Think Bigger

REAL ESTATE INDUSTRY COACH, mentor, thought leader, CEO and now star of the TV series Shark Tank, John McGrath spoke frankly and exclusively to Elite Agent about why today’s agents need be “straight-talkers”, how he feels about current developments with portals and property marketing, agent ethics, integrity, and community. In Part One of our two-part interview, John discusses how agents can ‘think bigger’, what to expect from AREC 15, and who he admires in the industry right now.

What do you feel have been the most significant changes in the industry in the last 12 to 24 months?
Well, digital, has of course marched forward once again. Over this past year, the Internet portals have become a more critical part of every marketing program, every agent’s life. We’ve also seen the stakes raised in terms of industry competition. There are really good agents, both franchise and independent, who are doing some great work, and therefore there is going to be even more pressure on those people who have failed to reinvent themselves. There are still a lot of – let’s call them ‘mature age principals’– who have probably failed to make changes within their business for some time. I think that this market is going to become even more challenging if people are not really getting up to speed with the times and with what’s happening with the better agents.

Last year at AREC14 you quoted Tony Hsieh from Zappos, saying “Whatever you’re doing, think bigger!” What are the things you think agents should be ‘thinking bigger’ about right now?
Start with the basics of personal productivity and performance. The average agent in Australia probably sells a dozen properties a year, or close to that number. In a good agency, and certainly some in our businesses, they are selling 100 to 150 properties a year. Whatever your current productivity is, you need to be looking at an increase in your expectations of yourself. With the tools available now for database management and other cloud/internet-based tools, most people should be three to four times more productive than they’ve ever been. Even if they’re doing nothing else except leveraging the technology that is currently available, that alone should really be making people far more productive.

Now, if people are simultaneously redesigning themselves as well as using technology, I think there is an incredible opportunity for massive uplifts for some smart agents. I talk to people who are selling 15 or 25 properties. I say, ‘Let’s have a conversation about how do you go to 50, to 100’, because at that point you’ve got a serious business and you’re a market leader. You’ve got momentum. Thinking bigger, whether you’re a principal or an agent, comes down to increasing the output of your business.

I also feel you can now take a slightly ‘more obscure’ view of thinking bigger, in terms of starting to think about what difference you can make in your community. We’re real estate agents, part of the building blocks that build communities. There is a big opportunity here going forward. Very few industries (unless you are the local shopkeeper) get to see such a wide cross-section of the community. We introduce new people. We shift families around, inside our communities. We get to touch a lot of families within a large geographical area.

There’s an opportunity to think bigger about your own personal performance, and how you, as a participant in the industry, can really leverage what you do and how you do it, and make a difference in the community as well.

I feel that anyone who hasn’t tapped into that, who’s not aware of it and concerned about it and treating it as an important part of the future, is out of touch. There are two things today that I believe are absolutely non-negotiable. One is an agent’s integrity and transparency, which still to this day seems to elude too many people in our industry. The second one is the area of the environment, sustainability and the wider community. As a successful member of any business community, whether you’re a real estate agent or not, you should have those things on your radar and work out what you can be doing.

From a business point of view, it makes total sense that people want to deal with ethical brands and organisations who care about the environment. It is just good business, and even more importantly, it’s part of being a good human being. This is where some of those who are not reinventing themselves are becoming out of touch.

Who in the industry do you admire most right now?
I admire a lot of people, for different reasons. I’ve got some great friends and mentors in the industry. Michael Sheargold has been a great friend of mine, and a close confidant, for many years. He’s doing some great work with his training and coaching. There are a few independent businesses around Australia I really admire. Shannon Whitney, has done a great job with his business (BresicWhitney), which is fantastic. Shannon used to work for me a long time ago, and I’m very proud of what he’s doing. I think Matt Hayson at Cobden Hayson is doing some phenomenal work in the Inner West, and the quality of their marketing and what they’re doing across the board is really world class.

There are plenty outside NSW as well: Ouwens Casserly in Adelaide are doing tremendous work; Phil Harris is doing great work. Those are some of the independents that I’ve referred to previously, the likes of Marshall White, Jellis Craig in Melbourne. Those businesses are all world class. I like to think of McGrath as a slightly larger-scale business that is also world class. Whether you’re a one-man operation, or a 50 or 500 office group, there is the opportunity in Australia to do work that’s nothing like anything else in the world. A lot of good businesses are now starting to show that.

You talk a lot about agents creating a ‘world-class experience’. What does that involve?
Start with the basics of ethics and integrity. Number one: Agents need to tell the truth, the whole truth, all the time. I think most agents do tell the truth but there are some who don’t and that’s of grave concern to me. I hear stories from customers, and within the industry, of some of the activities that go on. These discussions even happen in the corporate training room sometimes! I’m livid at the fact that there are people who are so outdated in their thinking. They tell the vendor what they want to hear, and then tell the buyers less than it’s worth, and bring them all together at the auction and ‘condition the vendor’; all this antiquated old-speak, yet there are individual agents, offices, and I fear, possibly even brands out there who think this is the way to go.

I am an evangelist for people just going hard on the truth… and not just the truth, but straight talk!

Google has changed the world in which we live. It’s made people expect things immediately, and expect direct, clear answers to their solutions and problems. The real estate industry, or a small part of it, still thinks that it holds the key, and withholds information. It thinks that this way it remains in a position of power. I have a view that the consumers want information, the way they want it, where they want it, how they want it, when they want it.

Even things like price guides; 66 to 70 per cent of our properties are auctions carrying price guides. I wish it was 100 per cent, to be honest. We’ll get there, eventually. I keep talking to the industry, whenever I speak at events, and I often ask, ‘Why don’t you use price guides?’ Someone goes to the trouble of ringing you up, and you say ‘It’s 600,000 to 700,000’. Why can’t you just put that in the advertisement? It makes no sense not to; it’s old-fashioned. It shouldn’t be that difficult.

Another thing is frequency of communication: nowadays there’s no excuse. You’ve got regular telephone, instant messaging, Internet, mobile communication, Skype; there are so many ways to keep your customers, buyers, and sellers well informed, frequently, in an unfiltered, clear, direct manner. Again, these tools didn’t exist when I started in real estate. Most of them didn’t exist more than a decade ago. I think agents have got to recognise that the tools are there to a) increase their productivity, massively; and b) to increase, simultaneously, the quality of their service to their clients. Some of agents are still in the ’80s, or the ’90s. They’re still thinking, ‘Well, if I get 25 sales done, that’ll be good. If I give my vendor an occasional update, that’s enough.’

People don’t want occasional updates. Unless they’re getting married, or having a baby, or having some other incredibly important social and family moment, selling their home is going to be the most important thing on their mind. Some agents still wait until they’ve got some good news before talking to them. I say, ‘Don’t wait until you’ve got good news! Give your clients constant updates, so they know where they stand; and then they also know you’re working on their behalf on a daily basis.’ If I’m selling your house and you don’t hear from me for ten days, you’re quite possibly going to make the assumption I haven’t done much for ten days. If I’m giving you daily updates, (when I was selling was certainly my benchmark), you know I’m still working. I say to my team ‘it’s about the frequency’. For me, that’s what people deserve when they’re selling their property.

What surprises can we expect at AREC15?
I say this every year: it’s the best program we have ever had, and I guess that means that every year we need to raise the bar on ourselves! There’s no doubt that this is the most balanced program. It’s the deepest program.

I wanted the program this year to have a very strong emphasis on coaching; we certainly use a lot of coaching in our business, and I do believe that the right coaches, and the right information, connecting with our industry, can ramp up massive success.

We’ve got the top two real estate coaches from the US; Tom Ferry will be back, as well as Brian Buffini. We also have Samantha DeBianchi, from the ‘Million Dollar Agent’ TV show, who will be speaking about the 2015 agent and what they need to do to be successful.

We also have five of the top Australian coaches in Claudio Encina, Tom Panos, Michael Sheargold, Peter Gilchrist and Lee Woodward. They all have very different styles, and that is deliberate; we didn’t want them all to look or feel the same. Plus we have a lot of local practictioners taking the stage and this year we’re aiming for short, sharp ‘TED’ style talks, some just 20 minutes long, with a theme for each speaker of delivering your very best material in a 20-minute block.

In terms of the non-real estate speakers, we have Wayne Dyer, who is a personal performance expert; he has written some amazing books, one in particular called Erroneous Zones. He’s probably now in his 70s, I would think. His work is just as relevant today, because he keeps reinventing himself.

Tim Ferriss needs no introduction: he wrote The 4 Hour Work Week, and is a productivity expert. He will deliver two keynote speeches over two days; I think he’ll be phenomenal. And we are going to end each day with Les Brown. He first spoke at AREC about eight or nine years ago, and in the 15 year history of AREC, we have never had anyone rate higher than he has; he just uplifts people. He’s really phenomenal.

Last but certainly not least, we’ve also got two great ‘Kiwi’ speakers, who are incredibly successful in real estate in New Zealand. Martin Cooper owns the number one small real estate group; he has got a small cluster of offices that he owns and runs. They’re doing about 45 or 50 million per annum. That puts him right up there at the top. Then there’s Wendy Alexander CEO of Barfoot & Thompson. She’s also very hands-on. She’s going to talk about what her top people in New Zealand are doing.

So 21 speakers all up, more speakers than ever before; it promises to be a great event!

To book tickets for AREC 15 visit tret.com.au.

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Samantha McLean

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