New breed of property professionals rewrite real estate textbook

John Thistleton 5 November 2018

Introducing a Cirque du Soleil-themed open home helped generate excitement and deliver a price record for Gungahlin. The novel idea underlines McGrath Belconnen/Gungahlin’s determination to be outstanding. Photo: Supplied.

Well before a circus theme, software and brain training arrived, a greenfield real estate agency about to launch in February 2010 relied on a tried and tested formula: blood, sweat and tears.

Craig Chapman, who set out with partner Justin Taylor, recounts the foundation days of what has become the highest performing real estate agency in Gungahlin. “We started like anyone does, we just knocked on doors, made phone calls, told the world we are here,” he says. The ‘beautiful’ McGrath brand and the partners’ previous real estate experience helped too. The circus idea came later with an event that underlines McGrath Belconnen/Gungahlin’s edge, because it led to the highest price for Gungahlin with a $2 million-plus sale.

Craig says the owner of a grand home in Forde wanted $1.9 million to $2 million, well above the then-record of $1.4 million. “To get attention, we needed to get media on board and create a real buzz around this property,” Craig says.

“We organised a Cirque du Soleil-themed open home and party and invited property writers, industry magazines and web portals and so on and we put on beautiful food,” he says.

Avoiding tacky entertainment, they engaged skilled live performers, including a contortionist, a 12-foot tall mirror man and themed lights, attracting excitement that spread overseas. An unprecedented 650 people filed through the property on their first open home.

“Through doing something different, we got a buyer to unconditionally exchange on the property within two weeks. So the owner was quite happy,” Craig says.

Over the longer term though, training, technology and expertise made possible by the scale of the McGrath network are making the agency stand out as Gungahlin’s top listing and selling agency. “So many different applications and tools, through the McGrath network, allow us to have the time and energy to focus on our client, face-to-face. Our back-end information and communication technology platform is a little more sophisticated than most,” Craig says.

“To me, real estate today is a combination of three things, market intelligence, artificial intelligence and the blend of where we think we offer the most value, emotional intelligence. We spend a little more time, energy and effort around our training on getting the person right and getting them to understand other human beings, as opposed to real estate practices that haven’t really changed in the last 100 years,” he says.

While buying and selling haven’t changed in that time, pressure on people is greater than ever.

“It is a lot faster-paced world we are living in, we have access to instant information. Clients want things instantly. We need to give our agent force the tools and resources to understand moving market trends and be able to articulate and understand those and give advice to our clients to ultimately get them a better price,” Craig says.

“The emotional piece comes into it more so than the real estate skill, in my opinion, having the intelligence to navigate certain situations with other humans involved is far more effective than buying, selling, markets, money, pricing, that sort of stuff.’’

Working within a larger business allows them to employ their own photographer and videographer and attain the speed to cut a professional video for social media in five seconds.

Most agents have access to the same media platforms, but the McGrath agency tells clients it is who they know, rather than what they know, that delivers a faster sale.

“We are very proactive in working with buyers. Whether they buy a home off us we don’t care, because if we can help them, we still have a client and because we have a client-for-life philosophy, once you are a client of ours we will work with you forever.”

Craig estimates 20 per cent of their properties sell off-market. This trend is growing because many people don’t want to go to market. Similarly, finding a purchaser through building relationships can put them in front of their choice of home better than trying to squeeze them into a brief open house on a Saturday morning.

McGrath Belconnen/Gungahlin has the largest property management portfolio of a single office in the ACT, managing more than 1300 properties.

This has been developed through relationships with investors and tenants.

A full-time concierge manager keeps in touch with clients to ensure their experience is the best one possible. Craig likens the manager’s role to that of a top hotel’s staff who give customers what they want around the clock.

Instead of glitzy champagne and nibbles that a vendor may receive on the sale of a property, they receive moving boxes and tape, or other practical gestures like gardening equipment or maintenance help.

Active in the community, McGrath is a partner in YouthCARE Canberra which helps disadvantaged youth. The agency has donated $100,000 over the past couple of years for two YouthCARE workers on the street helping young kids.

Accepting an intern from Gungahlin College, the agency created a school-based apprenticeship for six months that turned into a full-time position at McGrath for the young man. Following his Year 12 certificate, he is now learning to be a professional real estate consultant.

The agency has a staff of 35. Its training is aimed at raising real estate standards to that of other service professionals like lawyers and accountants. “So we view ourselves in that realm, as a professional services firm, not as a shiny, retail real estate business,” Craig says. “More an advisory firm in property and finance, as opposed to flogging houses for commission.’’

He says real estate offices will change over the next 5-10 years, relying more on technology. Consultants will spend more time in the field with clients, remote from the office. “The better connected a business is in this industry, the better enabled you will be to deliver a great service very quickly, which is what people want,’’ Craig says.

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