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The Young Guns, Partnering their way to success


With Nathan Casserly & Alexander Ouwens
Natalie Downton & Kate Schwartz

Real estate is a tough gig. It can take over your life and kill you. Of that there is no doubt. Success in our industry is all about commitment and the amount of time you are willing to spend making the calls and pounding the pavement. It’s definitely a game for the young or the young of heart.

The people who make it in real estate are often the people who realise that real estate is not an individual sport – rather it’s a team game. Success comes from the combined efforts of many parts.

And the great thing about real estate is that you can decide how much of your life you want to hand over to it.
If you can find the right person, and you want to make a splash, you can own an agency, work very hard and enjoy the fruits of your labour. If you want a long-term career and some kind of work-life balance, you can partner with another agent. It’s all possible.

Two sorts of partnerships have been making a splash in the southern states.Nathan Casserly and Alexander Ouwens from Harcourts Ouwens Casserly, Adelaide, are both in their early thirties and making a tilt for the big league. At the end of 2011, Nathan and Alex bit the bullet, left the sanctuary of the most successful agency in South Australia and went out on their own. It paid off - last year, in their first year of operation, Ouwens Casserly won the title of the best new agency in South Australia.

At the same time, over in Tasmania, 27-year-old Natalie Downton, a senior property consultant with Raine and Horne, Hobart and the Northern suburbs, wanted to combine a long-term career in real estate with having a family, so decided to team with another agent, Kate Schwartz. Young and ambitious, Nathan and Alex and Natalie and Kate have found that teaming up has lead to a path of rewards and riches.

The Harcourts Ouwens Casserly story

Five years ago, Alex and Nathan found themselves working at one of most successful agencies in South Australia
at the same time.

Alex explains, “Nathan and I started about six months apart at Brock Harcourts. Brock Harcourts are still the number one office, or network, in South Australia so we were quite lucky to actually land roles in Brockie’s office. I think there were about 25 or 30 agents working in there. So we really got to learn the ropes there and that was a great platform for us to launch ourselves.”

They were there for five years, before casting out on their own. “We’re still good friends with all the directors of Brock Harcourts, and we’re still in the Harcourts group,” says Alex.

After spending many months planning how they would run their business, they set up shop 18 months ago. Nathan explains, “We have 25 employees and that’s made up of twelve consultants, four buyer managers, four vendor managers, admin office, finance and a few others that pick up really important parts of the business.”

Alex and Nathan shared the same vision. Nathan says, “Alex and I are very similar in terms of our vision and where we want to go, but if you catch up with us or buy us a beer or a glass of wine, you’ll find we are very different personalities and maybe go about things slightly differently.”

And Nathan sees these differences as good for business – it’s actually part of their business model. He continues, ”It’s a little bit of the 80 / 20 rule, that 80 per cent of the time our people are doing exactly the same thing, but we also need to provide an opportunity where people can be a little bit spontaneous and that’s their 20 per cent, where they can bring that flair to it. And I think once people understand that, it seems pretty easy for them to jump on to our vision and follow along.”

Alex adds that another ingredient for their success has been making it easy for their team to combine their work and life. ”One of the vital things for us was to have a work-life balance for all of our team members,” he says. “We don’t even like using the word staff because that means a staff member is someone you lean on and we want them to lean on us. You know, we want everyone to be equal in our organisation. When we do our monthly catch-ups, we have to know when their next holiday’s booked, when are they having a short break?”

Alex believes that a rested agent is a happy agent. “We have regular drinks, barbeques at our office in the parklands once a month as well, and all the families are invited.” Alex and Nathan know that real estate becomes your life.

Their approach clearly works. In their first year, Nathan says, “I think we settled $60,000 for the company in our first month and about 80K in January and then 100K in February and then 140K in March and it’s gradually gone up and up and up. And then October 2012, we settled just shy of 300K for the month. So we’ve budgeted, for this financial year, to gross 4m in sales commission.” Not a bad start!

Of course, this success has been achieved through much thought and careful planning. Nathan says, “We spent a good six months planning. We caught up every Friday morning for two hours. We did a SWOT analysis and developed a business plan. We really did have a vision and the vision was to have a certain number of consultants. And with our recruitment, it wasn’t based around going out and trying to pinch agents. It was based around finding an office that was just an office everyone wanted to be a part of.”

Nathan and Alex thought about every detail of their business. For example they chose a very specific location for their agency. Nathan explains, “We’ve set our business up on the eastern parklands in Adelaide, overlooking a beautiful park. The grass at the front of our building has got rosellas on it all the time. It’s a beautiful setting, very quiet, right on the edge of the CBD and surrounded by the city’s most expensive housing. We’re only a 100-metre walk to the best cafes in Adelaide as well. We made a business decision to invest in that office.”

It has proven to be attractive to both prospective staff and for vendors. Nathan says, “We’ve created an environment where consultants are very comfortable to bring the vendors and buyers in. We get our vendors in much more often now than we used to. We encourage our agents to get them in once a week and it’s an environment where we can control the process more and show them that we’re true professionals. We work in an open plan environment and it’s very transparent.”

Alex and Nathan were also clear about staff structure and responsibilities. They wanted experienced sales staff to spend their time selling and created positions for prospectors and lead generators.

Alex explains, “Fortunately most of the agents who joined us were already in a car with a handbrake on but pointing down the hill. So all we had to do was just release that handbrake a little bit for them so that they could get going.”

They also understood how important it was to have a strong team; that a successful agency is not just about the owners. Nathan says, “We work very hard in creating how we’re perceived, how we’d like to be perceived and then what’s the current reality? We always come back to key values: being authentic, dynamic and skilled, optimistic and passionate. So whether you’re talking to our receptionist or the vendor manager, booking the ads, writing the ad text, our photographer, our floor plan, we feel every single one of those people is displaying one of our core values at the same time. So, yes, we’ve got a great runway system which explains what people need to do but, more importantly, I think we’ve actually got the right people who bring that delivery of service through very authentically.”

By taking a punt on themselves and the power of their combined talents, Nathan and Alex are reaping the rewards.

The Natalie Downton partnership approach

Across Bass Strait, Natalie Downton from Raine and Horne in Hobart Tasmania, chose a different approach from Alex and Nathan for her real estate career. She has adopted a partnership model rather than building her own real estate practice because as a young married woman, about to start a family, Natalie reasoned that working in partnership with another agent would best suit the lifestyle she wanted.

Natalie explains, “I’m a young female in an industry that requires you to be on the job 24/7 a lot of the time. Early on in your career, you have to do 70 hour weeks and the hard yards.” She knew that she wanted to have a family and knew that she wasn’t going to be able to do it all on her own. Natalie therefore encouraged fellow champion netballer Kate Schwartz, 21 into the Raine and Horne group and for the last three years they worked together carving out a sound career in Hobart. Initially employed with a small agency when she was 18 years of age, Kate found starting in real estate at such a young age daunting. She recalls, “I was thrown in the deep end with a telephone a desk and a computer and basically told to go out, find property and list it and sell it, when I was straight out of high school.”

She realised that she would need some sort of mentoring if she was going to succeed in real estate. She says, “There’s just so much more to it than, you know, listing, door knocking or getting on the phone and calling someone and saying, ‘Do you want to sell your house?’.” So she linked up with Natalie to learn from a more experienced agent.

In the years they worked together, Natalie and Kate worked out which roles best suited their personalities. Natalie says,

“We found that because we’re completely different people in personality, it provides a really nice balance between the two of us.”
Natalie managed the vendors, listings and presentations whereas Kate looked after buyer management. Kate, says, “I really enjoy buyer management and I like getting into conversation with people, finding out what they’re looking for, matching them with properties, even if it takes me 20 plus buyer inspections to find them the right property.”

They managed 35 transactions last year. Natalie says, “We obviously want to increase every single year. We made it to the Chairman’s Club for the first time last year which was a really big goal of ours, apart from being on Hot Topics, and we’re slowly ticking these boxes that we want to get to, so I’ll have to start setting more and more goals now.”

Natalie’s partnership model was further aided by the ongoing support she has received from her office. She says, “The leadership from Raine & Horne has been amazing. The support that we get from Raine & Horne is so important to us.

They give us everything they possibly can. They help us with our marketing and provide different levels of support.” Natalie has found the partnership model has worked for her and she will continue with it as she carves out a long career in real estate.

Curtis E. Sahakian, wrote that ‘Partnering is the quickest, most effective way to re-engineer a business’. It can be hard, fractious and difficult – but if you can find the right partner, success can be exponential.

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