Georg Chmiel chats with REINSW president Leanne Pilkington on women in real estate

Georg Chmiel chats with REINSW president Leanne Pilkington on women in real estate
Georg Chmiel chats with REINSW president Leanne Pilkington on women in real estate

Juwai chairman Georg Chmiel chats with REINSW present and Laing+Simmons managing director Leanne Pilkington on women in the real estate industry.

You may have noticed that most senior executives in the real estate industry are men. Leanne Pilkington, however, is a woman.

And Pilkington is a figure of power in the industry. On top of her ongoing role as the Managing Director of Laing+Simmons, she has also just started a two-year term as the President of the Real Estate Institute of New South Wales. 

Pilkington has come a long way since her first job, as a 12-year old weekend receptionist in her parents’ real estate agencies in the Hills District of Sydney. She used to get into regular screaming matches at the office with her father. Now, it’s safe to say she seldom has to raise her voice to get what she wants.

I turned to Pilkington to find out more about the revolutions that are about to change the way you buy and sell real estate. My talk with her is the latest in my continuing series of interviews for the Property Observer.

Put the Women in Charge

But first, I asked Pilkington a provocative question. What if women ran real estate, and what if men mostly held the lower-level jobs like receptionist and personal assistant?

“The admin work wouldn’t get done, that’s for sure,” she laughed. Then, getting more serious, “I think we would have a much more empathetic industry. I think it would be a happier place to be, quite frankly.”

“Women are more focused on the relationship and men on getting the deal done. You shouldn’t close a deal at the expense of the relationship.” 

It’s worth noting that the top Laing+Simmons salesperson is a woman. It’s easy to imagine a relationship-focused industry resulting in investors buying and holding more property over the long term.

Taking Real Estate Out of Social Media

It is unlikely that men will suddenly step down from all the senior positions in the real estate world. And Pilkington isn’t holding her breath. She believes other changes are already under way that will soon revolutionize your experience as a vendor or buyer.

Whether you’re a Generation X Facebook addict or Gen Y Instagram photo-sharing fiend, you might be surprised by Pilkington’s first prediction. Some think real estate advertising will increasingly migrate to social media. Pilkington believes the opposite.

“I’m so tired of the ads I’m getting on Facebook and Instagram,” she says. “I just wonder how long it will be before there are so many unwanted messages on our social media feed that we turn them off.“

Anyone who has looked at property has likely seen their social media feed quickly filled up with agent photos, property ads, and other sponsored real estate content. What if your social media feed were free of real estate adds? Pilkington thinks that’s where we’re heading.

Giving Agents More Training Than Baristas

Pilkington’s second prediction for a real estate revolution involves the person everyone loves to hate: the real estate agent. As former CEO of LJ Hooker, I know that most agents are actually extremely professional and hard working. 

But Australians rank real estate agents as the third-most dishonest professionals in the country, according to a Roy Morgan poll reported in the Property Observer. Only car salespeople and advertising people fared worse.

Pilkington has a plan to change agents’ lowly reputation by changing the agents themselves.  

“At the moment, you need more education to become a barista making cappuccino than a real estate agent,” she said. Under the training reforms passed through Parliament in March, Pilkington expects that to change later this year. 

Under the new scheme, she says, “Before you get a license, you will need to have three years of experience.” She also hopes to make agents a recognized profession under the professional standards scheme. All told, “We will have fewer agents doing better work,” she says. She promises to release more information about this change soon.

Creating a Concierge Real Estate Experience

You will appreciate Pilkington’s third real estate revolution if you have ever stayed at a very, very nice hotel. I mean the kind of hotel where all the staff remember your name, your room preferences, and your past requests. The type of hotel that leaves a chocolate on your pillow and places a vase of your favorite flowers on the side table in your room.

“I would love to see it be a concierge experience,” says Pilkington, “I know all of the hurdles we will have to jump through to get there, but Laing+Simmons is focusing a great deal on this.

“In a perfect world, we would like Mrs. Smith to walk into an open home and for us to know that she also has a property under management with another office or a home for sale with another agent.

With a concierge experience, you as a buyer or vendor would get the best possible advice and most seamless service from the real estate professionals that work for you. Instead of being pestered by agents from several different offices, you could work with just one person.

The kind of information sharing that a concierge experience would require is not, let’s say, traditional in the real estate world. If Pilkington succeeds in creating a concierge model, the impact will be huge.

Advice for Property Buyers

Pilkington believes property buyers need to be realistic about where you will buy your first property. 

“When I got married and moved into my first property,” she recounted, “I sat on the back step and cried. I said to my husband, ’I don’t want to live here.’” Luckily for Pilkington, that first home ended being a joyous one, but it is telling that it was not exactly her dream home.

She also advises that you be prepared for the extra cost you will have to bear when interest rates go up. “Higher rates are coming. You need to factor that into whatever you are borrowing.”

Pilkington’s last piece of advice might be controversial. 

“Don’t get too many family members involved,” she says. “Too many people’s opinions will paralyze you.”

Rather than getting advice from all your friends and family, Pilkington suggests, “You’ve got to do your research, make a decision, and go forward with it.”

Georg Chmiel, the chairman of Juwai, a Chinese website for buyers of overseas property, was speaking to Leanne Pilkington in what will be a monthly insight into the leading minds of Australian property experts.

Last month he spoke to LJ Hooker agent Bill Malouf about the ins and out of the Sydney market.




Reinsw Georg Chmiel

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