AS FRESHLY-MINTED PRINCIPALS, Andrea Bonner and Sally Shaw’s business relationship is unique in more ways than one. They’re the vibrant duo behind Tasmania’s revolutionary estate agency, PropertyWise Launceston, and have established a new set-up that sees their sales and property management departments working closely yet independently. Story by Iolanthe Gabrie.
WARM AND empathetic, veteran sales agent Andrea smiles, acknowledging that ‘caring too much about her clients’ is probably her greatest weakness. Seasoned property manager Sally is energetic and service-driven, focused on delivering premium experiences for her ‘magic number’ ratio of clients.
“Launny is such a small town and a great place to work. So many agencies have reached out to welcome us as PropertyWise: in Launceston, agents are genuinely happy to celebrate their competitors’ success. It’s really been quite overwhelming,” says Sally.
Sally and Andrea came to discover their talent and passion for real estate via different avenues. “When I left high school, I always knew I wanted to get into real estate sales; I was a bit young at the time so I went into a receptionist role with a local firm before finally getting into sales at 26,” says Andrea. For Sally, real estate was ‘just a job’. “I worked in an admin role with one agency, before going to another company where the property manager walked out. I took over her role, realising I could deal with the angst of her clients. For me, it’s always been about the people rather than the property. The property? That’s a by-product.”
Having crossed paths while working at the same business 14 years ago, Andrea and Sally realised they had much in common: importantly, an intense focus on their clients’ success and happiness. Andrea notes that neither had much desire to be principals at the beginning of their careers, but “after 16 years in the industry, I looked back at where business was coming from. It was always repeat clients and referrals. People followed Sally and myself rather than the brands we worked for. It was then we thought ‘Why aren’t we doing this for ourselves?’” Once their decision was made they were off and running, taking only three months to set up PropertyWise Launceston.
Andrea observes that several boutique agencies have opened in Launceston recently, with individual salespeople venturing out on their own rather than joining franchises. Could this be a new trend in the southern states? In any case, the business case to open their own agency was clear, says Sally. “Rent rolls are being purchased by big companies, and when that happens owners feel neglected. They are forced to become part of a big brand, and being a small town that doesn’t sit right with all landlords. They don’t want their decision being sold on for profit.” Launceston, it seems, is all about the individual service and people, not brands.
With this hard-earned knowledge front of mind, Andrea and Sally set about building a new agency model that puts customer service first; one that allowed them to build a brand together, yet act nimbly upon the respective demands of their vendors and landlords. Working with their accountant, Andrea and Sally have structured PropertyWise Launceston as two separate businesses under one banner, meaning they have two separate trust accounts.
“We share our marketing and administration costs, but we are two separate entities trading under one name. Andrea and I decided to structure our business this way because we want to be totally invested in our individual roles; for me to make quick decisions about property management, and for Andrea to do the same with sales. We have one joint expenses account, but all individual decisions are paid for separately. If I want to purchase a $100 pet shop voucher for a client, I don’t need to ask for permission to do that – that is the expense of the property management department rather than the whole business. From an accounting perspective, this new model is much easier to reconcile, too.”
So how else will PropertyWise Launceston differentiate itself from the wider market? “I know everyone bangs on about offering boutique service,” says Sally, “but when you work for a big agency you are only ever as good as that team’s weakest member. You can work your backside off for a client, yet have a colleague who does the bare minimum.
“I wanted to go out on my own because of the strength of my repeat and referral business, but I also wanted to create a brand that is truly boutique and focuses on a capped ratio of clients to staff. I want to offer great service; to get problems fixed right away without having to go through the levels of permission that larger organisations force upon their staff. For me, PropertyWise Launceston comes back to people and service.”
Andrea also wants her clients to benefit from PropertyWise Launceston’s stand-alone sales model. “I put ethics highest on my values list: in my own business I am empowered to make ethical decisions. That’s not always the way larger agencies work. I don’t want to be implicated in the less-than-ethical practices of others, which is another reason why I decided the time was now to begin my own business.”
It seems that bigger isn’t always better, when it comes to the “beautiful, ethical and personal service” the PropertyWise Launceston team seek to deliver with their new offering. “When we first had this vision,” says Andrea, “it wasn’t to grow to be the biggest company. We want to be known as the best, not the biggest. We also want to try and avoid the traps experienced by other boutique agencies; they start out well, but the level of service drops off as they grow. Sally and I really want to cap our numbers and achieve a ‘magic number’; this will mean capping the listings we hold so we can remain truly boutique and offer that special service.”
“We obviously want to grow our business and be successful,” agrees Sally. “If we grew and approached our capped number we would look for staff support. But we’ll always be really focused on not over-extending ourselves and offering inimitable service.
“Landlords need to be educated to ask more questions when selecting a property manager. Who will actually manage your property? How many properties do they have under management, and what support do they have? Many agencies fudge their numbers by averaging the ratio out over their whole staff, which makes them sound great but isn’t accurate. It also means that property managers are overloaded. This is another reason why Andrea and I started PropertyWise Launceston: we don’t want to overload ourselves with big agency KPIs to the detriment of our clients.”
“The same thing applies to sales,” says Andrea. “Large agency directors have their name on every listing, but in reality their minions manage the transaction. We want to strike a happy medium with a magic ratio that balances service and puts clients first.”
In PropertyWise Launceston, not only will the local Tasmanian real estate playing field be altered: Sally and Andrea’s business also represents a whole new attitude and structure towards running an agency together, yet apart. “Traditional agency models pit sales agents against property managers; they’re always the poor cousin of sales,” says Sally. Andrea agrees. “Miscommunication is a huge problem, with property managers and sales agents at odds. Our new model – a magic ratio, independent financial entities under one brand, no inducements to referral – seeks to overcome the failings of big agencies by being constantly accountable to one another in our separateness, focused squarely on giving real service to our clients.”
Together, yet apart. A marriage made in real-estate heaven. Watch this space!