In business, people often say they do things differently and then you discover it’s little more than window dressing.
That’s not the case with Wiseberry Heritage Group.
Walking through the Central Coast agency’s new ‘office’ immediately emphasises why.
The office isn’t really an office. It’s a house – a large one – and it really feels like a home.
There’s an enormous kitchen where team members bake scones, a pool table where they play pool on a Friday after work and even a pool where they can take a dip in the summer months.
The bedrooms have been converted into work stations, but there’s also team photos on the walls in the hallways.
The ambience is definitely one of connected, calm and community. And that’s exactly what the property management team offers to its landlord and tenant clients too.
So much so that the group won the inaugural Annual REA Excellence Award for Property Management Team of the Year.
“It was a great way to celebrate with the team, but winning is also excellent in terms of promotion and being able to say that we’re No. 1 in Australia is a pretty big deal, not everyone can do that,” Wiseberry Heritage General Manager Megan Green says.
Senior Property Manager Shaye Wallis agrees, emphasising that Wiseberry Heritage “does things a little bit differently”, and winning the AREA validated that they are “on to something special” with their customer-focused initiatives.
So what is it that the group does so differently?
They run a raft of programs focused on rewarding excellent tenants, and which fosters better relationships between those tenants and their landlords, along with their property managers.
Tenant of the Year
General Manager Darin Butcher says about six years ago they introduced a Tenant of the Year award, with the winner awarded a month’s free rent, which Wiseberry Heritage, not the landlord, pays for.
To win the coveted prize tenants are nominated in one of five categories – loyalty, community spirit, best interior, best garden and consistency of rent paid – with five finalists chosen in each category.
The winner of each category scores a week’s free rent and the overall winner receives the full month.
“The objective behind it was that I felt that while people were striving to be a better tenant they were going to be greater for the landlord,” Mr Butcher says.
“They were going to look after the places better. They were going to be active and quite vocal in the community about the support that they get.
“And that was going to bring better quality tenants in, so the landlords have more to pick from.
“It’s been a really good program and it’s worked really well. We’ve had some wonderful winners and we’ve got a real kick out of it.”
Advanced Rent Club
The other program likely to have caught AREA judges’ attention is the Advanced Rent Club.
Darin notes that you can’t ask a tenant to be more than two weeks ahead in their rent, but simply by having an advanced rent club, tenants were keen to be a part of it and reap the rewards offered.
Those rewards include petrol, food, restaurant and cinema vouchers.
“With the Advanced Rent Club, we realised that if we can get them in advance, then we don’t have to chase them for arrears,” Darin says.
“Legislation says you can only ask for two (weeks rent in advance), so we don’t ask for it. We just offer an opportunity to be in a club if you want to get free incentives for paying the same rent you would otherwise be paying anyway.”
Shaye notes that every second Friday, any tenant more than four weeks ahead in their rent goes into the random draw for the voucher, but the initiative also has benefits for the landlords and the property managers too.
“Bigger picture, it’s created opportunities to speak to people with a positive conversation,” she says.
“So most of the job in property management, 99 per cent of the job, is tough conversations, but this has provided an opportunity for property managers to speak to landlords and tenants in a positive light.
“It’s created loyalty within our tenants as well, so more often than not, if we need to move a tenant out, they’re wanting to stay with us, which is a huge benefit to our landlords.”
Megan points out that building solid relationships isn’t just a solid strategy in sales, but in property management too, and rewarding tenants not only showed that Wiseberry Heritage was different but that they cared.
“It shows a point of difference but I think it also brings that human factor back into real estate, instead of it just being a property transaction,” she says.
Reshaping how they measure KPIs
Last year the team also changed how it measures its KPIs, using a traffic light system to incentivise the 20-plus strong team of property managers to strive for excellence.
“We don’t expect any better than orange,” Darin says.
“So if they are orange, they’re doing their job fabulously and we’re happy.
“But should they do an exceptional job where the clients are raving… they’ll move into green and that’s where it’s incentivised from an hourly pay rate.
“Of course everyone likes to be rewarded for doing something above and beyond and it’s an amazing thing for them to be able to realise that they’ve actually moved into that category.”
The KPIs are all of the usual suspects – lease renewals, rent reviews and more, but Shaye says the team also has ‘love calls’.
“In a nutshell, that’s a good news call to a landlord,” she explains.
“It’s not about a repair or maintenance, it’s just communicating with them to say, ‘Hi, how are you’ and to make sure everything is ok or if there is anything extra we can do.”
Senior Property Manager Naomi Lynch has been in property management for 50 years and says building long-term, associational relationships is at the core of what Wiseberry Heritage does.
“Property management is that you’re dealing with the same people or the same family and they’re the relationships that we really treasure and are always our goal,” she says.
Naomi’s expertise is also central to the buoyant culture the property management team has.
Darin says there’s not a situation or a problem she can’t fix and she’s also the “cuddler of the team”.
“She’s the one that, if someone is feeling down or needs help, she’s there,” he says.
Naomi admits that she’s the ‘mum’ of the group, while Shaye is the driver and Megan is the overseer.
It’s a combination that works well and keeps the team focused and determined.
“No one’s more important than anyone else in the team and I think everyone knows that,” Shaye says.
Crafting the right culture carefully
Darin says one of the key criteria they hire new team members based on is their ability to be a team player as well as adaptable and with an ethos of working hard and always learning.
He says they recently hired a psychologist to assist with building the culture within the office and she helps with the hiring and firing process.
“But the truth is, she’s there for so much more because if you develop that culture, you really don’t need to be looking at the fire side of things,” Darin explains.
“It’s always just the hire side and how we evolve with that.”
With that evolution comes a desire to help team members build career pathways within the agency and this includes the implementation of a roadmap for people to progress through the business.
Megan says the progression is like bridging the gap between roles with stepping stones so that “it’s not such a big step, or a big fearful jump”, and this approach aids a successful transition.
“So we’re actually building the top level from within and then bringing good people in on an entry level,” she says.
What the future holds
At the moment, the team currently has 2000 doors under management, but Darin says the goal is to take that to 2500 – as long as the team’s KPIs remain as high as they are now.
He says the key to growth is good growth and ensuring that all of the ‘basic’ elements of service remain at the forefront of everything they do.
“For the team, that was our grand final win,” Darin explains.
“We’ve got that now and it’s a matter of coming off the hangover of that because what comes with that is pride but also ego.
“And I think what we’ve got to realise is we still have to value every person, including the tradesperson that comes and works for us, and we’ve got to make their life easier.”
Shaye agrees, pointing out that the team will need to constantly adapt and evolve going forward.
“As society’s expectations change, we need to change also,” she notes.
“What we are doing now, works for now, but what we’re doing in 12 months time may not work.
“So, I think one thing that we really do is constantly analyse all of our processes and pull them apart and put them back together as we need to.
“That won’t ever change, no matter what trophies are on the wall.”
- This is the first in a three part series, so make sure you check back tomorrow for a Q and A with Wiseberry Heritage’s award-winning property managers.