Friday, October 24, 2014

Are agents in the business of selling property or personal information?

Companies right now seem to be ducking and dodging real estate and privacy laws to sell or provide confidential information. While it technically may be legal, to us, it sure doesn't pass the ethics test. I imagine a lot of people would not be aware that information privy only to your real estate agent is worth a lot of currency in both profile and hard cash and many agencies today are being paid to hand it over.

This week I learnt an interesting lesson... confidentiality and privacy are two very different things in the eye of the law, and this 'technicality' is now creating serious implications in the real estate industry for both our clients and real estate agents.

Privacy is governed by law (The Privacy Act 2014) whereas confidentiality refers to personal information shared with a professional, which generally cannot be divulged to third parties without the express consent of the client.

With the online and data-capturing war in real estate running hot around the country, we are witnessing large third party companies putting pressure on real estate agents to disclose private/confidential information to them. The hot potato at the moment is the push toward instant access to property sale details and in particular sale contract prices.

Naturally, buyers want to know this information instantly. Third parties recognise this and want to use agents' intel to enhance their own products. They want this information so badly, that they are now offering real estate agencies incentives, including preferential agent profiling along with substantial payments, to those who will supply it to them. Some companies are pushing new rewards agreements however these come with a number of obligations such as providing 'first to market, all of stock information' on the one hand and 'first to know immediate sale and contract information' on the other. Essentially, agents are being expected to provide extensive and complete property information, from listing to sale.

Apparently third parties who receive this type of information from the agent are not technically breaching any law... By not receiving client names, they believe there is no privacy or confidentiality issue.... But here is the twist – the issue lies with real estate agents. You only have to look to the agreements that agents sign in order to get paid, to see the disclaimer putting the confidentiality issues right back with the agent.

The scary thing is, we believe many agents do not understand that handing over this information to third parties, without both vendor and purchaser consent, is breaking their ethical duty and contractual relationships with their clients. Most agents do not obtain the parties express approval for publication or sale of this valuable information. Most sellers and buyers are unaware that this information that starts popping up everywhere is sourced from the agent.

Until a property settles, details of a sale (sold data) is actually confidential details of the clients contract between the vendor, purchaser and agent and we strongly believe clients need to be asked if they consent for this information to be disclosed (or sold by their agent) to become public. The exception to this is a sale at public auction.

While all property sale information becomes public at time of settlement, in our experience, clients do not necessarily want it highlighted in such public ways, straight away. 

With pressure mounting from big influential companies, vendors and purchasers are unlikely to be aware that their information is being supplied to third parties, let alone know it is being SOLD without their permission! 

At Toop&Toop, we take our clients privacy and confidentiality extremely seriously. In our line of business, confidentiality, trust and professionalism is non negotiable and our clients can feel confident that management do not support this new income stream. We refuse to capitulate to the pressure. We believe providing confidential information to any external party without express consent, is wrong. Our experience is that most of our buyers and sellers would be very upset if we did this without consent.

It's very clear that information and data is the new currency of business and we will protect our clients interests and treat their private information with the upmost respect, regardless of how big of an incentive or pay cheque is on offer or how much pressure is brought to bear.

Data is our passion; we know it is the future of real estate, but so too is the responsibility for agents to control it with respect for privacy and confidentiality.

Let's get the debate started! Is an agent selling clients' confidential contract information OK?

We say NO!

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Awards... every player wins a prize.

Last week the Real Estate Institute of SA (REISA) held their annual gala dinner to announce who the best of the best in the industry are and provide the feeder into the National Real Estate Awards.

As a casual observer you could feel like 'every player wins a prize' – there seems to be so many. Nothing could be further from the truth in reality. REISA has again changed the awards structure and implemented an entirely new criteria and audit process. This is just like the changes to the rating system in the media and all the players were holding their breath to see where it would land.

Now at the risk of being seen as bragging, egotistical or self-serving, seriously Toop&Toop have pretty much always blitzed the big categories. This has reached a point where it becomes difficult to really promote the wins, as we risk turning people off. We were 'Hall of Famed' for so many of our key categories, but we are out of the hall and back in the competition... nerve racking but we are up for it.

To be judged and audited against your competitors in such a competitive industry is both confronting and is completely public.

This year was particularly scary.

While the awards night was unfolding, I was up north on Tickalina sheep station, this side of Broken Hill. Tickalina Station belongs to an old school mate (Andy) who was getting married. 
I had the honour of being Andy's best man and couldn't attend the awards night. Team Toop was well represented at the gala awards with four tables; Sylvia, Genevieve and Suzannah all went. There is extremely patchy reception at the Station and I was standing on the bank of the dam close to the Homestead with one very unreliable bar of reception (dropping in and out) getting SMS updates throughout the evening.

Well, the upshot was that Toop&Toop won all 
four of the biggest categories (again); Large Agency, Large Property Management Agency, Marketing & Communication and Innovation... plus two individual Sales Person awards. Six awards – an amazing result for us, especially under totally new judging criteria and processes. 

I must say, I thought we would comfortably win one other award close to our hearts. Community Service, I thought, was such a big part of Toop lives in recent years, and so many of the team have been amazing at giving back.. but all credit to the Industry – we didn't win. That simply means that as an industry, we are doing fantastic things for others which makes me feel very proud indeed. That's a real positive for the way our peers are seeing the world. I find it inspirational and a great sign for the future of our profession. 

Innovation and Marketing certainly are our core strengths that enable us to achieve great results for our customers. The work we are doing in innovation across the business right now, is world class – Silicon Valley stuff. Not surprisingly, those two key categories then help us drive both the sales and property management sides of our business.

We are a passionate group, and are proud to be recognised as State REISA winners. We are looking forward to giving the rest of the states a run for their money in the 2015 National Awards.

So while 'every player' to the casual observer looks to 'win a prize', rest assured the BIG award categories are extremely hard fought.

South Australia has a right to be proud of their real estate profession. Intense competition is driving excellence, and we do operate at the highest level, setting new standards across the country.

Very exciting... go SA!!

Anthony Toop

Friday, October 10, 2014

Top 20... How did SA place?

This week Australian Property Monitors (APM) released the top 20 suburbs list for rental growth in houses and in units across Australia... and only Victoria, New South Wales and South Australia made the cut! Oaklands Park (houses list) and Glenelg (units list) made the top 20 and at number 6 on the list, Oaklands Park has made its mark as the top performer in SA!

Depending which way you view this list, Oaklands Park arguably could have taken out first place! Looking at the estimated asking rental yield, Oaklands Park achieved 4.9% ahead of every other suburb on the list! It is clear, South Australia is still a great place to invest in property and our suburbs are performing well on a national level.

The fundamentals that make Oaklands Park an attractive investment stack up, and at present these principles apply to a number of suburbs across South Australia. It is for this reason, that historically, fund managers in property remain attracted to our state. This is due to the reliable and consistent capital growth and rent history that we enjoy. 

So let's take a closer look at our star performer, Oaklands Park. It's affordable and it's accessible; located just ten kilometres from the CBD and within two kilometres from the beach. The western corridor between the beach and city is really taking off and tenants are seeing value in being a stone's throw from the beach and less than a ten minute drive to the CBD. With an asking median rental of $375 for a three bedroom home, Oaklands Park remains an affordable option. With the median rental price increasing by $45 per week (or 12.9% from this time last year), tenants are still seeing value in this area, and this is being reflected in the rents. 

Our Leasing teams at our Glenelg and Hyde Park offices are experiencing first-hand the increase in demand for these areas. A classic example from last week; two of our properties were leased before even hitting the market! This is no longer uncommon and is a dream run for landlords. We can secure a quality tenant quickly, minimising any downtime on the property cash flow, while also eliminating marketing expenses on re-advertising the property. These are the signs we look for in assessing market strength.

Whilst it is unrealistic that the level of growth in Oaklands Park will be repeated year on year, there are still suburbs ready to take off. These are 'up and coming' or 'trendy' areas that tenants are shifting to as they can rent quality homes with space, but are at a more affordable level than typically seen in the East or inner city. 

The golden question on every investor's mind is... which suburb will be next? 

Tenants are savvy and are looking for value for money. Now more than ever, we are seeing value to be the priority, rather than previous markets where the focus was entirely related to a set suburb or area. If the infrastructure is there (for example they are close to shops, caf├ęs and transport), and the property is neat, tidy and presents well – tenants will shift to where they see they get 'more house' for their money. Emerging suburbs and properties will first become popular, then hard to get, and this demand will then drive rental prices.  

So investors... here is my Toop Tip: Take a drive around Adelaide and see first-hand where the 'buzzing' or 'hot' spots are emerging. This is the best indicator of which suburb will be next.

Thursday, October 02, 2014

Spring property HEAT WAVE... but will it last?

Across the Adelaide property market things are hot! There are 4.1% more properties on the market in Adelaide than this time last year, and auction clearance rates across the nation have been above 70% over the last five weeks! 

We are finding more properties are receiving multiple offers and selling extremely quickly than we've seen for a long time. Toop&Toop have experienced exceptional auction clearance rates over the last few weeks with our property clearance of 83% compared with the SA average of 67.4% and many buyers are now missing out at auction here in Adelaide!

With buying conditions so favourable, people are eager to get into the market. Speaking with agents across the industry this week, many are experiencing a similar trend. For Toop&Toop, there has been a big increase in properties selling before they even hit the public market!

With so many buyers in the market place competing for property, it is now crucial for serious buyers to make sure they register with their local agents for updates to ensure they don't miss out! 

Every agency distributes property information differently to their database, however one thing we all have in common is that we do need to know who you are and what you are looking for in a property to make sure we are able to help you find your dream house. 

In this market, it is no longer enough to just be signed up to the big portals' alert systems as many homes are being sold before they even reach these sites. 

Toop&Toop understands that buyers are getting frustrated by the feeling of always missing out, and from this we've created a service we call the ToopVAULT. The Vault notifies our registered buyers about Toop&Toop properties via email and gives them the chance to view the homes before anyone else!! This technology is not new but the sophistication of the service is changing incredibly fast. We are rolling out some very cool, new capabilities right now, but you simply must register to get the services. 

Our agents now have the ability, as soon as a client signs up with us, to upload a property instantly to this advice service, and get the property known to exactly the right people. This is a massive benefit to buyers as you can immediately find out about homes that match your criteria, with photos and pre-launch details of how and when to view. For example, we currently have 53 properties on our Vault as of Wednesday, (numbers will vary every day), and unless you are registered with us, you wouldn't even know they were coming up for sale!

For our vendors, the Vault provides an opportunity for a very quick, painless and private sale. If a property is sold before hitting the market, it can also save on substantial marketing costs, your time and obviously all the hassle.

There is always some downtime when getting a property ready for sale, whether that's fixing up the garden or getting floor plans, photography and marketing material produced. We've been able to eliminate the downtime with the Vault and allow your property to reach potential buyers from day one! Reducing the downtime in the property sale process has been resulting in our client's homes selling on average 34 days quicker than the South Australian average! This is a phenomenal statistic! 

Vendors often achieve a premium sale result in this process as there is generally a sense of urgency from buyers who want to secure the property before it becomes public. Many buyers are not prepared to take the risk of someone else also being interested in the property and we are finding sellers can achieve a premium price!

So how long will this Heat Wave continue? No one knows... you only find out when it starts to cool down..