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Rethinking rural property management
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16 June 2023
One of the first things George Southwell did when he took over Ray White Rural Canberra / Yass in 2014 was build a rent roll to improve the cash flow of his sales business.
Being pragmatic, he rolled up his sleeves and managed properties himself. The experience was eye opening for him.
“I’m a salesman. That's what I've done. And that's what I'm very good at” he said. “I'm not a trained property manager, so I was not proactive and It took me a while to stop negotiating my way out of problems when they arose.”
But while the front lines of property management was teaching George about his own strengths and weaknesses, it also showed him a big opportunity in his local market.
“About 10 to 15% of your rent roll will become sales every year. If you're not getting that 10 to 15%, in our local market, you are literally letting go over a quarter of a million dollars worth of commission.”
Despite all the sales commission on offer, George could see investors in his area were not getting the service they wanted, from him or his competitors.

Missing the wood for the trees

At the coalface himself, he could see how easy it was for agencies to get distracted by all the short-term headaches and costs associated with a rent roll, and lose sight of the long-term goal: developing trusted, profitable and enduring relationships with customers
“I realised we had to change our approach to property management – especially in a regional setting,” he said. “The only time they heard from us was when something had gone wrong with their place or when they got their end-of-month statements saying one of their tenancies was in arrears. We weren’t offering anything new.”
“Then when they go to sell… we get the sh*ts when they don't call us,” he said. “Well, why would they engage? You haven't built a relationship!”
That’s when it hit him.
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“We don't need more property management, we need better property management.”

George Southwell - Ray White Rural Canberra / Yass

Hiring rural isn’t easy

George realised to be able to deliver exceptional customer service, he needed to hire an experienced property manager. “We wanted a dynamic person that was willing to go out there and actually manage the asset, rather than just collect the money,” he said.
While the lack of good property management in the area presented an incredible opportunity, it also created a big obstacle: hiring.
“We struggled,” said George. “It was hard to find good applicants that would come out here. I think we did four interviews in a nine month period. We gave up at one stage.”
When George finally found the right person, he put on his sales hat and asked himself: how could he close this sale?
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Pitching a different role for PMs

It was around this time George was hearing talk of this new technology called Ailo. This new system changed the property manager’s role from being an administrator and bookkeeper to a relationship manager.
With Ailo, George realised he could ‘sell’ a fundamentally better and more rewarding job. “We found out about Ailo, and we changed our strategy,” he said.
He took a chance and pitched this new type of property management to his star candidate, Genevieve. “We took her down to Sydney to Ailo headquarters and introduced her to the team,” he explained.
“Genevieve came from a really traditional independent agency in town here that used one of the old cloud-based legacy systems,” he said. “The training and support just weren't there. So the combination of Ray White and Ailo was the most enticing thing for her.”
“Ailo was a big motivator for my decision to move,” said Genevieve. “It has been designed to take a lot of the stress and repetitive admin tasks out of a traditional property management role.
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Systems like this should have been brought out years ago. It would have prevented a lot of property managers in the ‘mass exit’ during COVID.

Genevieve Cunyghame
“The whole property management process from start to finish with Ailo is so much more enjoyable. You can be doing it anywhere at any time. I can take my laptop and go and sit in a coffee shop. I can park on the side of the road or be at my children's school/sporting activities and still have the opportunity to chat with tenants on the app and not be playing phone tag all day. Owners and tenants are loving the ease and efficiency of communicating in real-time.”
George got his new hire, Genevieve got a job she actually enjoys and local investors finally have the kind of service they’ve been missing out on. It’s a win-win-win!

Spreading the word: why Ailo is 60% of his sales pitch

With a new confidence that he could deliver on the promise of a truly better service, George decided it was time to go out and tell the town. He built a narrative around his new approach to property management, showing investors that they don’t have to settle for less just because it’s a rural town.
He’s got the team. He’s got the technology. And nobody else in town comes close anymore.
“Bringing something like Ailo in is massive for our town. That's a big disruptor,” he said. “It’s probably 60% of our sales pitch to potential investors.”
One of the big drawcards for investors has been transforming communication with their property manager. “Our competitors are still sending out monthly statements. That's their communication strategy with their landlord,” he said. “With Ailo, they can see what's going on with their investment in real time. [And] when we're talking about communication through chat, they actually lean forward and listen.”
But for George, the real differentiator is how he can better help them manage their cash flow.
“At the moment, we've got people that are paying mortgages that are, you know, $1,000 a month greater than what they were paying this time last year.,” he said. “We're offering a service that allows landlords more flexibility to get their money quicker… it’s a no-brainer.”

First-mover advantage

Since adopting a relationship mindset, hiring Genevieve, and rolling out Ailo across his business, George’s rent roll has grown by more than 55%.
But his primary measure of success is the number of landlords that choose to sell with him. “It’s my biggest KPI. If we don't get that sale, that's when I know we haven't succeeded as a property management business,” he said. “Our lost listings, I suppose you could call them, have been next to zero. Ailo has been a big part of that.”
Today, George knows it’s only a matter of time until his competitors see what he’s up to.
“The competition will come on board at some point,” he said. “But early adopters will get the full benefit. We will already have 18 months or two years of learning… we will always be one step ahead.”
Well said George 👏