Frank Webster – Down Under
August 2013 has meant a lot of firsts for me: my first trip to Australia; my first visit to Sydney; my first speaking engagement in front of more than 500 Aussie Property Managers at the Australasian Residential Property Management Conference 2013. The annual seminar is two days of learning and sharing from business experts and leading practitioners, and ‘out-of-the-box’ thinking. The conference theme was ‘Growth’ which, after all, is what we all strive for.
I was approached back in January to talk ‘The Finders Keepers Story from Abroad’ due to us winning the Sunday Times Best UK Letting Agent in 2012 (no mean feat for a relatively small agency). In essence, the talk was a summary of the creation of Finders Keepers as a Property Acquisition agency (‘Finders’) and our development to being the UK’s leading specialist property letting & management agency (‘Keepers’) – our name explained. For Finders Keepers, the conference had 2 parts: the main presentation about the Finders Keepers Story to 500+ people and then a shorter, smaller break-out session on leadership and diversification.
Both my presentations were well received and it was humbling to have so many people come up to me afterwards wanting not to just discuss the FK ‘Journey to Gold’, but also to simply say hi (or “G’day”). Indeed, one of my overriding and many memories of this trip will be how warm and welcoming the Aussies are. Even despite recent UK sporting achievements, though their cricket team are currently giving us something to think about! They are full of enthusiasm and energy.
Talking to many of the delegates who have relatives back in the UK or who have visited, they all say the reason for their ‘glass half full’ and ‘can-do’ attitude, is mainly down to daylight; they get much more of it than we do with our long winters and short summers and boy, the difference really shows!
As I type this, I am multi-tasking and listening to Day Two (Monday 5th August) of ARPM 2013. The delegates, who have literally flown in from all round Australia, New Zealand and Tasmania, made it clear that whilst there are many similarities with our UK private rented sector there are also many differences. Indeed, these differences even vary from State to State. Speaking to a couple operating from Melbourne I was shocked to learn that tenants could be asked to vacate the property having only received 14 or 28 days notice! Apparently it is rarely used and landlords don’t need to give a reason for requiring possession.
Equally, Property Managers are in many respects ahead of us with their use of technology – including personal property inspections for landlords which are uploaded through a secure YouTube link. There is also considerable focus on helping clients to invest in property as a longer term investment. Deposit protection was always ahead of the UK and well regulated. However, regulating of agents is less regimented than I had thought, with some States having completely removed the regulation. This is unwelcome by the agents and not surprisingly has resulted in the cowboys coming back into the market. Another case of be careful for what you wish for?
With an Aussie election announced yesterday, a slowing economy (though still showing growth we would be proud of) but nonetheless with some challenges ahead as a result of the world economy still struggling from the wider recession, it is interesting to see similarities in the housing markets with a familiar newspaper headline in yesterday’s Telegraph “Fading hope of owning a home” – this, despite low interest rates and government incentives and stamp duty exemptions – so it looks as if the decline in home ownership may not be exclusive to the UK.
As I move on and head north in a few days to see more of this vast country I will leave Sydney reinvigorated and bursting at the seams to discuss my findings & learnings from ARPM13 and with the knowledge that there is much work to be done, but after a well earned rest (if I say so myself)!