With the highest number of agents serving the Newcastle and Hunter Region, real estate business PRD Newcastle and Lake Macquarie has just been ranked #6 in Real Estate Business Magazine’s Top 50 offices in Australia.
PRD stands for Property, Research and Development, and the company is led by Founding Director Mark Kentwell, who still actively sells prestige properties and advises on significant projects with a strong focus on growing his agents and the company. The company has four outlets in the Newcastle CBD, and a new project suite in Hunter St mall, New Lambton & Warners Bay. It is powered by one strong administrative hub and has a dedicated Project Marketing team and display gallery. Mr Kentwell speaks to us about the beginnings of the PRD brand, his own journey and success in real estate, and the significant opportunity to grow agent numbers in the national hotspot of Newcastle.
“The PRD brand has been around since the 1970s,” Mr Kentwell explains. “It was founded by Gordon and Archie Douglas, who were developers that weren’t really getting the service they wanted from young real estate agencies, so they wanted to start a firm that had a focus on projects, research and development, hence the name.”
The Douglas brothers bought the PRD brand and began to extend its reach over the next decade, with the company enjoying average gross sales revenue in excess of $6bn annually. Mr Kentwell and his team became involved with the brand in 2004.
“It’s effectively a brand that has a lot of IP and a lot of opportunity to work nationally, but you really do get a very large territory to grow into. You get a lot of scope to develop your own business model that works with what your objectives are.”
Mr Kentwell and his team wanted to operate across all sectors of sales and property management, both in residential and commercial, as well as project marketing for new developments of land and apartments.
“That’s the head office brand, but within our region we have a very strong focus on training and development, and we really have aimed ourselves right through the middle in our areas and have a broad focus across that whole region.”
Mr Kentwell was always geared up for business, having studied business, economics and legal at school. He also hedged his bets by spending time studying mathematics, engineering, science, woodwork, and materials.
“When I was getting into my later High School Certificate years, I just started really wanting to get out there and creating my own way. I was entrepreneurially minded and I didn’t think sitting through another five years of university to get into something that was technically minded was going to suit me.”
As a result he moved into mining, managing bands and events in his spare time and having a share portfolio after purchasing a couple of properties of his own. Despite being offered a solid career in mining, Mr Kentwell didn’t want to settle into one industry at that time.
“I was enjoying the people side of it and the fact that you could get exponential or geometric growth from an industry that had systems and networking and marketing associated with it. I was so fascinated that I really thought there was going to be a career for me that was more suited than the engineering trades I was in.”
After investigating some options, Mr Kentwell decided to obtain his real estate certificate and found that he was very engaged in the material. The step into the industry as a career followed soon after.
Number One selling agent
The team has been ranked as the number one selling agent in Regional Australia across all brands, which with some 8,000 real estate businesses across the country represents quite some achievement.
“A lot of [our success] comes back to understanding the system that agents are using day in, day out to transact property and to engage the buyers in the first place, and then let them have a look at the product that suits them the best and pay the absolute premium price.”
When he first started in the industry, Mr Kentwell noticed that there was a low focus on quality databasing techniques. Even though there is some impressive technology available, he still feels this is an under-utilised area of the industry.
“So I applied some of my brand and event management techniques that I had learnt, and with three modifications of CRMs in now, we’ve got a completely customised system, and it’s made a very big difference to how our business operates.”
Another big element of the firm’s success is in understanding the numerous blockages that agents in an average firm experience during the day, where routine and mundane tasks amount to unproductive time. Mr Kentwell approached this issue systematically, coming at it with fresh eyes to find productive solutions.
“I employed a lot of coaches to help with what we were doing. I tried it out on clients first, I tried it out on the public. When it was succeeding, I trained others. By having a tribe of people that are trained at such a high level compared to what people are used to receiving as customer service, it automatically gave our brand a positive response in the local marketplace.”
With the underlying PRD brand and a business engine that supports agent growth, Mr Kentwell and his team are able to be dollar productive across the board. In addition to personal success, the focus is now on having continued success as a team.
With buying a home still considered to be the biggest purchase a person will make in their life, there continues to be a huge amount of activity in the property market, meaning realtors like PRD Newcastle and Lake Macquarie have plenty of competition.
“Fundamentally, aspiration is probably driving a lot of [the housing activity]. Then there’s also the need side of things – if people are having families and they need space, if they’re relocating for work, if you’ve got school zones to consider. Of course there are separations and people passing away, and financial changes in circumstances. They drive things as well.”
Much of this aspirational thinking is driving buying property, which leads to selling and improving on living conditions. Australia’s wealth is made up of about 66% in properties, and this has encouraged people that there can be positive benefits to these big decisions.
“We’ve been doing this on this planet for thousands of years. Building things and improving things, and it’s such a great thing to be able to add value and be able to improve your lifestyle at the same time and be rewarded with a financial benefit from that as well.”
The company’s footprint is currently Newcastle and Lake Macquarie, but it is also looking to expand into the Central Coast, which represents a significant geographical area almost equivalent to its local surroundings.
“It is just our neighbour basically,” Mr Kentwell says. “There are some good operators down there, but they seem to be spotted fairly substantially apart. There’s not really a lot of brands that cover the whole coast, or one database with one set of leadership. There are a few chain offices, but most of them are independently owned and operated.”
This has created huge advantages for the company to target people migrating from capital cities up north and moving backwards and forwards between regions, and it has already begun to apply its blueprint in the Central Coast to take advantage of the opportunity.
The Newcastle and Greater Hunter region has become a bit of a national hotspot over the last few years, which Mr Kentwell puts down to the attractiveness of both its geographical and economic elements.
“I think always Newcastle and Lake Macquarie has had lovely geography. It’s surrounded by sea and it’s got the biggest salt water lake in the southern hemisphere. It’s quite beautiful, it’s quite a good climate, but realistically it has a very robust economy and a lot of growth drivers for the property market.”
In particular the change from being a coal and steel town to being a substantial regional city, the second biggest in NSW, has made it an extremely attractive area for people from around Australia to live and work.
“We’ve got several sectors of employment that are substantial – we’ve got a massive health sector; RAAF Base, retail and accommodation; education is massive, and our university has just been ranked number one for law in Australia, and top ten in Australia; there are a lot of government jobs here as well. So the employment side of it is driving growth.”
Over the last ten years, the company has had more agents serving the region than any of its competitors. With a high barrier to entry, this means that the agents that are working for the region are of a very high quality.
Mr Kentwell credits a particularly effective program created by a strong leader in the industry, Bradley Brown, who runs 21 offices for Fletchers Real Estate in Victoria. The program is known as RIRO: Recruit, Induct, Retain and Outplace.
“Outplacing is important if you don’t have people that match your culture. We’ve got a very strong culture, and we’ve had some very high performers in our business that we’re very proud of what they’ve gone and done, if they’ve ever left. We’ve got other people that even though they might have been good financially, they haven’t been good culturally.”
This kind of approach can lead to tough decisions needing to be made, but Mr Kentwell is sure that if you are clear about what you stand for as a business, then the predominant behaviour from agents stays strong.
“We continue to grow,” he says. “We have a great hub for agents, and we want to keep growing our hub, so we can see ourselves doubling or tripling in agent count with no problem at all with the base that we’ve built.”
Mr Kentwell concludes by highlighting the significant opportunity that exists in the Newcastle and Hunter Region for more agents to come on board and take advantage of the increase in people moving to this national hot spot.
“I can see that there will be a great opportunity to bring in more [agents] from across Australia into our brand in our region. I would have a good look at Newcastle and get in touch with me personally through our website. I’d love to talk to you about the opportunities to come and be part of our great region and the expansion opportunities that are there.”
With a focus on being the best, not the biggest, PRD Newcastle and Lake Macquarie will continue to grow agent numbers to serve the Newcastle and Hunter Region. Find out more about PRD Newcastle and Lake Macquarie by visiting www.prdnewcastle.com.au.