When they zig, you zag. So at a time when more and more sellers are quietly going the off-market route, boutique agency Hutton & Hutton Real Estate are encouraging their clients to shout about their property from the rooftops.
“The Hutton & Hutton journey started about six years ago,” Peter says. “I was coaching real estate agents all over Australia, working from home as a one-man band, with Karen in support. I was teaching these people how to start real estate agencies and how to evolve and grow their businesses, and they were listening, but they weren’t executing.
“So Karen and I decided one day that we would go out and do it ourselves.”
The pair set up a makeshift Hutton & Hutton office at home, working in their pyjamas, as so many new founders do. But that was all about to change.
After placing an ad for a penthouse apartment in inner-north Brisbane, Peter got a call. It wasn’t a prospective buyer, but a much larger opportunity.
“This developer actually saw the ad in the paper and remembered me from about 10 years earlier,” Peter says. “He called me up and we had a coffee and he said, ‘We’ve got this $70 million project. All the big project marketers have put proposals in, and we’d really like to hear your thoughts on how Hutton & Hutton would sell it.’”
They got the project, adding $1.2 million worth of revenue into their business in their first year.
“We hit the launch button,” Peter says, “and here we are today with two offices and over 20 staff and counting. We’ve got more agents starting very soon, and we’ll soon have an Inner South office to go alongside our Inner North and Inner East offices. Our goal is to grow to a hundred agents across Brisbane, and then we’ll see where we go from there.”
Loud and clear
Just as Peter and Karen have taken a bold approach to growing their business, their SELL LOUD campaign encourages their clients to take a similarly bold approach to selling their properties.
“There’s been an increase in off-market selling in Brisbane over the last couple of years,” Peter says. “It’s a trend that really started to gain momentum towards the end of last year. But our philosophy for selling property – for selling anything, really – is that the more people who are interested in what you’ve got, and the more aware they are that other people are interested in what you’ve got, then the more they will pay to make sure they get it. And you can only do that if you sell in a very public way – if you provide social proof that there are other buyers.
“Going off-market is just not a great strategy for sellers. It’s a great strategy for buyers, because it gives them the upper hand, and I suppose that’s why agencies that act for buyers are on the rise across Australia. It’s a great system for buyers, and I’ve got nothing against that, but we act for sellers.”
Karen says the SELL LOUD campaign is about educating sellers that they can get a better result if they take a public and transparent approach to selling their property.
“SELL LOUD is about exposing a seller’s property to the maximum number of buyers,” she says. “From our perspective, we’re just doing what we’ve always done in terms of marketing, with brilliant photography and story-driven copywriting that inspires buyers to imagine themselves in the property before they even have their first inspection. But we’ve come up with the SELL LOUD label to explain the difference between selling quietly off-market and selling loudly on the market.”
Sharing the vision
Karen says buying into the vision of Hutton & Hutton has been the key to bringing agents into the business.
“I realised early on that I had to buy into the vision with my whole heart, not just pay lip service to it,” she says. “I had to embody it, to be able to form a team and bring them along on the journey.”
Peter points to professional development as another important tool for recruiting and keeping productive agents.
“The secret sauce for high-performing agents is momentum,” he says. “We actually have nine tiers of agents, and all of our agents have a plan in place with us to progress as high as they want through those tiers all the way to the ninth level, or what we call the ‘Blue Sky’ level. It’s critical for every individual to know they have momentum and be able to measure that momentum.
“We’ve got a system in place with a dashboard where agents can see where they stand in terms of appraisal-to-list and sale-to-list ratios, gross commission income, the number of properties they’re selling, all of that sort of data. And then we train them so they can move up that ladder.
“So it’s about giving them a goal, ultimately, as well as a process to get there.”
It’s a competitive environment, but Karen says culture is also crucial.
“Why would you want to work somewhere if you don’t enjoy being there?” she asks. “It’s very important to me that we all have a great time working together.
“I think you can work and have fun at the same time. Sometimes it feels like we’re at school and the teacher’s not there, and we’re just having great banter. So that’s part of our philosophy, too – it’s all about making great connections with each other and enjoying each other’s company.”
Let it grow
Hutton & Hutton isn’t Peter and Karen’s first rodeo – and there’s one particularly important lesson that they’ve taken from their previous venture and applied to this one.
“This is our second real estate agency,” he says. “In the first agency, I learned something very important, which is that there are three phases to every business – the creation phase, the maintenance phase and the destruction phase.
“As business owners, I know we all say, ‘Oh, there will never be a destruction phase’, but let’s face it – even businesses that have lasted a hundred years can eventually be destroyed. So I’ve learned to recognise what phase I’m in, and the trick is, if you want your business to keep going, you need to stay in the creative phase as long as you can.
“That creative phase is what will keep you growing, because once you go into the maintenance phase, the next step is destruction. It’s downhill from there. Some people do well in maintenance, of course, but entrepreneurs… entrepreneurs don’t do well in the maintenance phase.
“I know this because I’m an entrepreneur. You get bored. You start looking over your shoulder and looking for other opportunities. The energy that was going into your business starts to dissipate and starts going elsewhere. That’s what happened to me in my previous agency.
“So in this business, I’m not playing a finite game. I’m playing an infinite game, so every day I come in, it’s about growing and creating. And there’s no chance I’m going to go into maintenance. If I tip into maintenance, I think that’s the time for me to retire. But hopefully that’s a long, long, long way off because I’m enjoying growing and creating. It’s fun.
“Entrepreneurs need to keep creating. That’s what I’ve learned.”