The Cooke family’s real estate business location and structure means they can provide some great savings to clients. Peter and Janet Cooke and their son Angus tell us about their membership of an internationally recognised real estate brand.
> What is your background in property?
(Peter) Janet and I have been investors for 30 years, having bought and sold a range of residential, commercial and rural properties. We have also undertaken a number of small sub-divisions both here in Armidale and in the Southern Highlands.
Additionally, I consulted to Lend Lease over a 10 year period on an extensive range of industrial projects throughout Australia. I guess moving into the property market as a licensed real estate agent seemed like a logical progression, and it’s a career move that I am really looking forward to.
> What about you Angus?
(Angus) You mean aside from being dragged around open houses as a kid, living in half renovated, half dilapidated houses until the project was completed, and then starting it all over again? (Laughs) I was either going to be a gypsy or a real estate agent.
My formal real estate career began in 2004, when I completed the Certificate of Registration Course at The Real Estate Institute with Dad. After that I completed a traineeship as a personal assistant for a principal in Sydney’s South. We were thrilled to be named in the top ten suburban agencies in that franchise group.
I became the Property Manager for that company, and I remained in that position until deciding to move to Armidale to be closer to family. I was a sales consultant in Armidale for a bit over a year, but left to pursue another venture. However, during that time away from the industry, I completed the licensing course in real estate.
> Why open another real estate office in Armidale?
(Peter) It is certainly true that Armidale has its fair share of real estate agents. We feel, however, that there is an opportunity to grow a new agency on the basis of exceptional service, honest and informed advice and value for money. We will be open 7 days and available to discuss any property needs that either locals or visitors to Armidale may have.
Being a family business we have the flexibility to operate as the market and our clients dictate.
> What is a key difference of your office?
(Angus) We have decided to adopt a business model that’s a little bit different from those currently used in Armidale. We are going to operate as an Effective Business Unit, or EBU. Adam Woods, of R&W Mudgee suggested the idea to me during a visit to his office, as he has employed it with great success in his similar marketplace.
Put simply, agents in a company work together to achieve results for their mutual clients, as opposed to the usual situation where they are almost like sub-contractors – competing not just with other agencies, but with their own colleagues as well. The advantage in our arrangement is that each team member focuses and develops a core role or strength, be it listing, communicating with vendors, or buyer contact. This creates an opportunity to provide consistent, quality service, to a greater volume of clients, at a lower cost.
> Where is your office?
(Peter) Our office is located at 80 Barney Street, right in the middle of the accommodation precinct. The lovely old blue brick was built back in the 1880s as a doctor’s residence and professional rooms. I guess that establishing the agency here means that we are now using the house as originally intended.
We have been restoring the property for about 8 months now and hope to have the final landscaping completed by March 2009. It has been a significant project and much more extensive than our last renovation at “Opawa” in Mann Street. We were lucky enough to win the heritage award last year for that property.
(Angus) Shop fronts cost money! Lots of money! They are of little benefit to the client, yet their massive expense is handed down in the form of higher commission charges. What’s the point? The idea of an office with no shop front is being adopted by some of the best teams in Sydney – and particularly Melbourne. This will be an increasing trend, as any agent will tell you that their exposure comes from the printed press and the Internet. Most people do their research by reading local publications, if they are from the area and by trawling the Internet if they are from out of town. They do this before they even think about contacting an agent.
> Tell us about your fee structure?
(Peter) For the present at least, we all find ourselves dealing with challenging financial conditions. To flourish, businesses need to simultaneously offer great service and value. We have deliberately chosen a business model that keeps our overheads low and provides the opportunity to pass those savings onto our clients.
We intend to provide our full range of services at extremely competitive rates, to ensure that our clients receive the maximum value possible from their real estate transactions.
(Angus) Our business’ location and structure will mean that we can provide some great savings to our clients. Yet our membership of a nationally (and an increasingly internationally) recognised brand means that our clients will enjoy the best of both worlds when it comes to cost and exposure. It’s really exciting!
> What services are you offering?
(Peter) As agents and auctioneers, we will initially be focusing on residential, commercial and industrial sales. However, over the course of 2009 we will introduce business broking and rural sales to the mix. We may also consider establishing a property management department if demand for that service is evident. Janet is also offering a home styling consultancy service.
> What is home styling?
(Janet) This is a new service to Armidale. Home styling is used to bring out the best in your home. It is a question of working out what improvements will give you the biggest “bang for your buck”. I can help you spend very little to show your property in its best light or help design a full renovation project. This service is complimentary to our clients. However, if you would like to freshen up, or renovate, I will happily provide this service for a fee.
> What is the ideal property to buy, renovate, and sell for profit?
(Janet) “Location, location, location”. Everyone knows that wise old saying. I would advise that young people starting out should buy in the best location they can. They should look for a house with “good bones” – meaning it offers a good opportunity to fix up, without conducting major structural changes.
New kitchens and bathrooms can cost a fortune, so make sure you can manage with what is there until you can afford to upgrade them. However, just because a kitchen or bathroom is in an old fashioned colour, doesn’t mean that you can’t work with it. You can bring out the best of it with accessories.
> Can you give us an example of a house that you have done up for profit?
(Janet) In 2001 we sold a big house that we had been working slowly at for 5 years. We wanted to buy a hobby farm, but needed somewhere to stay in the meantime. Rather than rent, we bought a fibro house in a great street of Bowral, two blocks from the CBD.
It was a case of the “worst house in the best street!” It was an unbelievable mess when we bought it, complete with graffiti and black mould inside and out. We bought it for $200,000, spent $35,000 renovating, and 12 months later we sold it for $345,000. In the end we didn’t pay rent and made a tidy profit from the family home.
> What do you think will happen in the property market over the next couple of years?
(Peter) I think that further reductions in interest rates and the continuance of the first home buyer’s scheme will see the market underpinned during 2009, with room for some further growth in 2010. The “ripple up” effect of first home buyers being active in the market will see sales continue in all segments, although time on market may continue to escalate.
(Angus) Yeah, particularly in an area such as Armidale, where the grant represents a more significant chunk of the property’s value –5-10% in the case of most first home buyers, as opposed to the 2-5% in major cities. It’s great news for first home buyers nationally, but it’s exceptional news for those in Armidale.
> Thank you all.