Elite AgentFeature Interviews

Tony Heath: Your name is your reputation

Shakespeare may have asked “what’s in a name?” but after 28 years in real estate, Tony Heath has learnt the answer is “quite a lot”. The McLachlan Partners agent tells Kylie Dulhunty why your name is your bond.

It might be unlucky for most, but for Tony Heath the number 13 has proved nothing but fortuitous.

His wife, Julie was born on the 13th, as was one of his sons.

On July 13th he celebrated 28 years in the real estate industry and 28 years with McLachlan Partners on the Central Coast of NSW.

“I’ve only ever worked for one agency and that is unusual, particularly in sales,” he muses.

“The average for a real estate agent in any one office is about an 18-month tenure.

“I’ve never wanted to work for anyone else but McLachlan Partners. It’s a family-owned agency and has been since it started in 1924.

“It’s built on reliability and honesty, and that’s something I like about working for them.

“People ask what I do and when I say I’m a real estate agent they immediately ask if I’ve learnt to lie and cheat, but McLachlan Partners has always been very reputable.”

Tony’s real estate career didn’t start like most, with the former insurance broker turning to the profession as a 35-year-old.

He’d just sold his business to a Sydney brokerage and with his business partner retiring, Tony found himself at a loose end.

When a friend who was a real estate agent suggested he join the industry, Tony decided to roll the dice.

Little did he know his plans wouldn’t pan out quite as smoothly as he had first hoped.

“I thought gee, this looks easy,” Tony recalls.

“You see a for sale sign go up one day and a couple of weeks later you see a sold sticker.

“I thought there couldn’t be that much to it, but that couldn’t have been further from the truth.”

Tony’s first year was a baptism of fire.

The country was in a recession and despite the thorough and ongoing training and mentoring he received from Principal Bruce McLachlan, getting a sale was tough going.

“In 1991 the market was on a downward slope, it was dropping like a rock,” Tony says.

“Interest rates were high, there were a lot of forced sales and a lot of sadness about.

“We were in the thick of that and there just weren’t any buyers around. In the first 12 months I had 50 exclusive listings but I couldn’t service them. I couldn’t sell them, there just weren’t many buyers.”

Tony did get his first sale that year – a three-bedroom brick home he sold for $125,000 in Berkeley Vale.

Since then there have been many memorable sales, none more so than the then record price of $3.15 million achieved for a beachfront home in Blue Bay in the early 2000s.

Just a year earlier Tony sold the same property for $2.6 million.

After so long in the industry you may think the adage ‘you can’t teach an old dog new tricks’ might be fitting, but just last year Tony sold his first chunk of virgin land.

He says 19 blocks in Berkeley Vale hit the market at Christmas in 2017 and he sold them all by February.

“I thoroughly enjoyed learning through the whole process from the developer drawing up the plans, getting approval for the subdivision and understanding the requirements around things such as bushfires,” Tony says.

“It was really rewarding.”

Ever a realist, Tony says not all sales have been happy sales and he warns his vendors that while he’ll always do his utmost to protect and sell their asset, sometimes he will be the bearer of bad news.

“It can be a real challenge when an owner has to sell because of finances, a divorce or a death,” he says.

“I’ve seen plenty of tears and emotion, and that’s one of the challenges you have when you’re dealing with people.

“Then, of course, there are cases where a buyer pulls out at the 11th hour and you have to break the bad news.”

One particular case sticks in Tony’s mind for that very reason.

After languishing on the market for about a year, he finally had a buyer for the couple’s home.

The sale would allow the couple, who were getting on in years, to move closer to their family.

“We had a buyer. They’d signed the contracts and then about an hour before the cooling off period ended they rescinded the contract,” Tony sighs.

“I knew I couldn’t tell the owners over the phone, so I went to see them and not only did the wife start crying but the husband had tears in his eyes as well.”

Needless to say, with 28 years in the industry, Tony has seen a few changes in his time.

He says McLachlan Partners has always been progressive and were one of the first agencies in NSW to introduce the five-day cooling-off period and the first in the area to have mobile phones.

“We had these huge phones tied to our belts that pulled our pants down,” Tony chuckles.

“They were big, like bricks, only had two hours of battery at a time and a call cost of about $2 per minute.

“But it paid for itself when you put a few deals together.”

When Tony first started in the industry, the office would be overflowing with people wanting to list or buy a house every Saturday morning.

The black and white, fly-blown window advertising cards were a hot attraction and the World Wide Web was in its infancy.

Today we have drone photography, online advertising, virtual reality and artificial intelligence.

Agents can work from anywhere and need not have a desk in an office.

Tony says one thing hasn’t changed in 28 years and that’s the best piece of advice he ever received.

“A colleague who had been in the industry a long time told me that unless I were willing to eat, sleep and breathe real estate, I wouldn’t make it,” he says.

“They were right. You are virtually on call seven days a week. You can’t hide. It doesn’t matter if it’s 7am or 10pm, people will seek you out. You will have to go on appointments on your days off.”

Tony pays homage to his wife of 40 years, Julie, and his sons, David and John, who are now in their 30s.

He says without their love, support and understanding, he wouldn’t have made it in real estate, although he admits he wishes he’d gotten the work-life balance a little more even.

For new agents just starting their careers, Tony’s advice is simple.

“Your name is the most important part of your business,” he says.

“You have to be able to walk down the street and hold your head up. If people say you’re an honest person, that is worth its weight in gold.

“Reputation is very important in terms of building up your business.”

Tony says in The Entrance district in the past 12 to 18 months prices have fallen away between five and 15 per cent, but with lower interest rates and an expected drop in finance stress test levels, that should start to change.

“I’m not expecting price rises in the next 12 months, but I do think there are much smoother waters in front of us,” he says.

“After that I think we can anticipate five to 10 per cent gains over the next four to five years.”

Tony also plans to retire in about five years to travel and indulge his passion for writing.

“I’m writing a book at the moment, it’s a mystery-thriller set in Australia with plenty of murder and mayhem,” he says.

“Writing will be an important part of the retirement process. I really want to keep at that.”

The only question is whether Tony will get the book published.

“That would be wonderful,” he chuckles

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