Property: Business alliance empowering smaller agencies to ‘do things better’

Jon Condon, 28/10/2015

THERE was a time when smaller rural property agencies rarely, if ever saw any of the action at the bigger end of the property market.

Driven largely by their branch networks across the nation and dedicated marketing units, bigger established national agency networks almost inevitably got access to the choicest, showcase rural properties being marketed in each region across Australia.

But times have changed. Internet has arrived, providing even the smallest one-man stock and property agency businesses with an opportunity to effectively market cattle and sheep holdings with real scale well beyond their ‘local footprint’, to potential buyers across Australia and overseas.

There’s been no shortage of good examples of such transactions over the past few months. Here’s a couple to illustrate the point:

  • Inverell (NSW) private agent Bob Jamieson raised about $32 million for showcase NSW northern slopes holdings Macintyre Station and Myall Creek in June. The holdings, totalling 12,000ha of high quality basalt grazing and cropping country in the dress-circle New England district, went to ‘outside’ buyers from southern NSW and Moree.
  • Clermont (Central Qld) based private agency Hoch & Wilkinson sold well-improved, large scale Mt Coolon breeding property Bungobine in August for a figure around $20 million.

Ten or 15 years ago such transactions would have been unlikely to have occurred, without a red or green shirt involved.


Collaborative thinking emerging among private agents

Rather than operating in isolation, there’s evidence emerging of successful smaller independent property agents starting to work collaboratively, for mutual benefit.

UPAAn example is a new alliance of independent property agents that was launched last month in Queensland.

Three well-performed property agencies in Central and North Queensland during September established United Property Agents, after two years of development.

The collaborators behind the project are Hourn & Bishop QLD (Moura), Brodie Agencies (Winton) and Slaney & Co (Charters Towers). All three have been in business a long time, have a solid track-record of property sales, and strong local and regional contact networks across the industry.

Part of the UPA group’s mission statement is to “harness the collective rural intellect and experience of independent rural property agents to form a network that functions as one, to deliver a greater ‘geographic footprint’ and superior results for sellers, buyers and the agents involved.”

Spokesman Henry Slaney said the group saw the UPA model – a network of cooperating independent agents with joint ownership in the UPA outcome – as a far superior structure to the present systems of “competing franchisees or corporate salesmen.”

“Everyone – sellers, buyers and the agents themselves benefit. There is currently no other similar service and business structure available to agents in Queensland or other states.”


Changing industry landscape

Mr Slaney told Beef Central that part of the motivation for the new UPA venture was the changing face of the cattle industry (and property ownership) landscape.

“We felt we had to move with the times, and make ourselves more relevant to a changing marketplace,” he said.

“There’s ongoing aggregation occurring at family enterprise level, and the survivors are further aggregating their property portfolios. Trends in agriculture, and the extensive beef industry in particular, are accelerating toward global markets and new classes of property buyers: international corporate, family corporate, city-based decision-makers, and corporate/individual partnerships.”

“There’s also new trends like separation of the land ownership and business operations, asset control versus ownership, leasing and vertical integration.”

But as the property marketplace changes, in terms of corporatisation, more city-based decisions, and the arrival of international interest in Australian property, the independent property agent could sometimes get overlooked – despite being as good, if not better than any other agency operator in their district, Mr Slaney said.

“Sometimes perception is important. Without a corporate presence and broader footprint, the independent may be perceived as being not big enough, or lacking the resources to market a substantial property well. The UPA concept lifts the profile of all of us (participating private agents), delivering a stronger, better outcome.”

At the same time, it was still important to have the on-the-ground capacity to deliver the service, flexibility and local knowledge that had been the hallmark of private agents for years, Mr Slaney said.

“We each have good specific knowledge of particular people looking for a particular type of property to purchase. It might be somebody with breeder country looking for finishing country, or the other way around. You can’t have that conversation with competitors, but we can through a collaborative network like UPA,” he said.

“We’re trying to build an independent network that works. Others tend to be competitively motivated, meaning there is little or no sharing of information. As independent agents, we’re all in business for ourselves, but there is common ground under UPA’s model where we can co-operate and not compete, and deliver a positive outcome for all.”

Mr Slaney said one of the issues that was typically of high importance to independent agents was just that: their independence.

“It’s one thing to see what needs to be done in addressing some of the limitations of private agency, but it’s another putting a formula together that maintains that independence, while delivering collective benefit. If agents wanted to be a part of a franchise network model, they would be. This is not a franchise model, but represents independent agents working collaboratively.”


Dual-brand identity

Mr Slaney said UPA members would operate under a ‘dual-brand’ process.

“My shirt, for example has both a Slaney & Co logo, and a UPA logo,” he said.

Similarly, each agent’s website would now carry a degree of uniformity, while still being flexible enough to account for the different emphasis in each business.

All larger property listings will be uploaded from UPA members’ websites, to a common UPA property website portal ( The UPA properties listings are then shared across the collaborative buyer database from all agents – the emphasis being to maximise geographic coverage for everyone involved – buyers, sellers and agents.

The new system will be bedded-down, before opportunity to join is offered to additional independent property agents in different geographic areas.

“Others have already seen merit in what we’re doing,” Mr Slaney said. “We’ve had calls from agents in other areas – even interstate – thinking the same way. They just didn’t have anybody previously to engage with in this way.”

Initially UPA will operate on an approved membership structure, with the option of shareholding a possibility at some future time.

Mr Slaney ageed that part of the reason for launching the UPA business now was to be in a position to maximise opportunity once the widely-anticipated surge in property marketing activity takes place, after the current extreme dry spell across large parts of Eastern Australia draws to a close.





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