Thursday, June 25, 2015

Back to school

This past month, no, the past two months I feel like I've gone back to school. I have learned so much ... I feel like I am 28 again, like when we started Toop&Toop.

There is something weird happening here ... Toop&Toop celebrated our 30th year in business last month, and yet I have personally had more training, more coaching, more in field product testing and more learning than I've had for the past five years.

Right now, as I am writing this article, I am attending the Real Estate Best Practice Conference in Sanctuary Cove. Sure, Genevieve and I are Key Note speakers on 'The Changing Face of Real Estate,' but sitting through today's sessions has been such a wonderful experience. Hearing speaker after speaker share their knowledge is uplifting and motivating. Chatting to real estate icons from around Australasia is a privilege. There sure are some impressive people in our profession.

We think we are so clever with all the things we are doing in South Australia, and yes, we are up there, but it has been humbling to mix with the best of the best and hear their stories. No hype, no spin, just down to earth and real.

What's noticeably changed is the profile of the best of the best. Nice, straightforward, intelligent individuals, who are humble, appreciative and compassionate. In the early days for me, and those high performers of the time, we all seemed so arrogant, egotistical and as an industry were trained to exaggerate (a nice way of saying we had little respect for the truth). We were trained to take make-believe bids (dummy bids) at auctions and trained to be seamlessly deceptive, and actually took pride in being the best at deception. Vendors (sellers) joined in and with the benefit of hindsight it was a pretty ordinary way to behave as an industry. We even won industry awards for being good at it. How things have changed ... thank goodness.

Community was not in the vocabulary. None of the industry talked, or took time to worry about community issues in those early days of the 80s. 

I am sure plenty of older agents will disagree, but that was my experience. Some still think it was the 'Good Ole Days,' but today's top performer profile is changing fast.

Nice, honest, high integrity, community minded, humble, intelligent, educated, considerate and genuine now best describe today's real estate rock stars. The best are trained continually, well resourced and backed, many have degrees, and are passionate to improve the lives of people moving house. The new sustainable super stars understand that it is not about the money, it is about helping the community. These people trust that the money will follow if they do their job brilliantly.

I can think of exceptions, but I seriously doubt those money focused, self-centred operators will still be around by 2020. 

So, what key 'take-aways' do I have that YOU may be interested in (i.e. sellers, buyers, investors and renters in South Australia)?

Hang on tight. Get excited. I predict that the service levels you have been experiencing from your local real estate agent are about to be blown out of the water.

I see the next generation of agents completely redefining service levels and that both buying and selling, or investing and renting property, will be entirely different - BETTER - a superior experience. I can see Genevieve and Suzannah's era making our baby boomer era look like amateurs when it comes to the experience and emotions of moving home.

Our baby boomer era will learn from these younger generations/younger-thinking agents, as I am doing at the moment. The younger aged agents will however be forced also to adopt the great things that we older agents do better (like picking up the telephone), and I am confident they know this. The stars are already adopting our 'best practice' communication skills of old, with enthusiasm.

Assuming the next generation of real estate agents (and that actually has nothing to do with our birth date-age, but rather attitude-age) can learn to communicate face to face and also with their voices ... what I am seeing is exhilarating.

Some of the most impressive people I've ever met have been over the past two months. Some of my most profound learning has been over the past two months and I have experienced some of the most exciting thinking over the past two months.

Real estate is changing enormously. You can look forward to seeing some massive changes for the better, with new capabilities by year end at Toop&Toop. I can hardly contain my excitement for our clients.

Landlords, house sellers and yes, rental tenants as well ... get ready to be spoilt.

Anthony Toop

Friday, June 19, 2015

Winter vs spring selling - time to leverage the best of both worlds!

Traditionally, sellers and agents alike have steered away from winter selling, opting to hold out until spring when the sun reappears and the garden is in full bloom. Over the last few years, this tradition has changed and technology has created new opportunities. With buyer demand so strong and consistent, no matter what the season, the industry has seen fantastic results from winter selling when demand outweighs supply.

There are pros and cons too, both depending on who you speak to... but what if you could have the best of both worlds? Tap into hot buyers now who are eager to view property, frustrated at the lack of stock in winter and willing to pay a premium, without jeopardising a strategic, fresh and high impact spring launch, making sure your home stands out from the spring pack. Thanks to the latest technological advances and our new software at Toop&Toop, you can! 

12 months ago we created a product, the ToopVault, to fast track sales and to leverage exactly this situation! We recognised that when selling a home, there is unavoidable 'down-time' between appointing an agent, to the public market launch of the home. The industry average to prepare a home for sale is three weeks and the logistics include minor property improvements, styling, photography, signboard production and marketing brochures to name a few. Keep in mind, buyers want an edge too. They crave to see new properties first, and often are happy to pay for the privilege. 

ToopVault was created to capture maximum value for our clients; leveraging this traditional downtime the industry faces, speeding up the sale process and potentially selling the property before it hits the 'open' market. 

Right now we are also finding that buyers are frustrated. All time low interest rates are increasing demand and buyers have been extremely annoyed from continually missing out. Feedback over the last 12 months has shown us that buyers will see past small things required to get a home ready. This is because they had an edge on the market and were given time to see a property before others and be able to make their decision about a property before it was 'snapped up'. 

ToopVault allows our client's home to be marketed in a unique way, unlike any other agency in SA. There are plenty of early advice products out there, but the ToopVault takes this service to a whole new level. We can communicate and market a home immediately from the day we are appointed. When our team meets with you, they can take photos of your home on the spot, write a brief description, then upload this into our system and launch the property instantly to the Vault... all before they even leave your property!

We then broadcast to our Vault members who have the opportunity to view and purchase the home before professional marketing begins or, it is released publicly. This is very powerful marketing, and low cost. 

We're now 12 months in, and the Vault's strength is undeniable. We currently have 2,728 Vault subscribers (and growing daily). This is over a 100% increase in the last six months! Since January 1 this year, we have sold 13 homes via the ToopVault - that's just over one a fortnight and these results are increasing at a rapid pace! 

So whether you're thinking of selling now or in spring, ToopVault offers the best of both seasons! If you would like to find out more about how many Vault members we have looking for a home like yours, and how we can leverage this demand to achieve a premium for your property, be sure to speak to Team Toop this weekend!

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Landlords... finally some hope!

There is a new judicial system - and feedback seems to be counting! The new system replaces the Residential Tenancies Tribunal and is called the South Australian Civil and Administrative Tribunal, or to all of us, simply SACAT.

SACAT have been quite responsive and common sense seems to be getting traction. However, investors and property management agencies are still wading through the unknown as this new judicial SACAT body was only introduced on 30 March 2015.

SACAT now handles matters that were previously in the Residential Tenancies Tribunal, including bond claim disputes and the resolution of various tenancy breaches.

There has been a lot of third hand information about the new SACAT system, so here's my overview on some of the changes and what we are experiencing first hand.

Technology updated. The IT capabilities have improved and there is now the ability to lodge applications online, automatically list orders for vacant possession due to unpaid rent, video conferencing and use of email and SMS for hearing notices. As well as additional facilitates on site. This is great news!

But it is still in transition.

Costs. A fundamental change to tribunal costs affecting investors has recently been reversed. Under the first reforms with SACAT, if you wanted to claim against your tenant's bond, and they either didn't respond or there was a dispute, you had to make an application to tribunal to claim against the bond for a $69 fee. This was not refundable. So in the event that you 'won', landlords still had to cough up the $69.

This had serious practical implications. A common item, such as a claim for additional cleaning ($150) ended up in the tribunal if the tenant didn't get back to you in ten days or if they disputed it. This left very little (if any) money in the landlord's back pocket after the $69 application fee and standard costs to your property management agency (to prepare all the documentations to prove your claim). It simply wasn't worth it.

All credit to SACAT - they took on board industry feedback and this new process was reversed in late May. 

Transition issues. SACAT is getting up to speed, however I still have concerns over what the effect will be for investors who are caught in this transition stage with substantial claims. 'Urgent' hearings are now taking almost twice as long (up to three months) to obtain, which means the risks are high for investors. 

Speed and prior knowledge is what appears to be stalling things. 

Classic frustrating transitional example. A matter we currently have on the go was first heard in the Residential Tenancies Tribunal (pre SACAT) and an order was granted in favour of our landlord (for a significant amount of money). An application was subsequently lodged by the tenant to overturn this order but this was denied.  

We were then asked earlier this month to appear in front of SACAT as the tenant appealed (again). Our landlord is now waiting for the final verdict under SACAT. It has been four and a half months.

From our recent experience with this matter, no one really knows what to expect, including SACAT. They had no transcript of the original hearing or the previous order, no documentation and our property manager was handing over HER highlighted and flagged document copies to ensure all parties were aware of the background and facts. Our team spent a huge amount of time preparing for the hearing (as we would ordinarily do for such an important event) and now the matter has been adjourned as the member didn't have the information required to make a decision at the hearing. 

Based on the recent changes in May, SACAT are looking to make things more fair and equitable for investors in South Australia. 

We are currently navigating through the changes and are looking forward to when the new SACAT is bedded in.

So, investors bear with us. We will continue to go into bat for landlords with the hope that common sense and fairness will prevail. 

If you have been caught in transition like our landlord has and you have any suggestions or feedback (even if we don't manage your properties), let us know. Maybe we can make a difference. 

Suzannah Toop

Thursday, June 04, 2015

Explosion in real estate.

INNOVATION EXPLOSION... When will we see the Uber of real estate? Is there an industry disruption around the corner?

Technology and innovation is the hot topic in real estate at the moment with the proliferation of 'world first' innovations being declared. What we have learnt, over 30 years of investing in technology and innovation, (and with a team of four full time IT programmers in this space) is that no matter how exciting a new product looks, it must pass the most basic test... How will it add value to the stakeholders... Will it be embraced and valued... Is it simple to understand and to apply?

Technology is running at such a fast pace world wide, innovation epicentre Silicon Valley releases over 20 'game changing' innovations every week! Some have potential to disrupt traditional industries, yet positively impact consumers. A recent stand out example that has disrupted a traditional industry is Uber. Overnight global traction, while other innovations fail... all based on customer's reaction to its value. 

The real estate stampede to stake out 'first' turf in the technology playground is underway. No one yet knows where this will end, but a real estate Uber is sure to emerge. 

Real estate is already changing fast and the big questions on real estate agents' lips are... What type of agent is likely to prevail? How will a real estate agent look in 2020? 

In the meantime, the question on consumers' lips is who is going to make real estate moves easier, cheaper and less stressful? I seriously doubt many consumers would be too concerned whether real estate agents survive, providing their selling buying or renting experience continues to improve. Just like supporters of Uber feel about the traditional Taxi industry, clearly consumers are supporting it. 

Perhaps looking into real estate's recent innovations will provide some clues? Let's take a look at a couple of these recent innovations. 

Let's take the immersive imaging! This TOP SECRET product, launched in May, was presented to Gen (Genevieve Toop) by a MAJOR online portal. Gen was expecting something really incredible, and so excited to be receiving her exclusive pre-release briefing...

Rewind 6 months. It was around Christmas last year, a couple of young entrepreneur lads from the country presented to Gen and I their breakthrough real estate marketing. It was also top secret. So Matt (who heads up HOOT&TOOT, our IT
and marketing division) and his team took a really close look at this new 'game changer' marketing...

After 30 years of operating in the innovation space, we have learnt the need to test product and systems against our own criteria. 

Is the innovation making our clients life: 1) Simpler, 2) Easier, 3) Richer Financially, 4) Richer Emotionally OR is the innovation making our business more: 1) Efficient 2) Relevant 3) Exciting?

In the case of this one particular innovation, yes it was pretty cool but it had a long way to come for it to be beneficial for clients. It created extra time pressure and expense for our clients on top of, rather than instead of, additional costs yet not assisting clients get a sale. The benefit was that it assisted the AGENT get profile. Ultimately these innovations have the potential to lower costs by creating better imagery but only then will they be of benefit... that remains some years away. 

The great news is that technology that could be applied to our industry is moving at rapid pace on several fronts. I am heading to Silicon Valley in August with a select national contingent of realtors. We'll see first hand what is emerging and find out first hand about the next generation of technology that could have application to the new world of real estate.

In the meantime, 40 of our team spent last Sunday and Monday at the Australian Real Estate Conference in Queensland, one of the biggest of its kind in the world. It is so obvious the entire industry, on an international scale, is struggling to work out how our industry will look in 2020 and how to adapt fast enough to new technology capabilities and changing consumer needs. One thing is agreed; real estate agents must adapt or they will become extinct.

May 2015 gives clear insight into the way things are moving. So many 'firsts' and a conference where trade booths were dominated by technology companies... and dominated by 'First' launches. A new 'first' at every turn. Incredible!!... Actually, it was quite ridiculous.

With 30 years of innovation credentials under our belt, this is by far the most exciting era ever for us. So how do we see 2020?

Agents by 2020 will split into three categories. 

Category One Agent. Highly trained, technology equipped, with sophisticated data marketing. Global markets will be main-stream for these agents, while Asia will become a massive influence. This agent group will have unprecedented capabilities and cost of selling with these agents will fall while their profits will soar through efficiency gains. 

Category Two Agent. These will be traditional agents suffering fast diminishing resources, utilising high cost, low efficiency and increasingly ineffective marketing channels. They will be subject to heavy discounting and
lack of ability to deliver results.

Category Three 'Agency'. The new one. The true DISRUPTERS. Public, big scale business, like REA, Domain, RP Data, Google, Facebook, but probably a name that doesn't even exist today. There is likely to be big moves on real estate from non-traditional players. A big chunk of the existing real estate pie will go to this category. 

Consumers? By 2020 consumers, will demand more, pay less and be highly litigious. They will be impatient, unreasonable and have expectations that today's agents would consider as ridiculous. Full service agencies like Category One will attract the more reasonable consumers who require high levels of personal expert service.

Real estate SPIN will not wash. Facts, knowledge and results will prevail, and be the only currency. 'Crowd' based referrals will become the differentiator.

Toop&Toop feel confident we are on track to help drive these emerging trends and technologies. Researching, testing, adapting... and we are moving fast. We have 30 years of innovation DNA. Sorting the wheat from the chaff (old fashioned term) is what we are experts at. 

By 2020, I have no doubt Toop&Toop will be stronger and more relevant than today.

We are focused on leading the Category One Agency. We will achieve results for our landlords and sellers not dreamt of today.

These are explosively exciting times.

Anthony Toop