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Taking Care of Business with Gavin Knee

with Gavin Knee Principal, Burke & Smyth

Burke & Smyth in Tamworth are not a typical real estate business. They are a unique end-to-end full service agency. Principal Gavin Knee explains, “Someone can come and buy a block of land, office, build a house and then we can rent or sell their existing homes. We've really replicated our success with the house and land centre residentially across to the commercial space and providing a one stop shop to source, lease, build and manage.”

"My old mentor said to me 50% of something is better than 100% of nothing"

The change in direction for the agency occurred around 11 years ago when the company was approached by a national window and door supply company to purposebuild them a large centre in Tamworth to supply the northwest region. Gavin says, “I'd contacted a few commercial agents and basically we were told the land that we were looking for was just not available.” Not one to take a no, after looking the following weekend Gavin secured a site. By Monday afternoon the contracts were drawn up and in 12 months there was a 1500 square metre building on a one acre site with a very happy new owner and tenant. Two other multi-million dollar projects with Bunnings and Harvey Norman cemented the company’s wish to combine residential and commercial operations.

Loving the excitement and freedom that comes with his job, Gavin believes that the key to his success has been his willingness to build really long term relationships that may take years to develop, meeting contacts and a preparedness to share. Gavin knows that while commercial property may not be as deeply emotional as residential, “The relationship with the client is so personal, in some ways probably more so for a longer period of time than residential. The property yes is mathematical and it is crunched on a square metre basis and a rent basis. But certainly the relationship is far more than that.”

Gavin adds that their caring customer service and longterm vision have been critical to their success. “Ours is about building a relationship on where that business wants to be in five or ten years time. Do they have family or apprentices in that business that are going to take over the business? Is there an exit strategy for that business? That's what we're trying to establish so we can recommend and that's been our point of difference.” He says, “You know my old mentor said to me: 50% of something is better than 100% of nothing. We built a very good relationship with the buyer of Harvey Norman. We've actually been able to go on and we've got a grand opening this weekend. They've done a refurb, the owners have spent a couple of million, Harvey's have spent a couple of million. We just put a lease together to 2042 in a circa $800,000 a year rent range.”

There’s a lot more to Tamworth than its famous country music festival. There are a lot of business opportunities for creative thinkers. Gavin says, “Right at the moment, the agricultural sector is firing on all cylinders, but certainly we see a lot of advantages from the mining that's going on about an hour west so we don't have all the, I suppose, the pollution and issues right around town. But it's close enough that all the middle management and senior management live in Tamworth and commute to the mines. We've got a strong agriculture and a big industrial base with manufacturing - very strong manufacturing in chicken, meat and lamb, some of the largest in regional Australia in what they do.”

To work well in the commercial space, you have to be good at numbers and have a deep knowledge of the area and what’s required to save clients time and money. He says, “Certainly with the self-managed super funds increasing property transactions around Australia, we've found annually that to keep their books tidy, the accountants like to get an updated rental appraisal and so we appraise all those properties. The valuers don't know to do it - they just need an agent to do that and we're front and centre and do a lot of them. We get free data into our database to service those people once we've done that. We update for them annually.”

As the company also develops property as well, one of Gavin’s favourite successes has been their development of the old library in Tamworth. He says, “It was the old library, it was 3,000 square metres. We tendered for it, won the tender and actually got to build it, renovate it and lease out 3,000 square metres of office space with 40 underground car parks all before building was completed. So that was probably a real learning curve in the tender process. I think our point of difference was that we identified what Tamworth was lacking. The other tender developers from out of town wanted to do motels and units and apartments, but we felt that the professional services didn't have space to grow and we had three or four strong professional service solicitors and accountant companies and a government body that couldn't get fresh, modern space with underground car parking, and we went to council. Tamworth Council is very proactive. They're seeing jobs and all these people double the size of their business, so they felt jobs in these professional services and lifting the income of workers in Tamworth was probably more important than a quick fire unit development or motel accommodation.”

Future clients come from valuers, banks, builders and developers, accountants and solicitors. Gavin is also very familiar with Tamworth Council’s website. He says, “Three times a week, I'm on their website looking at what DAs are getting submitted and seeing if we can help there. You just don't know what's around the corner. The council website is updated on a weekly basis with all new DAs so we just surf the Council website to see and usually it's submitted with a name and you get on the phone and give them a call.”

Fortune favours the brave and Gavin and his team are testament to that.




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