Michael Coombs confirmed as LJ Hooker Avnu recruit

Michael Coombs confirmed as LJ Hooker Avnu recruit
Michael Coombs confirmed as LJ Hooker Avnu recruit

The former McGrath agent, Michael Coombs has confirmed to Nine Entertainment that he will join LJ Hooker's Avnu, a little-known, newly launched, technology-based full-service agency operating on the lower North Shore of Sydney.

The move was foreshadowed last month on Property Observer.

Avnu markets itself as allowing agents and their clients to manage their sales and properties in real time through enhanced digital online software.

Avnu is based in Neutral Bay, on the lower north shore, not far from the Mosman McGrath office which Coombs departed late last year.

Coombs anticipates the current "proptech" revolution in the residential market paved the way for how homes would be sold in the future.

Coombs departed McGrath late last year, after two years of speculation on his future amid a fractured franchise operating within the besieged McGrath Group.

LJ Hooker picked the lower north shore - where is has operated since the 1950s - to launch the Avnu brand with its rather odd name.

With fewer than 20 sales since its office launch, Coombs could be expected to possibly turbo-charge the office which has the branding: a new avenue in real estate.

Coombs joined the agency with $100 million in unsold listings.

Avnu took over the gap left by the LJ Hooker flop, Settl, a thwarted part of LJ Hooker’s envisaged $100 million digital transformation.

Avnu, run by former Google, Twitter and LinkedIn execs, aims to reshape the homebuyer experience by smoothing the process where there's an estimated 200 steps involved in buying a property, between appraisal and settlement.

It’s a separate entity to the LJ Hooker franchise model and will have its own agents.

There will be a shop front despite its cloud-based technology approach.

With little fanfare, its chairman and local resident L. Janusz Hooker launch the app mid-last year.

“It’s your normal LJ Hooker, but it’s a place where technology is driving the process for both agents and consumers," said the grandson of the company’s founder, Sir Leslie Joseph Hooker.

Jason Chuck, the chief executive of LJ Hooker Avnu, was a former local founder and managing director of eHarmony and Houzz, and before that head of marketing for Google.

Christine Mikhael, the former general manager of sales and training at McGrath LNS, has been the director of sales and performance since March.

Mr Chuck said the LJ Hooker Avnu platform is the first of its kind and offers the "next frontier of customer service in what is a very fragmented industry".

"If someone was to start a real estate agency today, this is the model they would use. It's a clean slate for what is effectively an industry start-up for the next century," Mr Chuck told Nine Entertainment.

Its customers pay the usual industry-based fees for marketing and agent costs.

LJ Hooker Avnu's early recruits include Adrian Bridges.

"I believe Avnu is a company that is going to pioneer the way real estate is done in over the next few years and I wanted to be apart of it," Coombs told Nine Entertainment.

While he anticipates the agency will be helpful to millennials, Coombs stresses he can still service clients who prefer a traditional method.

Coombs also advised the sales commission at Avnu will be at the standard market rate.

LJ Hooker says the LJ Hooker Avnu company is owned by private shareholders while Coombs will owns shares in its flagship office.

Coombs had previously held equity in the McGrath Mosman franchise but sold it back to the principals around 20 months ago.

He was among the few McGrath agents not to take shares when the McGrath Group floated in late 2015 on the ASX.

When he left school he did landscaping for a while.

The median Mosman sale in the last six months of 2018 was $1.58 million with Ray White indicating today its office secured an office median sale price $2.15 million higher than the market after a $25 million sale.

The three McGrath LNS offices had 350 sales in 2018 with 10 above $10 million.

The McGrath business acquired Laing & Simmons Milsons Point last year, taking total properties under management to 2,600 properties, the largest rent roll on the lower north shore.

The Dean Mackie-led franchise lost its McGrath operations late last year when McGrath Estate Agents provided the stockmarket with an update regarding the April 2019 renewal of its Sydney Lower North Shore franchise office arrangement.

McGrath formally announced it had withdrawn its offer to extend the franchise agreement beyond April.

“We have a clear plan to rejuvenate our presence in the region," McGrath chief, Geoff Lucas said.

The shareholders were told by Lucas the LNS profitability had "fallen below expectations in recent years.”

The Mackie-led team, who have had the LNS operation since 2005 and have privately disputed the portrayal by Lucas, quickly formalised plans to instead open a Di Jones office this year.

The former Lower North Shore McGrath franchisees Dean Mackie and Piers van Hamburg will do so without David Howe who is retiring from real estate, with a shift into restaurants mooted.

 

Jonathan Chancellor

Jonathan Chancellor

Jonathan Chancellor is one of our authors. Jonathan has been writing about property since the early 1980s and is editor-at-large of Property Observer.

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Mcgrath Lj Hooker

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