Real estate employers open for inspection
Australia’s property market has been a hot topic in recent years. Home owners have enjoyed an unprecedented run without interest rate rises and those in cities such as Sydney and Melbourne have seen significant growth in property values over the past decade. While there is much speculation about how long the boom can last, there’s one thing experts all agree on – real estate talent is in strong demand.

Data from the Bank of International Settlements shows Australian housing prices have surged a staggering 6,556% since the early 1960s. This equates to an average annual increase of 8.1%. Meanwhile, our growing urban population has required a greater supply of housing to meet demand. These factors have combined to put property in the spotlight.

The latest data from SEEK Employment Trends shows job ads for the real estate and property industry rose 5% from August to October compared to the same time last year and the average advertised salary over the period also rose by 5.4% to $74,835.

Areas of the industry offering the greatest opportunity over this time included residential leasing and property management, residential sales and administration, and body corporate and facilities management.

Building better service

Marcus Williams, CEO of Harcourts Group Australia, says attracting talent with a professional outlook has never been more important. “We’ve all heard horror stories about people dealing with [real estate] agents and, as an industry, we have a responsibility to ensure that we improve our service levels.”

Around 2,500 people work under the Harcourts brand across just over 400 locations in Australia. Williams explains the company is launching a new program to gauge customer experiences to ensure it understands and meets their needs.

“We want salespeople to join an industry that is truly professional,” he says. “They need to care about their clients and genuinely offer the very best in terms of service. I think more and more candidates are turning to the real estate field because they do see that it is a profession. It's improving all the time and it needs to continue to do so.”

Skills in demand

It’s not only the buoyant housing market driving competition to talent. Charter Hall is one of Australia’s leading property groups, with a total managed property portfolio of assets such as office buildings and supermarket retail centres. It employs approximately 500 people across the country and Natalie Devlin, Charter Hall’s Group Executive, People, Brand and Community, says traditional industry skills have been shifting.

“There has generally been a focus on technical expertise in the property industry, but now we’re seeing different requirements,” she says. “There’s a greater need to find talent with digital capabilities, for example, as well as the ability to work collaboratively across functions.”

Devlin adds that the property industry is also experiencing greater competition for female talent. “There just aren’t enough females choosing property-related degrees, such as property economics or a specialty in valuation,” she says. “As an industry, what we're trying to do is reach down into the schools and go and talk to them about all the opportunities that present themselves in property. Getting greater diversity in the industry is so important.”

Attracting and retaining talent

Melissa Karatjas, Director of Real Estate Career Developers, says that as conditions currently favour candidates, employers may have to work a little harder to maintain their top talent. “Some of the retention strategies we have seen include employer-funded training towards full-real estate licenses, offering time in lieu for work outside Monday-to-Friday hours, company cars, additional annual leave entitlements and team-based incentives, including overseas trips,” she says.

Employers must also put more thought into how they attract talent, says Rhiannon Gay, Head of Real Estate Recruitment at Gough Recruitment. “It's not about the dollars,” she states. “The main thing people are looking for in the industry is security, flexibility and a sense of autonomy – they don’t want to be micromanaged but rather want to be trusted to run their own race.”

Gay notes that office design is increasingly important to candidates. “Remember that you’re selling real estate, so you need to consider how you present your own real estate,” she says. “The presentation of an office is really important these days, especially for Millennials. They also expect technologically-advanced offices. I think a candidate will be turned off if they go to your office and see paper files everywhere and carpet has been replaced in decades.”

Williams says retention is a strong focus at Harcourts.  “There’s no point bringing in new people if you are losing people at the same time. We are a family-owned business and this translates to family values. We want to look after each other.”

Williams says these values also extend to the broader community through the company’s philanthropic arm, Harcourts Foundation. “We have just reached exceeded the $5 million benchmark within the last couple of weeks,” says Williams. “Our employees are involved in raising money through events, which is not only good for the broader community but it’s also good for our workplace culture.”

As Australia’s real estate and property market remains in the spotlight, employers may need to reconsider how they attract and retain the best talent. Property prices may eventually drop, but candidate expectations look set to remain high.