The Measure of Success

Are you a numbers person? History shows us time and again that property professionals who are focused on the numbers are those who enjoy the greatest success. This rings true for Peter Hooymans, Ann Rogers, Georgina Mellick, Stephen Fitzsimon and Tim Ear, founders of multi-award winning agency Melbourne Real Estate. Story by Iolanthe Gabrie.

CHARISMATIC AND with an energy that veritably leaps out at you, Peter Hooymans is indeed a numbers person in a numbers business. “I want to measure everything,” he says. “This goes back to my early training with John McGrath 16 years ago. I went to all his training, which was about ‘measure, measure, measure’.

“For example, in the first quarter of 2016, Melbourne Real Estate (MRE) received 3,031 rental applications. We lease 180 to 200 properties a month, which is huge. Having a general manager (Tim Ear, also one of the founders of the business) who is a CPA with extraordinary metrics abilities allows us to know what’s going on in our business at all times.”

MRE flies a little under the radar when it comes to the real estate industry at large, despite having been founded in 1992 and eventually setting up shop permanently in South Yarra in 2004. Yet being Melbourne-based is only half the MRE story, as this unique business enjoys a distinctly global identity courtesy of years spent working with international audiences.

“Twelve years ago, Melbourne Real Estate had humble beginnings with Peter working and travelling internationally on a gruelling schedule to meet and build relationships with an international client base,” says Office Manager Ann Rogers. “The initial success came out of the Middle East, followed by Asia. As the hard work paid off, it became clear that help was needed to expand the administration side of the business so Peter could focus on what was fast becoming a large international client base. I loved taking on the challenge, but more importantly, l understood his vision and was immediately impressed by his energy, passion and commitment to take MRE to a whole new level. From the beginning he had a global vision and was absolutely driven about service standards.”

Renting a small office space and with very few systems or procedures in place on day one, it was a case of humble beginnings. But both Ann and Peter knew they were headed for bigger things and set their sights on growing the team. “Our ‘founding members’ were put through a lengthy process of interviews and caliper testing, to ensure they were not only aligned with our vision and work ethic but also had the experience and the drive to deliver exceptional service to our clients at the level that met our expectations and beyond. It was essential they were the perfect addition – Pete has always been manically driven about delivering six-star service.”

The numbers – those all-important measurables – tell a story of year-on-year growth and expansion to the team of 42 innovative thinkers that MRE is today. “We started off with about 30 properties under management in 2005-6,” says Peter. “Then we had a couple of projects settle and went to 150, and then in 2008 we were at about 300. At this point I knew that in order to maintain a reasonable rent roll growth rate, BDMs would need to be engaged. Coming from a sales background, I was all over that aspect of property management; we now have four full-time BDMs. Our rent roll today sits at 2,172, so we’ve grown at 70 per cent per annum since 2008.” Little wonder, then, that MRE has a trophy cabinet full of property management awards.

Prolific growth is not all that’s interesting about MRE, however. The organisation itself is as diverse as the global clientele of tenants and landlords it serves. MRE conducts roadshows throughout Asia several times a year, traversing China and Malaysia, growing their brand as they go.

“Half of our rental team are bilingual and trilingual – we even have one amazing employee at MRE who speaks six languages,” notes Peter proudly. “We’ve made a conscious decision to be able to service our clients overseas in their language and in their time zone.”

Predominantly a property management business, MRE is also strong in the sales game, with project and traditional sales teams. Peter says, “As a result of our large rent roll, and natural and annual rent roll attrition of 10 per cent per annum, we have the opportunity to sell 220 properties per year. Our re-sales team transacts approximately 10 properties per month, selling to both our database of 18,000 buyers and the wider public.”

The two leads for projects and property management, Georgina Mellick and Stephen Fitzsimon, work together closely to ensure that the end result is maximised for all parties. Says Georgina, “Our project origins were the platform for our successful property management growth and have generated over $100m in ‘off the plan’ sales in the past 12 months, including more than 45 sales over $1m.

“We are a boutique project marketing company specialising in beautifully designed apartments and townhouses to be sold off the plan. Highly selective about the projects we take on, collaboration between all the project consultants, from the architect to the interior designer and branding and marketing agency, has become non-negotiable. We constantly strive for innovation with a one-eyed determination; failure is not an option. We finish what we start and we are proud of what we do.”

In the 2016 calendar year, MRE will settle more than 200 apartments and townhouses.
Says Stephen, “It’s pretty evident in Melbourne that an apartment glut is looming. With 30,000-plus apartments being built annually, we recognise that at some point the focus will change from winning clients who want us to manage their properties to securing tenants who are spoilt for choice in the apartment market.

“At MRE, we have made a conscious decision to make the process of finding and securing our apartments significantly faster and easier. A lot has changed from the days of handing out keys to tenants and hoping they like the property! At MRE we provide tenants with a concierge service.

“Our listings on the major portals ensure that our properties are easy to find, even in the busiest suburb of Melbourne itself. Every single advertisement we have used since 2009 has engaged professional photography to ensure they generate peak interest – but that’s not always enough to make it onto a tenant’s shortlist. In 2012, we invested in 100 per cent adoption of videos with walk-through tours; 390,000 views later we are sold on their effectiveness in regard to showcasing properties, and giving tenants a better picture of the property attributes prior to inspecting – thus ensuring that tenants who inspect thereafter are qualified and ready to apply.”

This approach is at the heart of Peter’s vision for MRE. “It boils down to this,” he says. “The philosophy of MRE is to offer absolutely mind-blowing service and to create raving fans. Our service philosophy is basically doing whatever it takes to make sure that our tenant and landlord are a match made in heaven. Contra to the attitude of many agencies, we focus heavily on tenant service, as they’re the landlords of the future.”

This attitude of excellence comes from the top down, with only a select array of individuals joining the MRE team. “It takes five interviews to get a job here; when we interview, applicants go through multiple processes, including a Myers-Briggs test and two further psychometric tests to determine fit.

“Successful applicants are nurtured into our culture and extensively trained. We look after our staff, because they look after our clients. We’ve implemented Naomi Simson’s Redii program, which offers our team a series of rewards every day: if someone does something helpful, we’ll say ‘here’s 200 points for going out of your way to drop those keys into the city’. Points are convertible for a variety of rewards, from supermarket vouchers to experiences via the Redii shop. We spend about $7,000 each month, publically rewarding our team for doing great things.” It’s not hard to see why MRE’s staff retention has been at 100 per cent over the last 17 months.

Says General Manager Tim Ear, “Whilst it is imperative that we attend industry-specific conferences and training, and stay tuned into real estate news, it’s relatively difficult to lead, innovate and create unique points of difference if your only inspirations come from your industry peers. Success leaves clues, from Zappos, Red Balloon, Tesla Motors, Southwest Airlines, Disney, through to the Hawthorn Hawks AFL team – these organisations inspire us to the world of possibilities in regard to innovation, change and service.”
A hallmark of MRE is their sleek approach to property marketing: you won’t find poorly-shot iPhone photos on any of their listings, in sales or property management. “Our property managers are given a $2,500 video kit, as all our property marketing is done using video. Forget paper and photographs; our routine inspections and condition reports are recorded by our trained team before being optimised for image quality, stability and sound. These videos are then uploaded to our clients’ private accounts, which they access through the 24-7 MRE app. Our offshore landlords love these videos, because nothing gets lost in the mail.”

With such a large rent roll, how do they ensure all landlords are willing to invest in such uniformly elegant marketing for their properties? It’s simple, says Peter. “We don’t give our landlords a choice. Just as we don’t give our tenants a choice when it comes to direct debits; each of our 2,172 rental properties are direct-debited each Friday. If the rent is not there, they are charged a dishonour fee. And our rent roll arrears are zero. Our vacant properties are zero.
“We want to be the best, and that’s why we have high standards across MRE. For our tenants, our landlords and our team.”

As innovators in culture and property marketing, the final question we have is what the MRE team see happening in the future. Says Peter, “With our ambition to execute to completeness, we built a reputation on selling out whole projects, creating momentum and credibility in the boutique off-the-plan space.

“Five years ago, we wholly focused on digitising our property management platform, led by Todd Breen (Virtually Incredible) and used the Google and YouTube platforms to engage our customers. In 2016, we are 100 per cent video-oriented in our marketing, utilise cloud-based real-time CRMs (Salesforce) to meet the needs of our developers and constantly seek innovative technology solutions to increase our internal efficiencies and external marketing impact.”

Tim’s view of the future is clear. “A higher bar in regard to customer expectations as technology continues to improve everyone’s ability to access information – the world is real-time and everyone is potentially connected. In digital realms, client experiences are no longer isolated; positive (and negative) word of mouth travels wider and faster than ever before.”

There will be more focus on tools, strategies and initiatives that increase customer satisfaction and client value. In fast-moving and volatile business conditions worldwide, one thing’s for certain: clients who receive superior value will ultimately remain loyal.

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Iolanthe Gabrie

Iolanthe Gabrie is a Director of Ruby Slipper Consultants, providing written content for the real estate industry. For more information visit rubyslipper.com.au.