Real Estate Hot Topics, Leading the real estate industry in audio and content, sales, property management, leadership

Feeding our national obsession

HT22---FeatureStory.jpg

with Tracey Fellows

There’s no question - Australians are obsessed with real estate and online real estate listings. With a coffee in hand, when we have a minute to spare, logging onto real estate websites is a national past time, shared by all of us from Perth to Sydney to Hobart to Darwin.

In a highly competitive market, www.realestate.com.au is the leading digital property-advertising site in Australia. It attracts three million visitors a month. However, www.realestate.com.au is in fact just one part of a broader company – the REA Group. Every day, the REA Group and their stable of international real estate and commercial property advertising sites feed the global real estate obsession.

Established in 1995, the REA Group owns and operates the leading real estate and commercial property advertising sites in Australia, realestate.com.au and realcommercial.com.au, as well as a host of other international real estate advertising sites such as the market-leading Italian property site, casa.it, squarefoot.com.hk in Hong Kong, myfun.com in China and other property sites and apps across Europe. The company also has a 20 per cent stake in the US company realtor.com. Most of these sites are ranked first in their respective markets.

Headquartered in Melbourne, the REA Group employs nearly 800 people globally and is majority-owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation. The company posted a 34 per cent rise in net profit to $94.7 million, while revenue leapt 25 per cent to $261.5 million in the first six months of this financial year. REA has also been one of the ­best-performing stocks on the ASX over the past five years, with its market value surging to $6 billion from about $500 million.

Tracey Fellows, the energetic new CEO of the REA Group has been at the forefront of technology all her working life and also loves a challenge. She is eager to collaborate with customers in Australia and around the world and is determined to deliver the best digital real estate experience on the market and create a network of world leading property portals.


Technology is in Tracey’s blood. A Canadian by birth, she immigrated to Australia in her high school years. After completing a Bachelor of Economics, she started a long and illustrious association with the biggest technology companies in the world, always willing to take on challenging roles and positions. Her first appointment was with IBM in Australia where she stayed for 14 years. She explains, “Then I had a short time at Dell Computers and then I was in Microsoft for nine years. In that time, I was the CEO of Microsoft Australia and I was the president for Asia Pacific where I lived in Singapore for a couple of years with my family.”

She joined the REA Group in September 2014 from Australia Post where she was Executive General Manager - Communication Management Services and was responsible for both the physical and digital mail business including the delivery and mail operations of 13,000 staff.

With this deep and rich background living and working overseas and her understanding of new media, she was the perfect candidate to take this powerhouse digital Australian company to the world.

The role appealed to Tracey for a number of reasons.

Firstly, she wanted to lead and build an Australian based multinational and determine what products would be built and how they were going to be taken into different markets. She explains, “When you work for a US multinational, you’re on the receiving end of a bunch of decisions that get made and they get made with great wisdom and great logic but they’re not necessarily the best things for what you want in your market, whether that was when I was living in Singapore for Asia Pacific or in Australia.”

Secondly, Tracey has always been passionate about technology and wanted to be immersed in it. She says, “Once you get in, the thing that is completely addictive is the pace because technology is always changing. You’re always looking at new things, creating new experiences and transforming the way consumers do everyday things and the way businesses can transform their business.”

Finally, like the rest of us, Tracey loves property. She says, “Like many Australians, I do love real estate; on my weekends, yes, I go to open free inspections. Every Saturday, my habit is on the mobile phone: what’s open on realestate.com.au?; what open for inspections are there in my area? That’s always been what I did so now I do it even more and I pretend I’m working and looking at different websites but really I’m just doing what I used to always do on Saturday morning.”

Now that she is in charge of the REA Group, in a highly competitive market, it is Tracey’s desire the customer be at the centre of the business and online experience. She wants to make sure that she hears from customers directly, even if the comments are not always complimentary. She understands the necessity of dialogue to endure longevity in the digital marketplace. She says, “I make sure that I answer every email that comes in. If customers call you, you want to be sure you’re accessible because very quickly you can realise you can have too many people who are filtering what you hear and you need to hear from all different sources things that people are thinking feeling, worried about, excited about - all of those things.”

As she was a prolific user of realestate.com.au, it was easy for Tracey to think in the terms of a consumer because she had been a user of the site. However, when she became CEO, she embarked on a tour of Australia to talk to customers directly. She says, “I knew what that experience was. What I wanted to make sure I invested time with, was our customers - to get a sense from them about how they felt. I would say one of the very strong positives of our customer base is they are not backward in telling me what they think.”

When she started the role, she travelled to every state and territory in Australia with the exception of the Northern Territory. She found that customers in each area were pretty clear about what they felt and as she says, “There was a bit of emotion at the time when I joined.” She sent an email to all of their customers in her first couple of weeks in the job and she says, “It would be fair to say I got some fairly strong and forceful and emotional responses and that’s okay though. At least you’re not going to die wondering, hey.”

Understanding different points of view has always been one of Tracey’s best qualities. She recruits people from different backgrounds and perspectives to her own and she listens to what customers say. Knowing how passionate customers felt meant that she had a starting point. Hearing feedback and acting on it enables the company to respond to customers needs and to stay in business for the long term.

She invested much time and energy in trying to understand what was happening behind some of the emotion. She says, “Actually, I’ve been impressed with real estate agents. I expected to deal with smart people but what I would say with real estate agents in many cases is they are people who have made their own fortunes, their own luck and built their business from the ground up.” She has met others who are just starting out and, through hard work and determination, have “moved from being like everybody else to creating very substantial businesses”.

She continues, “There is a lot of drive in agents and I really respect that. There’s a lot of street smarts and they are very people-oriented people because in order to be successful in their craft or in their profession, they really need to get people and so actually, they are very enjoyable to talk to because they are personalities. I spent a lot of time dealing with people in procurement and technology divisions of big organisations: they are perhaps a little less personable and real estate agents as a customer base are a more pleasant, breath of fresh air maybe than what I had when I was at some technology companies.”

Engaging customers

In the next few years, Tracey is determined to engage with customers in a multitude of ways. She says, “We do regular events with customers, helping to educate them about digital.” She also is eager for the REA Group to share ideas and create platforms for different customers to come together with different experts. She says, “We bring customers in here and then we engage very one-to-one with some of our larger customers. We do see that we understand technology very well, we understand some ways of how to apply technology in the real estate vertical very well but we’re not real estate agents and we get great ideas from our customers about things we could do differently or better. That dialogue is absolutely two ways. We benefit from it and I believe our customers do as well.”

With their eye on Australia and the rest of the world, the REA Group will, Tracey says, “build the platform and the experiences and use the innovation that we have developed here in those other countries, be it Italy, be it in Asia and certainly now in North America. We also take the site we have today and we’re able to translate that to be able to show Australian properties to Chinese potential purchasers; we do that through something called My Fan. Whenever we look at innovations that we’re doing, we do think about how we are doing that in a way that’s building on a real global platform and we use our innovations that are coming from Australia and take them to the rest of the world.”

The company has identified three areas where they want to focus on over the next year.

1. Create new and great experiences for customers
Tracey says, “We want to create new and great experiences for consumers and value for our customers. Some of that is around mobile, some of that’s around new and exciting devices that are coming out, some of that is agent profiles and how we’ll continue to evolve that.” In April, for example, realestate.com.au introduced comprehensive school information on listings in response to research that showed that 31 per cent of home hunters have said that it matters when making a decision on a property.


2. Build an international business
Tracey is also charged with making the REA Group global. She explains, “Another part of what I see as my responsibility or my legacy is building an international business and presence and we’ve started that by moving into two other areas we weren’t in: Asia and the US.”


3. Adjacencies
Finally. the REA Group will focus on building adjacencies – a strategy where a company looks outside its boundaries for new sources of growth.


Tracey says, “As I look at what other things are to come, it is making very tangible progress in all three of those areas. That we continue to innovate in the core business, in our site realestate.com.au, and create beautiful experiences for consumers that really add value for our customers; that we become more international and that we move into some of these adjacent areas which are really new businesses and new business areas for us. When I think about my time, I delineate it across those three things very intentionally.”

The digital property-advertising space is tough and constantly changing. Companies such as realestate.com.au have to be across rapid technological change and at the same time service a market hungry for real estate listings and accommodate the needs of passionate, opinionated real estate agents.

Seth Godin once said, ‘Change is not a threat, it’s an opportunity’. Tracey Fellows has been at the forefront of technological change all her working life and she has always relished challenges. Under her tutelage, the REA Group is on track to become a mighty global real estate force.

The global online market place

Globally, this space is profitable but hazardous. In July last year, US online real estate company Zillow announced that it was acquiring another site Trulia for $US3.5 billion. One of the UK’s biggest sites Zoopla recently floated in the London Stock Exchange for a market capitalization of almost a billion pounds but a group of agents in the UK have formed their own site - launched in January 2015, OnTheMarket.com is quickly gaining market share.

Tracey’s career highlights
CEO - the REA Group
Executive General Manager Communication Management Services - Australia Post
President Asia Pacific - Microsoft

 

<< Click to go back