Where are they now? Part 1: David Highland and Paul Signorelli

When Walter B Pitkin wrote the smash hit self-help book Life Begins at 40 he probably never thought it would inspire a real estate magazine feature article. But it has. This is the 40th edition of Elite Agent magazine and we thought what better way to celebrate it, than to catch up with a few of the stars of the first issue. In this special feature we chat to David Highland, Joel Davoren, Lauren Kirk and Paul Signorelli about what they've been up to for the past seven years, where their career trajectory has taken them and what the future holds.

David Highland – A swift upward growth trajectory

When David Highland graced the cover of the first ever issue of Elite Agent magazine in 2014, he was a sales agent and leader gearing for growth.

That year, he had personally sold more than $140 million worth of property and the seven-year-old business he had started with his father was eying a second office in the area.

Fast forward to 2021, and that growth trajectory continues.

Since 2014, Highland Property Agents has doubled in size to 120 staff, sales volumes have quadrupled, and they recently opened a fourth office in Double Bay to complement the group’s Cronulla, Taren Point and Sutherland locations.

“A lot’s happened,” David explains.

“We’ve grown fast and consecutively now for 15 years and particularly in the past 18 months.” 

David notes last calendar year saw the group transact around $2 billion in sales, while the property management department now stands at 2500 properties under management.

“There was 58 per cent growth in our sales team during lockdown,” David explains, noting he feels immense pride in his team’s achievements, and also their resilience.

“Watching the business grow through the most challenging time anyone expected has been an absolute highlight,” David says.

“We’ve come out stronger than ever through this recent period and it’s taken our people to a whole new level.” 

David says the real estate industry continues to change rapidly, with buyers becoming increasingly sophisticated.

“Agents have had to become a lot better in the past seven years, and particularly the past 18 months,” he reflects.

“The good agents have got better, the best agencies have become bigger and stronger, and the rest have fallen by the wayside.”

Identifying opportunities for improvement has always been part of Highland Property’s DNA. So has a focus on culture and innovation.

In 2014, David had just introduced a creative department to spearhead the brand’s marketing.

Now the group has recently completed a full rebrand, along with introducing additional offerings such as a concierge service, and an insurance and finance division.

David explains the rebrand is designed to keep the brand fresh and attract new talent, while the insurance and finance division is about creating a full-service real estate offering.

With five insurance brokers in-house, they cater to everything from home and contents insurance to landlord protection and car insurance.

A dedicated team of brokers also manages loan applications including home and development loans.

David notes the introduction of the finance division was “a no brainer”.

“We were looking at touchpoints in the buying journey a couple of years ago,” David explains.

“We average 1000 buyer inquiries a week so it was all about considering how we could help clients in ways other than selling their home.”

The finance division is complemented by the concierge platform which guides buyers and sellers through the transaction process.

“When people list their property with us, the concierge service gets in touch and offers them services that help them get ready to sell,” David explains.

Once the transaction is finalised, it provides the seller with services like new finance packages, while also assisting both the buyer and seller with removalists and utility connections.

“Whatever needs they have, we are there to assist as a point of difference,” David says.

“And the market has responded incredibly well.”

With new offerings and expansion in every division of the business, David concedes one of the biggest challenges is to manage growth without compromising on service levels.

“Our policy is controlled growth,” he says.

“It’s about staffing those areas where there will be more pressure later. For example, if you are scaling the sales team you need to increase the marketing team at the same time. It’s about managing the pressure on internal resources.”

Inside the business, the focus on a positive culture remains paramount.

“We’ve always been a culture-centred business. That was the case in 2014 and it’s still the same now,” David says.

He notes maintaining that culture is multi-faceted but includes providing clear career pathways for staff, while creating an environment that’s fun and which people want to be part of.

After seven years of consistent, controlled growth, David has no intention of resting on his laurels, and predicts the expansion will continue

“Seven years from now I want to be working with the same group of people and also new talent. There will be other offices and other adjacent relevant revenue streams,” he predicts.

“Our aim is not to stop innovating.

“We might be a multi award-winning group at a state and national level, but we fight like we’re number two and that’s not going to change.”

Paul Signorelli – Nurturing the owner-tenant-agent relationship

When we interviewed Raine & Horne Marrickville’s Paul Signorelli for the inaugural edition of Elite Agent magazine, he was already an award-winning property manager. 

At that stage, he’d been working at Raine & Horne for 17 years, having jumped at a junior property management position before quickly moving up the ranks.

Forty issues later, and Paul is still with Raine & Horne Marrickville, only now, he’s the director. 

“My career has evolved considerably since we last spoke,” Paul says.

“In 2014, I was a senior property manager responsible for a team of three property managers, along with what would have been considered a medium to large rent roll.  

“In 2016, I had the honour of becoming a co-principal, and in 2020 I became a director. 

“My responsibilities are now set across a much wider range of obligations and tasks including co-overseeing a team of 12 real estate agents, two extremely busy departments, including one of the top-performing sales teams, not only in the Raine & Horne Network Australia-wide but across all agencies in the Inner West of Sydney.”  

It’s now been 25 years since he took his first job with Raine & Horne Marrickville, and he has no plans to jump ship any time soon.

I was fortunate enough to land my first job in real estate in a great location – the Inner West of Sydney, and with one of the most recognisable brands across Australia,” Paul explains.  

“I’m of the opinion that these two factors have greatly contributed to the longevity and success of my real estate career.  

“I have always had a pragmatic approach to my career and life choices, so the idea of seeking the much sought after ‘greener pastures’ has never really appealed to me. 

“I’d rather make the most of the opportunities at hand and devote my time and energy to that.”

In fact, for Paul, becoming the company director has been the highlight of his career so far.   

“Being asked to join the ownership team of a successful business that had been in the same hands for over 30 years was a great honour for me and my family, and to date, the biggest highlight of my career,” he says.

“The journey to that honour involved a lot of hard work, dedication and loyalty but was well worth it.”  

Some of the biggest challenges over the past 25 years though, have been those that have resulted from the Sydney lockdowns. 

“The uncertainty in the rental and sales markets, the evaporation of investors, the restrictions placed on our working capacities, the mental health of our staff, those able to work and those in locked down LGAs not being able to come to the office was a real challenge and has really made us adapt the way we operate as a business,” Paul notes.

In two and a half decades, Paul has seen a lot of changes in and around the real estate industry, particularly when it comes to technology, and the way transactions take place. 

“There have been major changes to the technology in the industry and the way we use it,” he says.  

“Most of our forms, documents and contact databases are now digital, we have apps for most tasks which are simple to use and save us time.”

But Paul says the biggest changes have been in the way real estate agents market, both rental property and sales properties. 

“We were at the forefront of these changes and were one of the first offices to utilise a Raine & Horne exclusive product called Amplify, which uses social media and online websites to target potential tenants and buyers,” he says.

“Our marketing targets web users based on their interests and behaviours, going beyond demographics to tailor a suite of ads to users’ online profiles. 

“These are powerful tools in finding those in active property mode.”

So, what does it take to be a successful property manager, principal, and director for 25 years? 

Paul credits a level temperament, meticulous attention to detail, and a hard-working attitude. 

“Property management has taught me to be patient and to nurture the owner-tenant-agent relationship in order to gain the benefit of long-term business scenarios,” he says.

“These attributes developed in my property management career have greatly assisted in my contribution to Raine & Horne. 

“I’ve been able to utilise my personal skill sets to the successful running of our business when dealing with staff and all stakeholders where patience and understanding is often the key.” 

As for his personal life, Paul is still happily married and the father of two beautiful teenage children. 

“This is despite the long hours and stressful environment of sharing the responsibility of operating a real estate business,” he explains.

“I put this down to the importance of family time and playing an active role in my children’s upbringing along with my wife. 

“Work/life balance is really important. I try to be available for any school or sporting activities they are involved in, volunteering my time and energy where I can.”

When we asked Paul, back in issue one, what the best advice he ever received was, he said, “treat others as you would like to be treated”. 

He stands by that advice today.

Definitely still stands true today, but with the added advice of, ‘never expect staff to do anything you’re not willing to do yourself’.”

Read part 2 of this article with Joel Davoren and Lauren Kirk here.

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Kylie Dulhunty

Kylie Dulhunty is the Editor at Elite Agent.

Nicole Madigan

Nicole Madigan is a freelance journalist for Elite Agent.

Cassandra Charlesworth

Cassandra Charlesworth is a features writer for Elite Agent Magazine with over 15 years’ journalism experience in metropolitan and regional newsrooms. She has a specialist interest in real estate, tech disruption and a good old-fashioned “yarn”.