Industry Snapshot: Our Rising Stars of Real Estate
When navigating unprecedented times such as these, there’s no business as usual to rely on for guidance. As a result, professionals are forced to take the initiative and forge their own paths.
It’s under these unique conditions that we get a clear picture of who stands out as the best at what they do. It’s often the fresh faces in the industry who bring new ideas and energy into the workplace and influence the way a business operates. They aren’t married to the legacy of how things were once done and in times of uncertainty they embrace experimentation and explore novel solutions. Those more seasoned real estate professionals know when to look to their junior recruits for inspiration.
One rising recruit is Code Property Group’s Skye Keskinen, who had been working in real estate for little over a year when the pandemic lockdown began in late March. Despite her short tenure, Keskinen has played a leading role in digitising the agency and moving inspections online with virtual tours. “Jamie [Billerwell] and I worked tirelessly on that,” she explains. “We bought a 360 degree camera and then just had to play with it to figure it out; we even watched YouTube video tutorials.” Prior to the pandemic, Code Property Group was still using paper for the vast majority of their admin work, but isolation saw them quickly adapt to digital solutions. Keskinen admits she had some initial fears, but surprised herself with her ability to pick it up so fast.
Of course it wasn’t just her agency going through a time of transition, but Keskinen herself, too. She immediately found that being isolated from her co-workers made it more difficult to reach out for help. “The lack of social interaction would be the hardest thing, just not having people right there to bounce ideas off of or ask questions,” she says. “Before COVID-19, I could just go to the office next door and say ‘hey, can you help me with this?’, but now it’s a phone call, they can’t see what you’re seeing and I don’t want to annoy someone all the time by calling and asking questions.”
Like most difficulties though, it’s compelled Keskinen to evolve and grow, both professionally and personally. Just a few months ago she was one of the many young people who felt uncomfortable speaking on the phone, much preferring the warmer interaction of a face-to-face conversation. Being thrown into the deep end has helped dramatically. “It’s definitely easier now to just pick up the phone and make that call, I’m a lot more confident,” she says over the phone, with plenty of confidence. “I feel a lot more independent and like I don’t need people to watch over me anymore.”
Meanwhile, Mark Hough from Place is in his first year of real estate as a property manager and was already proving to be a rising star before COVID-19. Despite his lack of experience, the dramatically altered landscape that came with the pandemic hasn’t stopped him achieving excellent results. “At Place we have a learn-it-all culture, not a know-it-all culture, so I was already in that mindset of looking for what I can learn and how I can get better every day,” he says. “But now that information is moving faster, I need to hold on tighter to make sure I’m still getting everything done.”
As a property manager, the hardest thing for Hough has been navigating routine inspections and prospective tenancy viewings. Finding that balance of getting enough prospective tenants through without worrying existing residents with overexposure taught him there’s no such thing as too much communication. “Obviously the tenants are our customers, so I over-communicate via phone and text to make sure firstly everyone’s safe and healthy, and secondly that they still want to go ahead with the property viewing,” he explains. “It’s all about informing them of the health and safety precautions we’re actually taking on their behalf.”
As a result, Hough has improved significantly at communicating between parties and as the pandemic comes to an end and life as normal is resumed, he’ll be prepared. “It’s been a real catalyst for making me better at playing that mediator and negotiator role,” he adds. “There are so many skills I’ve learned during this time, and now it’s time to reap the rewards of that upskilling.
“I absolutely feel like a rising star, and it would be disingenuous for me to say otherwise because the platform that Place has offered me has given me the best opportunity to achieve what I have,” he proudly tells the REIQ. “With that said, an opportunity is only as good as the actions you take.” Despite being in the game for not even 12 months, Hough’s ambitions are high. “The goal for the next few years is to become the number 1 BDM in the 4170 postcode,” he proclaims. “Once I’ve conquered that and I’m really set up financially, I’ll be home onto a sales role within a similar area.”
Belinda Blanco began her career in property management in the same week COVID-19 lockdowns came into effect, so she’s in the unusual position of never having performed her role during times of normalcy. “The most challenging part has been reassuring all of the owners that despite being new in the position, I’m still able to look after them and have the support of my team,” she explains.
Learning the ropes amidst lockdown and isolation restrictions presents unique challenges and a steep learning curve, but Blanco is climbing it and becoming a better property manager for it. That meant quickly overcoming her own shyness. “I can be a little quiet, but I’ve come out of my shell more with talking to tradies and owners, so I’ve certainly grown in that regard,” she says.
Like all good property management teams, Solutions has supported Blanco every step of the way, giving her the tools she needs to succeed. “I was concerned at the start with how long it was going to take to negotiate between owners and tenants,” she tells. “But Caroline [Duxfield] and Laura [Valenti] have been talking us through everything, we’ve been Zooming every morning and having updates and meetings on how to talk to all owners and tenants and try to establish that middle ground.”
Despite difficult conditions, Blanco has relished the challenges, and looks forward to improving even more. “The biggest positive has been my growth as a person, both with my confidence as well as learning how much my life experiences have taught me,” she adds. “The next few years for me will be more growing and learning, always more training, always improving.”
All over Queensland, real estate professionals have stepped up to the unique challenges presented by this pandemic – far too many for the REIQ to showcase every single one. Even in the search for new practitioners, there were equally so many rising stars to be featured. Here’s but a snapshot of the deep pool of talent that Queensland real estate has the privilege to be able to draw upon, and serve as inspiration for us all to strive for constant improvement and let COVID-19 be a time of reflection and industry-wide betterment.