How to be Equal or Better

Peter Hanscomb gets people and is a master of the big moves. On the board of Ray White at twenty-six years of age, Peter bought RE/MAX to Australia, steered McGrath into franchising and he franchised and relaunched Belle Property in 2007. He had shares in Ray White Toowong, Ray White Palm Beach, Ray White Commercial and owned and recently sold, Belle Bulimba.

“I’m a great believer in you’ve got to be equal and better”

Last year, Peter merged industry heavyweights, Belle Property and Melbourne’s Hockingstuart. He is now the chief executive of the two brands, which run as a single entity. Belle’s 1200-strong staff in eighty-five offices across three states and two territories and Hockingstuart’s forty offices and six hundred people in Victoria have now become one of Australia’s truly national agencies.

Peter says, “I’m a great believer in you’ve got to be equal and better. That philosophy is what drives me on. We keep constantly challenging and improving every single thing we do because there is no endpoint, this is just a journey on improving, changing, being agile, being adaptive. I’m somewhat lucky; I’m the only director of the group, which means it makes decisions very, very easy. I’ve also been fortunate that I’ve been involved in building four national real estate groups. That experience has not only taught what not to do, but it’s also taught me a lot of what to do and what to really focus on. We want to take care of people better. If we can do that in a way that has the right values, the right professionalism, the right ethics, then that’s exactly where we’re going as a group.”

Looking towards the future, Peter thinks there are a number of areas to focus on.

Invest in people

When making the big moves, Peter’s priority has always been people, whether they are the client or the customer. He knows the stronger the group of individuals, the better the business. He says, “Brand and marketing have been very important, but it’s never been important as the development of the individual. Everybody needs support, everybody needs direction, everybody needs to be coached, and everybody needs a strategy pathway. I don’t care who you are in this country you can be better with the right coach, the right education, the right vehicle to operate within basically. The future of our business is very much about very high productivity per person.”

When Peter looks back over his career, he says, “It’s particularly satisfying to see people change the way that they’ve been operating their real estate businesses for ten – fifteen years. I find that really rewarding when I see people grow and I see them earn more money, diversify and buy more assets, have a better lifestyle and have a better life. Whether it’s a property manager, a principal, a director of a business or an agent within a business – our vision is about helping people be better.”

Peter is adamant. “Commission cutting doesn’t work. Purple Bricks sorted that one out for us. The whole low commission model doesn’t work. High commission doesn’t work either. There’s got to be a balance in a business where we invest and develop people. We need to nurture, put them around good people and let them grow within an organisation. The idea that there’s just a magic formula that’s going to change it all is bunkum. I think at the end of the day, we see people succeed because they do the fundamentals very well. They’re very good with people, they’re very good in terms of prospecting, and they’re very good instinctively over the dining room table to win confidence, win the business and get the best deal for our customer. That’s what it’s all about. We’re in a no-win, no fee reality of life, so if you’re not good enough, you don’t get there.”

Know your customer

Success in real estate is about how well you connect with people, how well you know people, and how well you can service their future needs. Peter says, “We’ve got a database of something like 2.1 million unique people. We’re about halfway there to having everybody on one central database so that we know more about people than anybody else. We see that as a real strength of our group going forward because quite frankly an independent can’t do it. The big brands and the big real estate groups can’t do it either. Because they’ve fundamentally got a franchise system structure whereby franchisees don’t trust each other.”

The power of a good brand

Peter thinks the industry will concentrate on a lot of mergers occurring over the next two to three years. He says, “A lot of franchisees will disappear out of organisations because they’ll be selling out. They won’t be going to an independent model because quite frankly, I think it’s never been harder to be an independent. It’s never been harder because there are so many things you’ve got to look at, so many decisions you’ve got to make as a business owner.”

If you are an outstanding agent or small independent, there is power and protection in a good brand. A strong, profitable brand can withstand changes in the marketplace. He says, “I don’t believe real estate agents are necessarily great managers and business people. I think they’re great real estate agents. As a result, we have a lot of our leaders, our principals, directors, selling over a million bucks a year each in commission and some selling over two, some closer to three. I see that continuing because it’s profitable, it’s a good mix. I’m very much a believer in fewer, better people.”

He adds, “When we give someone a franchise, we don’t allow another office to open up within their territory, of any of our brands. We help them build a business, and we look to take a lot of the decisions that they have to make as an independent. We make the decisions for them, allowing them to concentrate on things that actually make money, help them build a business and create a balanced lifestyle. God knows the way we work; you have to have balance in this business. You have to have time off; you have to have time with family, refreshing time, recharging time, being the best you can be. If you don’t do that, then you ultimately will fail in this business.”

A big brand also offers opportunities to examine best practises around the world, within other premium groups. Peter says. “We have a great relationship with Barfoot and Thompson in New Zealand. They’re a great organisation to be close to and in fact, we’ve got a number of their top people joining us in our leader’s conference in Queenstown later on this year. We see that we’ve got to learn from better people constantly and you know, that goes with me too. I spend probably ten to fifteen hours a week researching different things. Whether it’s tech, whether it’s people growth, whether it’s brands.”

Choose the best vehicle

Good agents need the right vehicle and support team. They need to spend as little time as possible on the less important stuff and spend more time around people, building trust, communication and credibility. They need to spend time convincing people that they’re going to get them the best result because, at the end of the day, that’s what makes a successful transaction. Peter says the right agency, “has to have information; it has to have cleverness about it. Over the last month, I would have had ten approaches from independents in different parts of the country that realise that they need to get into a better vehicle.”

Have a common message

Going forward, there has to be a single message within an organisation. Peter says, “You’ve got to have a single way of doing things, and you can’t coach an organisation if they’re all on different tracks, going down different pathways. There has to be a commonality of culture, belief, service and the way we all see the future.”

Be careful with technology

Peter says, “It’s so easy in this tech space to throw a bucket load of money away because there’s a lot of people out there trying to sell you on something or another. So for us, it’s really, we’ve got a very good group of specialists within our business. We go through very much a checking process to make sure that what we’re following is the best that we can find.”

In terms of big moves over the last year to position Belle Property and Hockingstuart into the next decade, Peter has made a few.

1. Gone back to basics

Peter says, “We’ve put on hundreds of hours more of training and strategy development of the businesses and really looked at how we’re going to build this group over the next decade. Changing any group is a process, and it’s very much a process around helping people grow, sorting out things and some principals that just don’t work within the organisation. There were some rules within the company that I thought just slowed down the growth of the whole organisation and made it very difficult for the organisation to be great. We’re never going to have a Hockingstuart and a Belle in the same location. We could well have franchise owners who own both a Belle office and a Hockingstuart office. That’s possible because what we’re doing is everything’s coming off the same spine, the same spine of leadership, of strategy, of education, of systems, of AI development, of business development. And what we’re doing is we’re also bringing in our multi-tiered structure, our multiple brand structure.”

2. Belle Escapes

Belle Escapes is a short stay holiday accommodation brand. Backed by Belle Property’s Australian network of property managers, agents and advisors, Belle Property Escapes is an online booking site for holiday rentals. Peter says, “The future is about the client. And it’s how close we get to the client. And the one thing with Escapes is it’s another opportunity in a different way to have more regular contact with that client. And if you look at the premium areas of the country, it’s an opportunity to get into a lot of premium real estate and earn a different income stream because it’s a space that not a lot of people are in and not a lot of people have done well. We’re investing very heavily in terms of education, systems, websites and development of this platform because we see it as an integral part of the future. Just like we see projects, just like we see specialist retail, specialist commercial, specialist industrial and specialist international sales.”

3.  Launch of Sitchu – website and magazine

Peter gets the emotional connection that women, in particular, have to real estate, community, aspiration and home. Belle Property has been developing Sitchu as a lifestyle brand for many years. They recently combined the property magazines of Belle Property and Hockingstuart into a lifestyle magazine called Sichtu Living. Peter says, “We’re a part of the leading real estate companies for the world. So within that magazine, there’s something like twelve to fourteen pages of content about lifestyle, about things that are valuable, particularly from a female perspective to read. The first issue has just come out, and there were over 150 pages. It was like a book. I think it’ll get bigger and bigger. As a marketing piece, it’s completely different from what anybody else has on offer.”

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