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The Extra One Per Cent: Anthony Cardinale

ANTHONY CARDINALE IS the Principal of Barry Plant Preston. Passionate about property management, he believes there are three aspects to creating both a successful business and property management portfolio: to improve it by just one per cent every day, include a personal touch and become an expert in communication. Story by Samantha McLean.

STARTING OUT AS an accountant and toy store manager, it was nearly 24 years ago that Anthony Cardinale decided he wanted to get into property. With no direct experience and after contacting numerous companies, he eventually offered his services for free to a local real estate agency for a two-week trial. Even though he had no experience, he was appointed to the position after one week by the impressed business owner. But, “It’s hard to find that sort of 100 per cent guarantee in recruitment out there today,” he says.

“I’ve employed people for 15 years and I’ve never, ever had anyone say that to me – ‘I’ll work for you for nothing to prove I want the job’. Today it’s more about how much people get paid, what hours they work, what days, where’s the car park,” he laughs. “But who knows? If I hadn’t offered my services for free back then, I might not have pursued a career in real estate and be where I am today!”

Cardinale now has the experience in the industry behind him and a future that is equally as exciting. He has been with Barry Plant Real Estate in Preston, Victoria, for eight years, taking on the role of principal and having a hand in all facets of the business. His office won the  2015 Property Management Department of the Year award within the group, in large part due to the way in which he involves his staff in improvements in the business, helping them all to grow as a team. But still he notes that the biggest challenge in today’s environment is educating staff on how to deal with people. “You’ve got to adapt to the changes, you’ve got to adapt to technology, you’ve got to adapt to people’s mindset, demographics, new people coming into the country. The evolution of [the property industry and property management in particular] has changed dramatically in the 23 years I’ve been doing this.

“After six months I ask my staff, ‘Do you know how to do a commission report, do you know how to chase rents?’ Then I ask them, ‘Do you know how to become a psychologist and deal with people?’ It’s all about communication between age groups, genders and backgrounds; whether it is
with business, family, your wife or children. Communication is paramount in any aspect of life,” he says.

Mike McCarthy, joint CEO of the Barry Plant group says this approach is one of the reasons Cardinale has been so successful.

“Anthony is really passionate about property management and really understands the importance of his team working together to achieve growth. He is 100 per cent focused on property management, his clients and the property management team. He is continually focused on delivering that great service to clients and receives a large number of recommendations and referrals. And he watches the market carefully for all opportunities for investment growth for his clients.”

While he is known for using technology well, Cardinale says back when he started, he managed 550 properties himself at one point. I ask him how it was possible to manage so many properties without the technology that is available today?

“We weren’t sitting in front of a computer like we do today. We would get out, make phone calls and meet people! Today, you can do everything online – water connection, electricity, VCAT and more. Property managers will complete an inspection, take photos, then go back and put notes on the computer. Property Managers are basically at the computer all day every day, whereas it used to be: get out there, physically inspect the property and ring the landlord. Ring the tenant to chase rent and if they don’t respond, drive to the property. There was no email. No one had a mobile phone. Everything was done in person, at the property. You didn’t wait for someone to respond to email or phone calls.”

And he believes the changes in communication have had a major impact on the industry, particularly when it comes to putting pressure on managers always to respond immediately.

“I generally find with technology people want instant answers and that’s where the pressure is: where communication is instant. You can’t go home without answering your emails because you’ve now got the technology. You’ve got an iPad and you’ve got a phone. Back in the day, [working at all hours of the night and day] was not expected. But now it’s just ‘click click’,” he says.

Spending time on a personal level with the client, according to Cardinale, is as important as the job itself. He encourages his staff to call their landlords every Friday afternoon just to chat.

“Every Friday my team ring five landlords and say ‘Hey, how are you? Just ringing to say hi.’ The landlord asks what’s wrong; and nothing’s wrong! They think you only ring when the hot water isn’t working or the plumbing is leaking or the toilet is blocked. They aren’t expecting a general ‘hello, what are you doing this weekend?’ This allows our staff to connect with landlords on a different level.”

He also invites landlords into the office to meet the staff.

“I like that personal approach, I really do. I know it’s going out of the window [or seems to be] but nothing beats the personal touch. There’s all sorts of efficiency you can have, but you can’t  have a relationship with a computer,” he says.

Currently, Cardinale has seven property managers working with him at the Preston office, together they manage 1,500 properties. He believes education and training is the key to success, along with being able to ‘train your portfolio’ into a best practice way of operating.

“Training your portfolio is not something that happens immediately. It takes time. I say to them, ‘You can’t get a flat stomach just by thinking about it! It can take months,’” he says.

“We don’t always look at how we could take on more properties, but we squeeze the lemon and see how much more juice we can get out of it. Two years ago, I increased every tenant’s rent by $10. And then I get the team to look at it from a management point of view. How much more is it going to give you in rent? How much more money does that give us in commission? How much more does that give you as a salary? So when they do the maths it’s like, ‘Ah, we see the big picture now’.

“I say to my staff – train your portfolio; train your landlords and train your tenants. Look at your portfolio and look at where you want to be in six months, 12 months  and two years with that portfolio. If you’re going to reduce your arrears, you need to work on it slowly. How? Sit down with the landlord the next time you go to an inspection. Unfortunately a lot of property managers don’t look at the overall scheme of things; they just look at day to day, being reactive on just getting the job done today rather than having a grand plan for their portfolio.”

Offering his staff an incentive program has proven to be a winner as well; the team receive financial bonuses when they complete certain challenges, for example reducing arrears, transferring tenants from paying cash to direct debit, and the most lease renewals in 60 days.

“Lease renewals are really important. Why? More lease renewals, fewer tenancy breaks, fewer vacancies, more income to us because the existing tenant would have to pay until a new tenant moved in. Say their circumstances were to change and they decide to move in with a partner, one party has to move out of their existing home. If my tenant is in a lease agreement I think it makes it more likely that they will stay in our [managed] property.”

To sum up the best advice he has for property professionals, the answer is simple.

“My motto is ‘Don’t die wondering’. If I want to do something I’ll do it. If it works, it works. If it doesn’t, we scrap it. I never want to say ‘I should have done that’.

“My favourite advice is to treat people exactly how you want to be treated.

“The best professional advice I ever received was given to me by Phillip Webb himself quite some time ago: walk in and try to improve things by one per cent every day; try to change one simple thing, every day. You might clean the window or paint the front facade. Get better arrears or better staff management. Take staff out to lunch or give them a simple gift to make them feel welcome or appreciated. That one per cent change goes a long way.”

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Samantha McLean

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