“If I think something’s great and I believe in it, I can’t leave it. I’ve got to do it.”
I am a Real Estate agent and auctioneer. I am also the director of Compton Green Real Estate.
I went to Parade College in Bundoora, squeezed through year 11 and had no real aspirations to do year 12. I was offered a cadetship to be a Training Manager at Safeway where I had already worked before. So I decided to do that; at 18 it was a big role for me.
Even from that early age, I was driven, I wanted to be a young buck – in something, though I didn’t have a clear idea what. Funny thing is, I remember looking at some course brochures: one for a real estate course, and one for electrical and lighting design. Both appealed. But then my father offered me an opportunity to go into business with him, and I put that decision on hold for a while.
My dad owned a successful electrical contracting business, retired early and came up with the idea to open a lightning shop. I left Safeway to join him. We started selling, both wholesale through dad’s business connections, and retail, from our showroom.
For a while we were really successful, but then the recession hit.Many of our builder clients went broke, and soon we couldn’t pay our bills. Eventually we lost the shop. I guess at the time I didn’t quite realize how bad it was, but being in business now, I think, “Wow, that’s a place where you never want to be again.”
Then I briefly worked for my uncles in the food wholesale business, selling food to restaurants. Even though I was good at the job, I found I didn’t like the industry or dealing with the chefs, arguing over 30 cents price differences for a can of tomato. For me, it was too trivial.
By then, I was looking to get into real estate again. I’ve realized somewhere on my work journey that in real estate you get out what you put in it. And I wanted to grow in quantum leaps, as opposed to $1.15 pay raises in Safeway.
So I came across an ad for managers at Ray White Real Estate, and I thought to myself: “I can manage a real estate office.” I was 19 and felt ready for it.
I came in for an interview, and 20 minutes into it I realized I was way out of my depth. But I got a recommendation to speak to Lou DiBella who owned Ray White Lalor. I met with him, and he agreed to give me a start once I complete the training.
It took me 6 weeks to get my real estate training at RMIT, and then Lou gave me the job. It was a tiny office: Lou, his wife at reception, a salesman and myself.
I started out as an agent straight away.
Because of my experience in the lightning shop, I could communicate with tradesmen and builders quite easily. I would visit all the building sites in my area and ask the builders if I could be their agent. Most of them open listed, so you really had to work the buyers.
Every now and then you could get an exclusive, but mostly you were competing against other agents who were also trying to sell the same stock. One of my favourite tricks was sneaking my business card on the inside of the windows. Then, when the potential buyers would come around on the weekends, trying to get a peek inside, they’d see my card and assume I was the only agent, so they’d give me a call. It was simple, but it worked!
I loved this job straight away. I sold a lot of real estate in my time. I also started my auctioneering career there.
I’ve read about a novice auctioneers’ competition, and I mentioned it to Nick, a great salesman and auctioneer I worked with. Nick encouraged me, but he also said “Look, you’ll never win because it’s always won by guys in the Eastern suburbs.” And, whilst I respected Lou and looked up to him, I think there was some fire in the belly that stoked up and said, “Well, I’ll show you I can win this.”
And, I remember staying back at our tiny office after hours, me at one end of the reception, Nick at the other, calling auctions while he was critiquing me. I loved it. It was a great introduction.
I went on to compete and ended up winning the Novice Auctioneer competition in 1994.
Winning the competition, together with the praise it brought me, got me thinking that I should start an auction company.
Looking back, I want to say “What a goose I was.” I had competed in a novice auctioneers’ competition. By virtue of its name, it meant that I’ve never conducted a real auction before.
But not to be held back, I approached Ray White corporate office with the idea of opening an auction business within the group. They actually liked the sound of it, as they had sort of been investigating this type of idea already.
There wasn’t an Auctions branch in Victoria yet, so I started up Ray White Auctions Victoria. Without actually having done an auction yet.
Most people thought I was crazy. But my first gig went great, and soon I became quite busy. I stopped selling, left Lalor and became a full-time roaming auctioneer.
I did the calling on Saturdays, and most of my week I was finding people to call auctions for. That wasn’t easy, so I ended up becoming a procuring auctioneer – I would help people list properties, and they let me call them.
That worked well, and soon I got recognition from the corporate office. I was offered a training role, teaching auctioneering and the broader spectrum of real estate.
I was around 23-24 at the time. I had a lot of fun with teaching, people appreciated my presentation style. Then I advanced to an Associate, training in Victoria and Tasmania, as well as in-office training for Ray White Group.
Finally, in about 14 months I advanced to a Senior Associate, and part of my role was getting people to convert from their current brand to Ray White.
I was successful with that; I’d love to say it was my charm, but mainly Ray White had a good product to sell, and I was very passionate about it.
I was doing well as an Associate; in 1998 I won the 1st Victoria Senior Auctioneers’ competition. It got a lot of media attention, and in one of my interviews I said that in 2-3 years I saw myself running a Ray White office in Preston, because that’s where I lived.
Soon after, I got a call from a guy who was a Property Manager at Ray White Northcote, saying he wanted to open an office in Preston. We became business partners and started the business.
We opened Ray White Preston in a very short time, starting out with four people. We ran on the smell of an oily rag, didn’t even pay ourselves for a few months. But the business became successful, we grew to 16-17 people, bought a second office.
I was there for nearly 4 years, prospecting listings, doing auctions. It was going well, except for the challenges between me and my business partner. Eventually, I realized we weren’t going to have a big future together, and I left the business.
That was a big thing for me.
Ray White gave me major opportunities and experiences that have been invaluable. When I opened the Preston office, Brian White and Alan White flew down to Melbourne to help with the opening, which meant a huge deal to me. I think I’m lucky I got to work for one of the best companies in Australia, and still have a lot of respect for them.
So, it was hard to leave but it was the next step in my career. Whilst I was at Ray White corporate, I created ideas that I could apply within the group in Victoria. I knew that if I was going to leave Ray White, I needed to continue being a creator.
I found this opportunity in Compton Green.
I knew the owners, Chris and Jill, and they needed a Manager. They were a bit older, so in the early days we agreed that I would gradually buy out their business. In about 6 years I became the sole owner there.
The first years with Chris and Jill were a lot of fun. I saw people that worked hard, with integrity. It was a steep learning curve for me in an independent agency. But in some ways I saw that Compton Green was still at the infant stage of its development, despite being almost 90 years in business.
Actually, this year Compton Green will celebrate 90 years in the business!
Once I started to buy into the business, I began pushing the boundaries, looking for new opportunities. Over time, we acquired and integrated a few businesses, such as the Yarraville Century 21 and Michael Holmes Real Estate, which helped to grow our rent roll to what it is today. There’s been some very solid organic growth in the rent roll.
However, for me, growth isn’t about franchising, opening up other offices. I realized early on that people are your greatest asset. It’s definitely about choosing the right people.
We grew our Sales department solidly, our Property Management team is on the upward trajectory. We now have a growing land management department.
One of the milestones for us recently was winning a major tender to manage 670 properties for the State Government Department in Victoria. We no longer see the suburbs as our boundaries. I have a clear vision that we want to be the leading agency in the inner west of Melbourne.
The way the business is growing now, I probably will be retired in 20 years. There may be opportunities to sell off parts of the business to current team members. It has now grown into a property management business, including facility management, lawn care etc.I want it to grow into a company providing other services, like insurance, finance, moving.
We might look back one day and say, “Do you even remember when Compton Green was just a real estate business?”
My journey in Compton Green has been filled with positives, for the business and for me personally. I was elected to the Real Estate Institute of Victoria’s board, and spent 3 years there.
I actually met my partner, Dee, 10 years ago, while trying to recruit her. At one point our business lunches turned into dates, and then we started working together.
Of course I continue auctioneering, and it’s still my favourite part of the job. Over the years, I have won another 3 senior auctioneer competitions. I sometimes find it hilarious that people pay me to do something I love so much!
There is something I’m still trying to get right, and it is the people part. I hate choosing someone to join our team only to realize I’ve got it wrong.
Some cases hit me really hard. Once a Property Manager who spent over 30 years at Compton Green was discovered stealing; we had to deal with the police, the insurers, the affected customers. That was a really trying time. Sometimes it’s very hard when good people leave you to do their own thing.
Real estate is a high turnover business, but I want to be better at getting great people onboard that click with me. I need people who are better than me if we’re going to grow.
I remind myself that I’m 44 years old and I’ve got a lot to give. I’ve learned many lessons, and one of them is that out of every loss there’s a win; a gift.
Some are trivial, sometimes it’s just the knowledge that I will never do that again. Sometimes you cannot see the gift right away, but eventually, you always do.
For example, I’ve been trying unsuccessfully to get a meeting with this one client for 8 months. Then, 8 months on, I finally did. And coming out of that meeting, that went really well, I realized that had I managed to meet him 8 months ago, I would’ve stuffed the meeting: I wasn’t ready for it then. That’s when you feel blessed and look back, thinking, “There’s the gift”.
I’ve got a lot of motivators. I enjoy my lifestyle, my family, my holidays. I love sharing. We have a tradition in our office that once a month we cook a meal and sit down to eat together. Having a meal with someone, not just a quick cup of coffee, gets you a whole new level of respect in that relationship.
Money motivates me, too, but it’s not the only thing. I love seeing our signboards out in the streets. I love our brand. I love coming to work. If I think something’s great, and I believe in it, I can’t leave it. I’ve got to do it and that’s a driver for me too. I’m a thinker and I’m a doer.