas and why, if you want to follow in his footsteps, you'll need to be as hardworking as you are patient.

Marty Fox’s advice on how to succeed in real estate is as poignant as it is simple – “do the frigging work”.

In a world where you can order dinner with the click of a mouse or schedule an appointment with the swipe of a finger on a smart device, the WHITEFOX founder and chief executive officer says there are no speedy shortcuts to success.

While social media profiles may make the lives of top real estate agents appear fast-paced, glamorous and easily obtained, Marty says the reality is very different.

“I think it’s very foolish of them (new agents) to look at my Instagram or to look at Gavin Rubinstein’s, look at Matt Steinwede’s or to look at anyone that’s doing well in the industry and expect to be there after one year, after two years, or even after five years,” he says.

“I was an unknown name in real estate even after 10 years of working seven days a week. 

“So, in terms of building a brand, just do the frigging work. List, sell, call, follow-up, drop, network and do what you need to do as an agent to understand the craft.

“Build your skills up in terms of psychology and reading the play, understand the personality types and structures and understand what it is that you bring to the table.”

Photo: Emily Bartlett Photography

In the beginning

Once an agent understands their point of difference and knows their worth, Marty says the next critical thing to do is to outwork every competitor and be prepared to start at the bottom and work your way up, just like he did 14 years ago.

Marty started in real estate as a fresh-faced 21-year-old, joining his now father-in-law, Graeme Wilson, as a cadet at WILSON PRIDE. 

It was one of the busiest offices in the district, and the network eventually grew to 52 offices before selling to Century 21.

Marty says it was the perfect learning environment because he was exposed to high performers day-in, day-out.

But it wasn’t easy.

“It was really hard,” he recalls.

“In that first year, I was the cadet of the office, running around doing absolutely everything.

“I didn’t question what I was asked to do, I just did it.”

And Marty is a big believer that new agents today must do the same thing to learn the craft. 

Listening to and reading scripts and dialogues is all well and good, but it’s the real-life experience that truly cements the lessons and the best way to achieve that is using a strong work ethic to generate respect among the top agents in the office.

“Where you can add value is you walk into the office and say, ‘Guys, all non-revenue generating tasks, hit me with them. Let me make your life easier’,” Marty says.

“Then, all of a sudden, opportunities will start opening up. They will say, ‘Hey, do you want to come to this meeting?’ or ‘Do you want to come to this listing?’

“You’re getting these real-life environments where these people are inviting you in because they respect you for your work ethic.

“Early on, that is the only thing you can trade as a new agent because you don’t know anything.

“You trade your work ethic for opportunity, and then, as you get better, you open up other avenues of growth.”

Fortune in the follow-up

And that’s precisely what Marty did, moving from doing the other agents’ tasks to selling apartments, predominantly in the St Kilda area.

It was just after the peak of the GFC, the first homeowner’s grant had arrived and 50-odd groups were turning up to each open for inspection.

But with that volume came one of the first hurdles Marty had to jump.

“I was always taught that fortune is in the follow-up,” he explains.

“And if you’re not following up with these buyers, then someone else will. I was finishing opens and going back to the office and getting really bogged down… I didn’t have work-life balance.”

The solution? Marty built Touchbase, an app for real estate agents that enabled them to automatically send follow-up text messages and emails from an iPad. 

After about six months, he sold the software to the REIV and went to work alongside then-CEO Enzo Raimondo to train agents on how to use it to build their performance in the market.

After about two years, Marty decided to move back to listing and selling, only this time he brought with him knowledge of how the best brands in the country did business. 

“When I came back into real estate at around 24, I said to Graeme, ‘I’m coming back, but I’d like my own office… I want to do it (real estate) a particular way, under your brand, but I want my own office’,” he says.

“When I left Touchbase to go back into the game, I knew I had a lot to learn, and it was maturing in life, maturing in relationships, maturing in business and, more importantly, maturing in management, understanding how to structure a week and how to lead a team.

“It probably took me two or three years to refine that to a point where if I was to start my own business, it wouldn’t just crumble.”

Photo: Emily Bartlett Photography.

Challenging the status quo

When the systems and processes were solid, Marty went out on his own and started WHITEFOX in 2017 with a clear vision of what he wanted to create – a boutique brand that was bold, polished and matter-of-fact.

Marty says they very quickly developed a point of difference in the Melbourne market, with black and white photography, a clear tone of voice in all of their marketing and engaging video and social media content.

“How did we carry that through to the physical? We made sure the boards looked different, we dropped the suit and tie, and we were still operating in that luxury space, but we were mirroring the customer more,” he says.

Perhaps one of the most surprisingly astute business moves WHITEFOX made in its first two years was turning down listings under $3 million.

“My idea was to create a brand that attracted a clientele that liked nice things,” Marty notes.

“They liked watches, they liked cars, they liked finance, they liked property and aesthetically, they needed to be pleased with who and what they were dealing with.

“So when people would ask us to list their apartment in Elwood for $800,000 to say no to that, as a new business, was extremely difficult and we said no for two years.

“But what that ended up doing was it built this higher average sale price and then in 2019, once WHITEFOX was established, we created a new division with slightly different marketing, which is called WHITEFOX Apartments.”

Along with WHITEFOX Apartments, the agency later added WHITEFOX Marketing, which Marty has just sold out of, and three further offices in the Melbourne area.

New Zealand expansion

Just last month WHITEFOX opened in New Zealand with a Queenstown agency and later this year, a second office will open in Auckland.

Marty says the plan was always to take the brand global, and having lived and studied in New Zealand meant he had a strong affinity with the country, while opening in Queenstown made good business sense given it’s an area where many out-of-town buyers, many from Auckland and Australia, purchase second homes.

“The whole tone of WHITEFOX is something we knew would appeal to Kiwis,” Marty says.

“We want to be at the bottom of the South Island, we want to be at the top of the North Island and for the years that follow, fill in the gaps.”

With the growth of the WHITEFOX brand, Marty decided in early 2022 to stop listing and selling so that he could focus on building the entire team and the direction of the business.

He says it was a hard transition but one that’s been worth it. In line with this, he also deleted his personal social media pages after having built up thousands of followers and sharing up to 150 stories a day.

Along with the real estate side of the equation, Marty was known for sharing insights into his home life with his wife Charlotte and children Olive, Freddy and Bonnie.

Photo: Emily Bartlett Photography.

“Upon reflection, it was a lot of personal stuff and not enough business,” Marty notes.

“So I thought, well, what a great time to let the great people of WHITEFOX share their stories and grow their brands with me sitting in the background coaching them from behind the scenes.”

That doesn’t mean Marty doesn’t have some sage advice for agents looking to build their brand on social media, urging them to focus on relevant, engaging, organic content and a true reflection of who they are.

“Don’t chase the social media fame, chase becoming an expert in the deal, and as you’re doing that, try and capture the growth in your own success and share that and create your story,” he says.

INTERVIEW: Samantha McLean

STORY: Kylie Dulhunty

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Samantha McLean

Samantha McLean is the Co-Founder and Managing Editor of Elite Agent and Host of the Elevate Podcast.

Kylie Dulhunty

Kylie Dulhunty is the Editor at Elite Agent.