Elite AgentFeature Interviews

Thriving through Boom and Bust: Rick Hockey

In the mining town of Port Hedland, WA, First National senior sales consultant Rick Hockey has overcome the market slump of recent years to survive and thrive in the real estate game. Rick tells us how changing his mindset changed his life and gave him the skills to weather the boom and the bust.

It was 2009 when Rick Hockey took the plunge to embrace a lifelong passion for property and enter the real estate game.

At the time he had 28 years’ experience working in the Pilbara region as a BHP employee, was running his own successful cleaning business and had a deep connection with the Port Hedland community.

The mining boom had afforded him the opportunity to build a property portfolio of his own and he was frequently in and out of the First National office tending to affairs. So when agency principal Morag Lowe joked he spent so much time at First National he should work there, Rick took up the invitation.

In only his first week as an agent, Rick sold his first property. It was just the start of the good times to come. By 2011, the region’s property market was at a premium. The median house price for Port Hedland was $900,000, and South Hedland was returning a median of $700,000. Rents were also skyrocketing, drawing investors to the region to enjoy returns of up to $5,000 a week. The selling was easy and the success staggering.

“Life was good,” Rick explains. “Lots of sales, good commissions and more personal property acquisitions.”

Then, in late 2012, things began to change. Mining construction slowed, iron ore prices fell and everyone began to tighten their belts. The market was correcting, but at a frightening rate.

Rick notes that in a normal market a correction might equate to 10 or 20 per cent, but in Port Hedland the impact was much, much greater. Prices dropped 30 per cent, then 40 and 50, finally stabilising at about 60 to 70 per cent across rentals and sales.

Few were immune to the fallout. The population dropped from around 20,000 to 13,000. Investors were gone, property became hard to sell and, for those who had staked it all on the high prices and lure of the boom, selling equated to a massive loss.

“In a pivotal moment, I found myself standing in a lounge room appraising a property,” Rick recalls. “I was telling
the owners the market price. They broke down and cried. They were going to lose everything. And standing there I also had grave concerns for my own situation, my own family and my own future.”

Like many, Rick had taken a hit to his own portfolio, but it was the hit to his self-esteem that rocked him most.

“In a pivotal moment, I was appraising a property and told the owners the market price. They broke down and cried.”

“The boom created not only a false economy, but a false image of reality and had given me a false impression of myself,” he says. “At the start I thought I was quite successful, but I didn’t know how to handle a declining market.

“I became disillusioned with the market, the mining industry, the future of Hedland, my property portfolio, my future, and my ability to list and sell property in a declining market.”

In short, he was struggling and spiralling towards rock bottom.

“Then I thought, ‘I’ve got to do something’. So I rang people I knew, people I trusted who were still selling a lot of properties despite the market conditions. I got myself a mentor, I talked to positive people and I worked to change my mindset.”

His immediate mental shift involved taking responsibility. “If you’re a failure, it’s your fault; if you’re a success, it’s your fault,” he reflects.

His new strategy was a no-excuses approach. He directed his attention to listing properties, offering owners and buyers a service that was second to none. He played to his strengths of good communication, honesty and commitment. When he needed help he asked for it, bringing in assistance to address weaknesses like social media presence. But, above all, he brought his own experience and the human factor to the game.

Once he started to take action, Rick began to feel he had direction. He was no longer sinking but had started to swim. His confidence began to return. His passion for real estate resurfaced and the sales began to come.

“I started to love listing properties. It was my focus; list properties and the buyers will come to you.”

An average day for Rick can start as early as 5.30am and stretch into the evening around 7pm. The extra hours are spent ensuring every phone call and email of the day has been returned, with Rick noting this is key to his success.

“If you’re a failure, it’s your fault; if you’re a success, it’s your fault.”

“Clients gain confidence in you when you return their calls promptly. They believe you are efficient and you care. That’s because you are, and you do. I ensure I never lose the all-important human side and go that extra mile to help.”

Rick also brings his own experience to the table, even if that means he has to be harsh to be kind. He is upfront about property prices and understands for some sellers that entails a loss.

“I talk people through it, because I went through it myself.”

Now, however, things in Port Hedland are showing promise again. This time Rick believes there will be no bubble, but consistent, stable growth.

Construction is currently underway at mines in the area; new commodities like lithium and manganese are set to be exported. Meanwhile, the region has also diversified into the cattle trade. The airport is undergoing an upgrade and is soon to take direct flights from Auckland, Shanghai and Vietnam. Like Rick, Port Hedland is rising from the bleak days of the bust.

Rick is excited and enthusiastic about this brighter future ahead, but also notes the value of the lessons learned in recent years, reflecting that they have made him a far better agent overall.

Last year alone he sold 132 properties, averaging 11 sales per month. For the past two years he has been recognised by First National as the highest-selling agent in Western Australia.

He has seen the highs, he has seen the lows and Rick Hockey has adapted to embrace both.

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