How did you get your start in the real estate business?
I was actually going to do law, and it was the start of the Whitlam era, but I got distracted because I got involved with the family business that is a fourth-generation family business that’s still going. I sold out in 1996 but it’s just had its hundredth year this year. I sort of fell into [real estate] because I’d grown up with it. My father was an estate agent, my grandfather and my great-grandfather. I started part-time in early 1973.
What do you love about your job?
No two days are ever the same. I’m still very much hands-on, I run a small boutique agency these days whereas I used to be a partner in one of Tassie’s biggest stand-alone real estate agencies. I love getting an outcome, I still list and sell property and I enjoy putting people into a house and assisting people sell a property.
What would you say are the biggest issues facing the Australian real estate industry at the moment?
There are a few. Technology is changing how we do business in a very significant way; it’s already done so and will continue to do so. There will always be a place for us but it’s how we fit into the process. I think other issues are taxation issues that are likely to change the lay of the land. The removal of negative gearing or even playing with negative gearing is a major threat to the industry and to anybody who owns a property in Australia. I think if they start playing with it, anybody who owns a property could see their values change quite dramatically. The experience from when Keating was Treasurer and they removed negative gearing, rents went up dramatically and it was a frustrating period in real estate history, and the same could occur again. I see that as a major threat.
I see also historically, particularly in the sales side of it, there’s been a lot more commission-only and there are still some moves afoot to make it more structured in terms of payment and less incentivized. I think that will change how people do business as time goes on. If we are to go down that path, the costs of operating an agency will increase at a time when there is also pressure on what you can see as commission.
What would you like to see done differently?
I get very frustrated at times when the media play us up as rogues, I don’t think we are. I always think it’s amazing how when you go to a dinner party or a function, people want to talk to you about what’s going on in the property market. We’re certainly not treated as lepers when we’re out; people always want to discuss real estate. Particularly in my marketplace, it’s so small that you can’t afford to do the wrong thing. I’d just like to see the industry given more respect than it sometimes gets. Every now and again somebody lets the side down and that casts a shadow on the industry as a whole, but broadly, I think the bulk of people in real estate are good people doing a good job. I’d like to see that shadow diminish, it doesn’t matter what profession you’re in, you’ll see a bad egg occasionally, but I don’t think our industry is anywhere near as bad as we get portrayed sometimes.
What was your first home?
I was born in Launceston and I’ve spent all but a three-month stint where I did a consultancy in Toowoomba in 1996 here. I grew up here, went to Scotch College in Launceston, just a typical local boy.
I’d been involved in the northern branch of the REIT. I went on a holiday to Broome in 2003 and our northern branch had fallen into recess, and I came back to find that I’d been elected vice president of the branch. They seemed to have got together and figured I’d be a reasonable person to be involved with it. That took me to the state executive and a couple of years later I was elected president. Then I went on the national board and now I’m just finishing up two one-year terms as president. That’s been my journey as it goes through the REIT and then REIA. I’m retiring as president but staying on the board.
I was diagnosed at 23 with Multiple sclerosis which was a blow at the time, but whilst it’s a disability and it slows me down and you have to learn to accept your limitations, it hasn’t stopped me doing a lot of things that I’ve wanted to do. It does frustrate me, but overall I’ve learnt to live with it. Growing old, it’s hard to tell if it’s getting worse of if it’s just the aging factor but I know I’m slowing down. I still get up every day and give it my best shot. I’m the 46th national president so only 46 people in Australia out of the hundreds of thousand who work in the industry have had the opportunity to be president of the REIA.
If money were no object, what would your dream property be?
Once upon a time I probably would have said that coming from Tasmania where the summer is limited, a beautiful house on the canals on the Gold Coast or Sanctuary Cove. Nowadays, if my circumstances were different, I’d live in an apartment in Melbourne, but I live in Tasmania and I’ve got MS and I need to be sensible and we’ve got a very comfortable townhouse in a private street with gated entry and that works really well for us. I’m very taken with the south of France; I’d love to live in Monte Carlo. I was lucky enough to go there in 2007.