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The Walkhom Wonder

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Real Estate Matriach

Sonia Walkom, from Walkom Real Estate in Newcastle, is one hell of a lady. Spending time with her makes you wonder what you have done with your life because she has crammed so much into hers.

She’s not only the matriarch of real estate in Newcastle, an industry pioneer, a tireless medical research supporter and avid runner, at 80 years of age she can still make grown men tremble. If any of Newcastle’s top performing agents pass Sonia on the way from a listing presentation, they know it’s over. For once Sonia Walkom takes her seat on the lounge in the home of a Novocastrian, and starts her listing presentation, it’s almost impossible to win the listing from her.

Being the classy woman that she is, Sonia will deny that she makes grown men tremble, but she will concede that she has worked very hard over the last forty years. She thinks that her success has come from the way she has treated her clients. “I’ve given people a service, and I’ve just always been there for them. And I suppose I’ve spent a lot of my life with my work. But I’ve had children and reared them and done all those things, but I think you’ve got to be really committed, and I’m a committed person to real estate. I do love it, and I like giving people a service. I think that’s what they deserve.”

Another of Newcastle’ top agents, George Rafty tells a famous story that many years ago at his first co-listing with Sonia, 40 people came to the door and she knew 38 of them on a first name basis! Sonia’s interest in people has proved to be a salient selling point. She says, “I think it is a bit of a skill. You’ve got to really know people, talk to them, make them feel comfortable with you. And I think that’s where this face-to-face is very important... I think the net’s wonderful, but it does take away that sort of personal touch. And I’ve always had that personal touch. I like to meet people, and I just think that’s what you should do.”

After more than 40 years in the industry Sonia, the diminutive dynamo, has no intention of retiring and continues to sell five properties a month, doing fees that are the amongst the highest in the country.

Sonia was one of the first female agents to work in the Newcastle area. When she started forty years ago, times were tough. There were only four women working in the industry in the Newcastle area and the male agents thought real estate was no place for women. There were no mobile phones, no internet access, no instant contact. Most listings came from the pub. She recalls, “That time was extremely difficult. The hardest thing always back in those days was the communication because there weren’t listing forms or exclusive agencies like there are today, and about six or eight people would have the same house. So you’d be out in the middle of nowhere with no two-way radio, no mobile phone, no nothing, and you’d know you’d got an offer on a house and you had to get that offer before one of the other eight people got one and beat you.”

She continues, “So you had to keep your wits about you and keep going, and you’d have to ask in the house that you were inspecting, could you use her phone. And that was always a little bit difficult.”

In those days, she took her whole young family with her out on the road. She recalls, “We were gone for the day and you looked at a lot, a lot of houses. You’d be gone, say, from 10 o’clock and you wouldn’t be back till 4:00. So it was a big day. My very first listing was one at Stockton. And I thought to myself, ‘Oh, goodness. Stockton’. And I thought, ‘I’ll never sell this’. So I went over with my little sign and put up my sign, Walkom Real Estate, and my goodness, I sold it the first day. I think if you are successful and you sell something, one leads to the other. And that’s what happened to me. I didn’t have to go to the pub or do anything. That’s what I say, it all goes back to service. And those people were happy. And I dealt with them for many years after that.”

From those tough first years, Walkom has now become a Newcastle institution employing 22 people with eight people in sales and over 1000 properties under their management. Her son Scott joined the business and while Sonia runs the front end, he runs the back. Scott joining the business freed her up to do what she does best – sell - and he took over running the day to day operations. She says, “It was the best thing that ever happened to this business, because Scott took it into the next generation or the next phase, and we grew enormously.”

While she thinks that databases are the best things that have ever been created and the internet has changed the industry forever, she still believes in the power of listening and the diary. She says,“I still have my diary. And I know you’ll all laugh, but I like my diary, and I write down people that I’m going to ring each day and each morning. I’m the old school, you see. I think that you come in and you must have certain people that you need to call, and I do that. And I’ve done that for 40 years.”

Sonia doesn’t engage in the hard sell. At listing presentations, she says, “I like to meet people, talk to them and find out their life, where they come from. I like to know about their family. I try to make them feel relaxed. I don’t want to come over as an agent that’s sort of overbearing and ‘You must list with me because I’m good’. I don’t sell myself, I’m sorry… I’m just plain old Sonia Walkom, and that’s how I’ve always been. And I just think that’s what it’s all about, and if I make them feel comfortable... I just think that there’s that old saying: ‘Life is a pathway and be careful how you tread it, because every mark will show’. And I believe in that very much.”

If anyone suggests that she might want to retire, Sonia scoffs. “I just think that people that are young, that are 50 and even 60, and they retire by the time they’re my age, I think they’ll be dead. I just think I can’t believe that people don’t want to keep on doing something because what do you do? You can only travel so much. People say to me, ‘Why don’t you travel the world or something?’. Well, I’ve done all that. And I still like doing what I’m doing, and I still like Newcastle, and I still like where I live and what I do.”

Sonia’s not finished yet and she likes the autonomy that continuing to work gives her. She says, “I want to keep selling real estate for as long as I can. That’s what I want to do… I’ve still got a good following, and I’ve still got a lot of people that still think that I’m all right, even though I’m not a young bird. But I really enjoy it and like it, and so that’s what I hope to do. I can’t see myself at the bridge club, and I can’t see myself at the lunches. I love my garden, but I wouldn’t be doing that every day. So that is what I like to do.”

She was bitterly disappointed that she didn’t get to complete her 40th (yes, you read correctly) City to Surf. She says, “I think that you must be fit because I think it helps you sell real estate. I think you’ve got to keep your brain alert. And I’ve run 39 city to surfs. I really wanted to do 40, but I couldn’t do the 40th, which was very upsetting for me. But I do think that keeping myself fit and running marathons and playing squash and doing all those things has helped me in my selling career very much.”

She still works everyday. “I work every day, and I work on Sundays if the work’s there. But, you know, my family have grown up… There’s no point saying, ‘Look, it’s my day off’. I don’t believe in that. If you’re a good salesman, you must be there all the time. And that’s tough I know, but that’s just me. I just think that you work when the work’s there and do it, and that’s how you become successful.”

Sonia believes that her upbringing in the bush prepared her well for a life in real estate. “It was the way I was brought up. If you’re going to do something, I think whatever you do, do well. Don’t be slack. There were no hours in the bush. You worked, you just worked and then you worked cattle. There were no hours, no times, and that’s the way you worked it, and you didn’t complain. You weren’t allowed to complain, and that was the way life was. So that’s been probably a big bearing in my life.”

Sonia also understands the deep emotional attachment that people have to property. She explains, "A house to somebody is their jewel, and it’s a very, very emotional thing. Selling a house for people is an emotional thing, and buying a house is very emotional as well."

Given this, she knows how important it is to provide the best possible service to people undertaking this intense process. She says, “Service means to me to find somebody a property that they want to buy, and I think that’s something that you have to have in your head, or meet them and sum it all up. You’ve got to know your stock, know what you think might suit them. Then I think you have to put the hours in and take them out. I had some people up here from Wollongong recently, and they came up one weekend. Now, I showed them six properties and they bought one. But people today just show the people one property. And I call that a service. I planned all that, and talked to them, and I love doing that.”

Sonia certainly doesn’t think real estate is for the feint hearted, and believes that many are under the impression that it’s a cinch. She says, “If you give people good service in the very beginning and you are taught that, I think you'll be successful. But real estate is hard on your family and it’s a lot of hours, a lot of commitment. People think that you get a smart car and that you drive around and people say, ‘I'll buy that house or I'll buy that house or I'll do this or I'll do that’ or you'll get that listing and that listing. But it’s hard work getting all those things, selling and listing. And I think that younger people coming in, even if they are 55s which is young to me, they still don't realise how really hard it is.”

Sonia Walkom, one of a kind. What are you going to do with the rest of your life?

I’ve given people a service, and I’ve just always been there for them.

A house to somebody is their jewel, and it’s a very, very emotional thing.

There were no hours in the bush, no times, and that’s the way you worked it, and you didn’t complain.

I want to keep selling real estate for as long as I can. That’s what I want to do.

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