The loyalty effect

Ben Collier from The Agency has been involved in the sale of some of Sydney’s most exclusive trophy homes and has set many suburb records throughout his career. But unlike many other agents of his calibre, he shies away from the spotlight with a simple aim of being excellent in all areas of his craft and a true example of how lifetime loyalty is the greatest marker of success. Story by Samantha McLean.

Ben Collier is different to many other agents I’ve interviewed.

He’s quiet, considered, and doesn’t need to be the centre of attention.

While other agents might prefer to take on the high-profile speaking gigs and seek recognition for their achievements, Ben is just not that kind of guy.

He doesn’t give too many interviews and I consider myself pretty lucky to have this opportunity.

Interestingly, while I’m the one who’s supposed to be asking the questions, I find myself answering an equal amount of Ben’s questions on real estate, family, holidays and much more.

I imagine that is what it’s like being a client of Ben’s – he is keenly interested in whoever it happens to be sitting opposite him.

Eventually, I ask why we don’t see more of him in the media.

“It’s not something I seek out – my priority is more around listing and selling.

“I have a strong work ethic, and a great team around me.

“But the thing is, I don’t do anything at all that much different to anyone else – other than my skill set possibly differs from the next agent in terms of negotiating and achieving results.”

In 2019, Ben’s average sale price was about $5.7 million; slightly down from 2018 – maybe in part due to the 2019 market downturn.

It’s also possible the 2018 numbers were buoyed by his involvement in the sale of ‘Rona’, one of Sydney’s most well-known trophy homes, for $58.3 million.

Ben is also no stranger to setting suburb records in known rich-list areas like Centennial Park.

One way or another, it’s clear Ben – a Property Partner with The Agency – knows his stuff and his success comes back to basics: working tirelessly and with great attention to detail.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re a celebrity, someone with a high net worth or a first-time homeowner, Ben knuckles down with the same level of commitment and intensity for every client.

So it’s not hard to see why his clients pick up when they see Ben’s name ring through on their smartphone.

“There was one client of mine who’s a very good friend of mine now,” he recalls.

“I chased him for 15 years for his business, and every time they would sell something he would give it to his son’s good friend who he went to school with.

“But I kept in touch with him for 15 years, and then I ended up selling something to him for quite a lot of money for his daughter.

“From that day onwards, I did everything for them.

“Sometimes these things might happen in a few months, sometimes it might be years, sometimes decades.

“So I guess understanding that and being patient and remaining relevant are probably the key points people need to consider.

“Some of the young guys – it’s just call after call after call. That’s not really establishing a relationship, as such. Those calls are a bit like spam emails; there’s no cut through.

“You need to get face-to-face and build relationships.”

Ben is quick to point out he did not start his career 30 years ago selling multi-million dollar homes.

To this day, both he and Daniel Acocks, the team sales manager, emphasise the importance of every property sale, whether it is large or small.

They both say the smaller ones are probably more important.

“Most of us don’t start buying our first property at $10 million,” Ben says.

“Usually they might start by buying a one-bedroom apartment that leads to a larger two-bedroom apartment, that might lead to a semi, that might lead to a house.

“Then they might scale up to a larger house with a pool, and then as their kids start leaving home, they scale down on the other side.

“My goal is to be part of that cycle from inception so that I then become that individual’s agent, or that couple’s agent, who then refer you to their family and friends and their sphere of influence.

“As an agent, if you only want to focus on selling houses above $10 million then well done to you.

“But for me, those relationships that I’ve built over time are the most significant thing.

“There are some houses I’ve sold seven times.”

While ‘Rona’ might have been one of his biggest sales, Ben says the most memorable sale is one he didn’t get paid for.

“I had a listing during the GFC,” he recalls.

“My vendors had already bought through me, and I was selling their house.

“So there was a bit of pressure applied.”

A couple came through who were serious buyers, but they needed to sell their house as well – which was on the market with a competing agent.

“In the end, I sold that house for the buyer so that I could complete on my listing.

“That was a very rewarding experience for me that we were able to achieve that.

“So, it’s not just the really big listings that I get excited by.”

Like most agents who work in a team, the number of listings Ben carries varies from month-to-month.

There are usually about six to eight that are proactively marketed at any one time.

But working on behalf of his clients to get them to the next step in their property journey – whatever that may be – gives him access to a large number of “off-market” properties, which account for about 40 per cent of the team’s sales.

He likens the process to doing your homework, or due diligence, before you start the campaign.

“It’s not like we deliberately try to sell houses off-market,” he says.

“But part of our process is that we share properties coming to market with our database and those buyers that we have been nurturing for a long period of time.”

The team generally uses this as a test where the property will either be sold, or they will take on critical market feedback, which will give them the indicators to push forward with the traditional part of the campaign.

During this time, two things will happen: they will receive an offer that is worth the vendor’s consideration, or it allows them to make adjustments before going to a live campaign.

The key to success in this approach is keeping in regular contact so that the next time they see your name flash up, they will answer the phone.

“You don’t want them thinking, ‘oh God, no, I am not thinking of selling or buying!’

“You want them to be answering, saying ‘oh, hi, how’s it going, what’s happening in the market’,” Ben says.

When it comes to marketing campaigns, Ben says you need to play to different speeds and different markets.

“The way a downsizer may choose to look for a property is very different to someone in their early 20s,” he reasons.

“You need to remain relevant at all levels.”

As his clients have grown from that one-bedroom place in Paddington to the trophy home in Vaucluse, Ben’s team has needed to grow to cover such a large area of Sydney.

Apart from himself and Acocks, Ben has four associate agents – Davide Talone, Peter Perry, Andrew Thomas and Damien Bickmore-Hutt – and Emma Davies provides support to the group.

“I’m a big believer in surrounding myself with people who make me look better than I actually am,” Ben laughs.

“So I am very fortunate to have people like Davide, Peter, Andrew, Daniel, Emma and Damien to work alongside me.”

But Ben is also passionate about their development, celebrating their wins and helping them get to a point where they might be running their own teams.

“I have a responsibility to them to ensure that they learn what it takes to one day be their own agent,” he says.

“It’s not just about them helping me become more successful.

“I’ve got a responsibility back to them.”

The support The Agency provides extends to Ben himself as well.

He may lead his own team and see himself as a listing and selling agent, but he doesn’t do it alone.

“I’m very lucky with the likes of Matt Lahood and Thomas McGlynn who assist me working on my business,” Ben says.

“At times, you can be so busy with what you’re doing day-to-day that you need that business support.

“So at times Thomas or Matt will say, ‘look Ben you seem to be listing and selling more in this area – it’s probably time you put on another associate agent in that area’.

“The model of The Agency is for people like myself to grow those teams and that’s what is appealing to me, as opposed to me trying to manage front office staff, trust accounting and all the other verticals that are associated with the real estate office.

“But it’s also important because as an outsider looking in, they will see something I maybe had not considered.”

With 2019 – the year of extremes – in the rearview mirror, Ben says that in 2020 he and the team are looking to continue to build and move forward.

“We’re fortunate in that we’ve got some very good listings coming on – we look at each quarter to help set us up for the next quarter,” he says.

There is a clear focus on pipeline management, with Ben quick to point out that you can’t just have a lot of stock, you need to clear it and leverage off it to prime the next quarter.

“We’re always looking at our pipeline, not just me, but the individuals within my team,” he says.

“We’ve always got something we are clearly working on.

“It’s not always about breaking records but about building on the previous year’s success.”

And no doubt helping many more clients achieve the next step in their property journey, whatever that may be.

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Samantha McLean

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