EPMEPM: First Person

Why Small is Big Again: Randal Sharp

When it comes to property management, there’s not much Randal Sharp hasn’t seen. Co-Director of thriving real estate startup Think Property & Co in Melbourne, Randal has worked across all facets of the sector, managed large teams and surveyed portfolios with assets numbered in their thousands. Yet he and business partner Martine Bannister have gone back to basics with their boutique real estate business in Collingwood, and he explains why they think small is big again.

The real estate industry is changing at a rapid pace. There’s technological change, which is empowering both agents and the public, and there’s a generational change underway as well, with a visceral tug-of-war occurring between old-school principals and the elder states people of the industry (those who listed well before email and websites were even a thing), and Gen Ys and millennials who are prospecting in ways foreign to their predecessors.

In the midst of all this change, real estate brands are homogenising into ever-larger satellite offices, with dominant franchises absorbing their competitors when times get tough. It’s considered a given that there is strength in numbers, with principals choosing to divide risk by combining rent rolls and teams, reducing their overheads while benefitting from the perceived organisation of franchises with strong market share and branding.

Having spent much of my career managing property management teams in premium brands, I know that the logic that bigger is better for real estate businesses is essentially flawed. Whilst it might work for principals at the top of the pile – those away from the daily stress of their estate agents, property management teams and administrators – the big model of real estate is an unhappy place for many staff and, even more critically, for landlords and tenants.

I saw too that scalability wasn’t working for landlords, who felt overlooked amongst chains of property managers divided across leasing, maintenance and condition reporting functions. No one individual would be responsible entirely for their asset, leaving them frustrated at matters undealt with and works undone. Tenants were also dealt a disservice by big real estate for similar reasons – there was no one touch point for their queries or concerns. If any member of a big real estate team is unavailable, the whole chain is compromised, leading swiftly to customer anger in a time when they feel more entitled than ever (and rightfully so!) to true service. This anger obviously impacts on rent roll shrinkage, and also leads to high staff turnover. And while property management departments are often considered ‘churn and burn’ staffing environments by the industry-weary, they don’t have to be that way.

For all these reasons, my business partner and I, wellversed in all things big real estate, decided that small was the right direction to go when beginning our own agency, Think Property & Co. We have a compact team, who are each responsible for an asset in its entirety. Our clients always know who they will speak to. Matters are resolved swiftly.

Critics might say that this boutique approach is only made possible by size. This is true; scale is all in real estate. And with over twenty years’ property management experience behind me, I know that the right scale for service is small.

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Randal Sharp

RANDAL SHARP is a Co-Director of boutique agency Think Property & Co in Melbourne, and is a 22-year veteran of the real estate industry.