William Bonnici believes in teamwork.
In fact, it’s the cornerstone of his business, First National Bonnici & Associates, in Wodonga, in north east Victoria.
An agent with 15 years experience in real estate, William has developed a firm ethos over the years that many hands pulling in the same direction will achieve greater results, in a more rewarding fashion, than going it alone.
He says the trials and tribulations the COVID-19 pandemic threw at agents, and the industry as a whole, was a clear reminder of this.
“The one thing the pandemic highlighted is the fact that if you don’t work as a team, you’ve got no one to lean on,” William explains.
So lean on each other the First National Bonnici & Associates team did, and now they and, importantly, their clients are seeing amazing success.
In the past three months, the team has sold almost 90 properties, and the market shows no sign of slowing down.
“It hasn’t let up at all in December,” William says.
“Sales are still coming through and they’re at a variety of levels.
“Some might think it’s because things are cheap, but it’s not just those cheap homes. We’re selling properties in excess of $1 million, just shy of $1 million and homes at $1.5 million and $1.6 million are moving as well.”
The First National team of 16 includes William, six selling agents, four property management staff and five administration and support staff.
William credits the success the team has achieved to working together in tough times, providing support and clear pathways forward for clients and giving back to the community.
He says when homeschooling during the pandemic caused a major hurdle for team members, he set up an area in the First National office for the children to study and learn on-site.
“Home schooling was really a pain touchpoint,” William says.
“We had a couple of single mums working for us and another whose husband was stuck in another state so, in the end, we decided to set up a classroom in the office.
“So they office schooled them rather than home schooled them.”
When it came to listing and selling, William says the team banded together and each agent knew every property on the books.
“There was constant communication as to what we were listing and, not that we ever have them, but there were no bottom drawer listings,” William says.
“Everything we listed we focused on getting the right result for the vendor.
“The job was to get them listed and get them sold as quickly as possible.”
During the early portion of the pandemic, the team ensured their listing presentations were in line with community sentiment, which meant they needed to be straightforward, sympathetic and forget even the slightest notion of showmanship.
“A lot of our listing presentations early on, in May, June and July, weren’t about how prominent we were on a web portal or how glossy our brochures were,” William explains.
“It was all about what we’ve done outside of government mandates to protect the health of the vendor and their family.”
William says Albury-Wodonga is currently experiencing what he calls a “perfect storm” with many buyers being retirees who are returning to the region.
“There was a real push in the 1970s for Albury-Wodonga to become the main regional city outside of some of the capital cities,” he says.
“A lot of young families came here and now, 50 years on, the children of those families are 60 and 65 and they’re retiring to what they consider to be home.”
William says the pandemic, people’s increased ability to work from home, low interest rates, a stable economy and the variety of industries in Wodonga made a tree change an attractive proposition for city residents looking to escape the big smoke.
“I won’t go out and say that there’s an increased level of inquiry from Melbourne, but the conversion rate is a lot better,” he says.
“Historically we’d always get 20 to 25 per cent of our inquiry from what we consider to be ‘out of market’.
“We’re still seeing the same inquiry numbers, but now they’re inquiring and buying.
“People are coming in saying ‘I’ve sold my house and I’m actually doing it. I’m not thinking about it anymore, I’m actually doing it.’
“The other components of this perfect storm is the fact that money is so cheap at the minute. It’s the cheapest in anyone’s lifetime.
“We’re also blessed in Albury-Wodonga that we don’t rely on one economy. We’re not a town that’s reliant on one steel fabricator, a mine, or one manufacturer, the way Geelong was for a long time with Ford.
“We’ve got the Army, Mars Petcare, the tax office and health care. And this is forgetting basic tourism, where we’ve got the snowfields within an hour or two, we’ve got some of the best wineries and vineyards in the world within an hour.”
William has been in the real estate industry since 2005 but says he caught the property bug when he was still a teenager living in Melbourne.
He bought his first investment property when he was 19 and saw it as a vehicle to give, not just himself a leg up in the world, but also other people.
“One of my very first tenants was a single mum who was doing it tough and no one would give her a rental,” he says.
“Back then, I managed my own property, and I gave her a go, and she was a tenant of mine for a very long time.
“I helped her set up a savings plan and got her to buy a house out at Bacchus Marsh, and she was forever grateful.
“That’s probably where I got bitten by the (real estate) bug. It’s not so much that you’re putting a roof over your own head, it’s about how much you can help people and give people a leg up in life.”
Giving people a leg up is something William and his team still try to do in various ways, including giving prospective tenants that other agencies may pass on, a rental property.
“We like to pride ourselves on giving people an opportunity, so if we get someone with an application that doesn’t look the best rather than just putting them in the ‘no’ pile, we like to call them in and have a chat,” he explains.
“Sometimes it still stays in the ‘no’ pile, but sometimes it’s just that they didn’t know how to put the application together properly.”
The First National team has also banded together to help the people of Albury-Wodonga in the wake of COVID, donating more than $17,000 to about 16 community groups in its Share the Love campaign.
Selling agent Jake Spargo came up with the idea to donate $500 for every property the team listed in July, August and September, to a group of the vendor’s choice.
“Everyone was talking about businesses trying to pivot, but it was really hard for a business to pivot when they were purely hospitality … and groups such as sporting clubs, all of a sudden their fundraising options were taken away,” William says.
“We donated to small businesses, local charities, Carevan, the local Lions Club and sporting clubs too.
“Some of the groups didn’t know the money was coming and it felt really good to be able to give back to locals.”
In 2021, William says he hopes to continue to expand the property management department and build on its current number of almost 400 doors under management.
He also expects property prices in Albury-Wodonga to rise.
“I think there’s going to be some strong demand and opportunity for us to see a little bit of a push to get our pricing closer to some of the other larger regional centres and potentially even some of the capital city pricing in the outer suburbs.”
When it comes to providing advice to other agents, including those just starting out, William is straight to the point.
“The only time success comes before work is in the dictionary. If you want to be successful, you better be ready to work.”