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Bill Malouf, Turning perception into reality

Acknowledged as the market leader in selling waterfront and prestige properties in the $10-30 million range, Bill Malouf’s name is synonymous with the iconic homes he represents in Sydney’s eastern suburbs.

My job is to create a level that nobody else could have created for that vendor.

Consistently ranking at the top of the industry and setting new sales records, Mr Malouf’s sales platform is built on reputation and referrals. He was regarded as the number one sales person for many years before taking LJ Hooker Double Bay to the top spot within Australia’s LJ Hooker network.  

Listen, not talk

During Mr Malouf’s 22 years in real estate he has developed a clear understanding of the economy-driven fluctuations affecting the market and believes in being honest and telling his clients how it is. Knowing that success comes from listening rather than talking, Mr Malouf explains agents can not only learn a lot more about what the client wants and what buyers are looking for, but also what the marketplace is saying.

The outstanding people skills that makes Mr Malouf worthy of these accolades were developed during his first career in the family business as a publican in Sydney’s inner west and western suburbs. “I’ve been a glass picker-upperer, down into the cellar and eventually to management. We started in Liverpool, Camperdown, Blacktown and finished at the Royal Hotel at Auburn,” Mr Malouf explained. “You met a number of interesting people but, at the end of the day, unfortunately, your best client was an alcoholic who loved to be there seven days a week.

You were running their social activities so their whole life was around the hotel environment. That is very, very draining,” he said. With a licence running from 6am to 6pm, the day started in the cellar at 3.30am and the pub traded sometimes until 10pm. The hours were long and the situation was not conducive to a happy family life. “I nearly got stabbed in a brawl out in the street and it basically put an end to my hotel career. My wife had just had enough.” He decided there was more out there.

It was time the family moved away from the pub and Mr Malouf started looking at nearby Strathfield. “I sent a letter out to six agencies in the Strathfield area with what I was looking for – type of house, size of block - and I said I have long working hours, don’t waste my time, only show me what meets the criteria. But what they were showing me had nothing to do with what I wanted, and I realised all they were interested in showing me was what was on their books, not my requirements.” Until he met George Devine from Devine Real Estate. “This is back in 1986 and I haven’t forgotten that George showed me two properties. Both of those properties ticked the boxes of my personal requirements and I purchased one of the two.”

“That was a moment when I sat back and thought my wife wants me to have a career change and real estate had a huge offering for somebody who wanted to give service,” he added - and the die was cast.

Going east

Knowing the eastern suburbs presented a higher income probability, he aimed for the top. “I thought if I’m going to do this, I wanted to give it all my efforts and my heart, why not do it in Double Bay?” Mr Malouf applied for a position at LJ Hooker Double Bay and after his sixmonth trial period he bought the office, the last the company owned, in 1987.

For the next 10 years LJ Hooker Double Bay was run in the background as Mr Malouf established his credibility as a sales person and built the office’s turnover. “I believed I did that reasonably successfully, but I had a rude awakening in 1996 with a phone call from the bank telling me they were not going to honour the wage cheque. I couldn’t believe this based on the turnover that I had done and I realised very quickly that there was no money in the kitty.”

It was through bad management the LJ Hooker Double Bay office was on the ropes, but Mr Malouf decided the only way up was for him to take control personally and create a better business structure. That was 15 years ago and the office is right at the top now.

Setting the level

One of the reasons LJ Hooker Double Bay performs so well is Mr Malouf’s commitment to going beyond expectations. “If your office is not out there creating sales and, more importantly, trying to create records for the vendors that you represent, then you have no public perception,” he said, explaining that this is what happens when the phones start to ring and sales people pick up properties across the entire market. “I love to win and my job is not making a sale for the sake of making a sale – anybody can do that. My job is to create a level that nobody else could have created for that vendor. The reason they engage me is because I’m going to work to the nth degree on their behalf to create levels that other agents weren’t capable of doing.”

Promote your success

Another tool he uses is to submit editorial to local media and promote the sales person making the sale, not just the office. “Part of my job is to promote the individuals who work for me and it’s about getting public recognition. We are the leading agency in excess of $10 million sales and it’s that sales history and that reputation that brings people to this office. They want somebody that has performed at this level and has the client base at this level.” There are five sales people at LJ Hooker Double Bay who each handle 3-5 properties a month. Mr Malouf has downsized his sales to 4-5 per month, from 6-10. With a flat 2.2 per cent commission of the gross selling price, and with his sales starting from $8 million, Mr Malouf’s income is enviable – and he knows it. “I think we’re in an industry that is just exceptional because there’s no limitations on what you can earn,” he said, but, equally, he keeps himself grounded. “I work on properties $8 million and over, but if a client of mine asks me to do a two-bedroom or a three-bedroom unit, I sell property for a living and I would never get caught up in the area where that’s too small for me to handle – that’s the biggest mistake you can make.”

Each presentation kit that goes out from the office includes a history of the office sales and sales achievements. “I think that it’s important to promote, but you’ve also got to be very careful that you don’t go out there making brash statements,” he explained and said the public often thought of real estate agents as a “necessary evil”, and suggested it was time for agents to modify the way they thought and operated to change this perception. “They don’t want to use us, but they have to because we specialise in the sale of property.”

Service is everything

After more than 20 years in the job, Mr Malouf’s passion for selling has not waned. “I love what I do. Until the day I decide I just don’t like selling I’m going to stay selling because I thoroughly enjoy it.” And he looks for people who feel the same to join his team. His basic requirements are: motivated individuals, people with debt because it increases performance and somebody who shares his overall principles. “They must be looking to build long-term relationships and build referral, because it’s not on the money a sales person generates, but on the referral business that they actually have.”

To explain this point further Mr Malouf uses a restaurant analogy. If he goes to a good restaurant and received good food and good service he is going to tip well and tell his friends. “I can’t wait to go home and promote that restaurant in general conversation with my friends and organise a group to go back to that restaurant. Indirectly, for the owner of that business, I am now generating more business for him because I’ve had a great experience.” But if the meal and service are bad, he won’t tip and will tell his friends not to go there. “I can ruin the turnover on somebody’s business based on what I’m saying. As sales people it’s the general public that can promote your business with what they’re saying to their friends,” he explained.

“You can live and die on the referral business,” Mr Malouf said, but said it is through the hard work letterbox dropping and getting your name into the marketplace that pays the dividends. “If I hit a dead spot I will go out there and letterbox drop, or refresh my name. I think it’s very important that an office principal keeps the business in front of the public’s eye.”

And even with a reputation like LJ Hooker Double Bay, it pays to be mindful that there is still competition, Mr Malouf warned. “People won’t just call in one agent. They will call in 2-3 agents, no matter what level you’re at,” he said, adding that not enough agents prepared well for listing presentations.

Mr Malouf always asks how someone comes to him – through a referral or the local newspaper – because that determines the type of presentation he makes. “My presentation will be completely different if they’ve come through the paper to whether I’ve been referred to them from a lawyer or a friend or I’ve done business through a family member previously.” He also added it was important to speak to the couple equally because women made the decision about which agent to go with more than 80 per cent of the time. “It’s time that sales people forgot about what they wanted to say and started listening to what the vendors want and the reasons they are putting their property on the market.

We talk too much and we don’t listen enough. You’ve got to step back and don’t try and oversell. The body language you put out can determine whether you get the property or not,” he said.

Ultimately no matter which end of the monetary scale an agent sits, it is still about building a relationship with the vendor and doing the best job for them. Perception is reality, and listening to the vendor’s needs is what sets good agents apart.

Guiding pinciples

Mr Malouf chooses each sales person based on four basic principles that they must have:

  1. Product knowledge
  2. Credibility
  3. Honesty
  4. Accessibility

He cites accessibility as the single most important sales factor because his clients, who are company directors, senior executives or business owners, drive down the street on their way home from work at 6pm or 7pm and see properties they are interested in seeing so they call the agent on the signboard then and there – often receiving a recorded message. “My phone stays on until 11.30pm at night, seven days a week and I think that accessibility has helped me enormously.”

When surrounded by properties for sale day in, day out, it is easy for agents to forget their clients may only sell two or three times in their life. An agent is there to guide vendors, advise them of the best marketing strategy for their property and listen to their reasons for selling. “Are they upgrading, are they downgrading, are they finding it tough to pay their mortgage? These are the questions that a lot of agents don’t ask,” Mr Malouf said, but the answers made all the difference.





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