How we define good leadership is ever evolving but each new opportunity for future leaders is still shaped by the legacy of past leaders. Barfoot & Thompson Director, Kiri Barfoot has both a strong connection to the almost one hundred year history to a family business and a new generation of leaders coming through. We talk to Kiri about the future of leadership, the importance of culture and values.
What do you look for in a future leader?
It’s all very well to be successful and sell a lot of property, but they’ve got to make sure they fit in with our values and culture. They’ve really got to be a team player.
Sometimes successful salespeople don’t always make good leaders, because they just want to do everything themselves, they can’t let go. They’re not trainers. They’re great at selling houses, but not great at taking people on the journey because they won’t let people learn from their mistakes.
Being a leader is actually not micromanaging people or threatening people into performing. It’s about empowering people to learn, grow and develop on the job and helping them go from one point to another with just a little bit of assistance and guidance.
Some of the leadership qualities that stand out for me are resilience, grit and really good people skills. Be a leader that will do the right thing, one that your people respect and aspire to be like. Engage your people so they know they can come to you for career development guidance, whether they just want to go to work and do the basics, or they want to go to work and progress throughout their career.
A great example of a leader is one of our managers who recently retired with over 10 salespeople progressing into management roles under his leadership. He can take credit for growing them and developing them as people to where they were confident and successful enough to put their hand up to be a leader.
All of the qualities you were describing and what it takes to be a leader, has that changed in the last 30 years? Is it now far more EQ-driven, more empathetic?
I think so. This doesn’t apply to everyone, of course, but in the past, there may have been leaders that led with discipline, firing those who didn’t meet KPIs. Whereas now, as a leader, you’ve really got to know your people and ask the necessary questions. Why are they here? Why are they in your workplace? What drives them? What do they like to do outside work? What about their family?
People go to work for lots of reasons, not just for an income. The money is of course a big motivator, but it’s not the only reason people go to work. As a leader, you’ve really got to have empathy and understand that not everyone has good days. You’re a leader because you are super motivated and successful.
It is important to note that not all your people have such great aspirations. You have to understand that a lot of people go to work just for the money, then they want to go home and that’s them. There are others that really do want to grow and perhaps take your job one day.
You’ve got all kinds of people working on your team. People are diverse and everyone is motivated by different things and it’s just about understanding them. Work’s not just about work, right? It’s about having fun as well and feeling valued as a person.
It seems that as a nation, we aren’t very good at failure or rejection. We aren’t very good at putting our hands up to ask for help. Have you seen that starting to shift?
Yes and no. There’s still just some things that don’t get talked about such as mental health which we have started working on. That’s a big thing, last year more than ever. But it’s always been around and I think women are very good at talking about that sort of thing. They’ve all got their girlfriends and they do talk about the struggles. Whereas, I think the male conversation is a bit more about rugby and golf and doesn’t really get too deep about anything controversial or taboo.
I think we can all work on having more open and honest conversations. No leaders are perfect and leaders have got their own problems. Sometimes it’s probably quite good to share with your staff what you’re going through personally. They want to get to know you as a person because they perhaps see you as the untouchable person who’s had this perfect life. We all know that’s not true, everyone’s had their challenges. You are shaped by what’s happened in your past.
It wasn’t always a given that you would go into the company, but now that you’ve been there for a while, do you feel like you’re part of a legacy? Do you feel like you are part of this line that has gone out and connected with communities and made a real impact?
I suppose I am, I guess, but I don’t really feel that way. It’s more about being part of the team and helping the community. We see people grow through being with us who are able to give their family’s opportunities that perhaps they mightn’t have achieved.
My grandfather started this company almost a hundred years ago, but I just see it as something I’m doing. Maybe I’m a caretaker for the next generation because I’m the third generation. I want to give back and help them be successful and carry it on for the next generation.
A lot of times, when people come over with qualifications from overseas, like doctors or engineers, they can’t actually get work here in their chosen profession straight away. They think, ‘Well, I could go back to medical school and train for seven years. Or I could be a real estate agent and be selling houses in six months’ time and I can provide for my family.’ You get into real estate and you’re just as successful if not more successful than being in your original career. And perhaps you might even, I would hope, enjoy it more as well.
Are there certain traits that make a good real estate agent?
Everyone’s different. There’s no one right formula. It is a sales job, so you do have to be resilient. You have to handle rejection and not take it personally because you do get a lot of nos. It’s like starting your own business.
I think there’s a bit of a misconception that all people do is hold an open home and sell a house but it’s not that easy. You’ve got to earn the right to be invited into someone’s house and earn that trust that they’re going to give you their biggest asset to sell. It’s a big decision for people, one that they make in Auckland, apparently, once every seven years. It’s not like they’re buying a sofa. They’re buying or selling a house, so they have to be able to trust you.
It’s a very long game. You don’t just start off one week and sell two houses next week, that’s extremely rare. For most people it is about being persistent, having a plan, being really good at technology and always learning and implementing new systems, having excellent people and negotiation skills and the ability to retain a lot of information in your head.
Real estate is so complicated now. There’s a lot more compliance work and you’ve got REA regulations. The paperwork is immense, but then you’ve got all the technology, the different systems, and database CRM. You can learn the technical stuff, but it’s the people side of things that will make the difference. People, systems and being really self-motivated to start your own business.
Real estate is not easy, but it can be very rewarding. It’s not for everybody, definitely not. It is a full-time job, if you want to be successful. In residential sales, most of the business is done in the afternoons, evenings and the weekends, so you do have to be prepared to sacrifice a bit of family or social life if you want to be a successful real estate agent.
You don’t necessarily have to have the gift of the gab or be an amazing extrovert, but if you’re not that, then you have to have really good systems and be really good at learning negotiation skills.
Is it a bit of a psychological rollercoaster? Because one month it’s a buyer’s market, then the next year it’s a seller’s market. It’s always changing.
It’s always a cycle. Now you can barely look at the internet without seeing another success story about some house that sold for way over CV or 50 buyers wanting one house. But, 18 months ago it was the total opposite.
It is a cycle and you do have to get used to riding that cycle. We don’t control the market. No one controls the market. People try to pick the market and I’ve never seen anyone pick it within a month of what happens. Generally there’s a three month lag. After three months of sales doing well, we know it’s booming and three months of sales not happening, we know it’s turning around again, but no one’s ever picked it.
You’ve just got to keep doing the basics. There’s always a market, houses are always being transacted, no matter what the market’s doing. There’s always a reason people are buying and selling. In Auckland, there’s enough business to keep real estate agents going, whether it’s a good market or a not-so-good market.
It is like a national sport to try and pick the market. Even the best bank economists don’t get it.
Very few people get it right. The market is great at the moment, interest rates are low. The government, until recently they didn’t do much, but now they are pulling levers to try and slow things down. If you look overseas, none of these things have worked. They might slow it down for a few months or they might affect 20% of people buying houses, but in general, if the market is going to be booming, it’s booming. What the government does or doesn’t do, it doesn’t really make that much difference.
When the government interferes, there are unintended consequences. We support healthy homes and tenants having warm houses, but by making landlords spend more money on their houses, there’s going to be a cost to that, so rents will go up.
If you put capital gains on the table, people will go, a) I am not going to sell my house, or b) when I do sell my house, I’m going to factor in that I’m going to have to pay tax on it, so I’ll put the price up. Therefore the supply reduces and the prices will keep going up. And certainly putting capital gains tax or stamp duty in Australia hasn’t slowed down property prices over there in the long term.
It’s potentially getting into dangerous territory as well. Landlords are all beaten up as being evil moguls, when most of them are mum and dad investors, with maybe one or two rental properties.
From the stats I’ve seen, I think the average landlord owns just over one rental property. There are some landlords who do own a lot of property and maybe they make more of the headlines, but generally most landlords own one and that’s probably the only one they will own.
Often they’re accidental landlords, they might have inherited the house. Or they might be a couple who have moved in together so they’ve got a house that they don’t want to sell, so they rent it out.
In New Zealand, if you’ve been a landlord for a long time, you’ve pretty much done okay. If you do come into an inheritance or you’ve got money in the bank, what kind of return are you getting? Not everyone wants to be a landlord or can be a landlord, but most landlords, in general, are happy to look after the property and make it nicer for the tenants.
Most landlords are generally reasonable people, but it is a business and landlords have expenses like any other business. Interest rates might be going down, but the cost of compliance is going up, council rates are going up, insurance keeps going up. There’s always a cost to these things.
When people talk about the widening wealth gap, property is often linked in with that because it’s one of the best ways to create that intergenerational wealth. Is it a right for everyone to have their own home?
Ultimately, it’d be great, but not everyone wants to own a home. It’s not on the wishlist for a lot of people. Not because they can’t afford it, they just don’t want to own their own house, for whatever reason.
A lot of it comes back to the education system. People are not taught how to manage their money. They get a job and they spend their income. They don’t save for the future or they don’t invest it in the right places. After 20 years, they have nothing to show for it.
People don’t understand what credit cards are, children don’t understand what mortgages are and a lot of adults don’t understand what yield is. To me, those are pretty basic things that should be taught in schools and aren’t, or if they are, it’s only just starting to be taught in schools. Financial Literacy needs to be a compulsory subject in my view.
If you’re doing maths, you should know what yield is, you should know about putting your money in the bank versus buying a house using leverage. Are they taught what leverage is? That’s not going to solve the inequality overall, but it might help 20% of people who perhaps could never buy a house.
I don’t know what the answer is to solving inequality, that’s definitely outside my pay grade. But there is a concern that it’s getting worse with the house prices going up the way they are. People who own houses are getting wealthier and for people who are renting, their wages aren’t going up anywhere near as quickly as house prices are going up.
I see that even age has been a big focus for you as well, with getting younger employees on board. Is that still something that you’re working on?
It’s harder for young people to get into real estate because it does take up the weekends and evenings, when young people are generally out socialising. You also need a bit of life experience. If they’re coming into the business and they haven’t owned a house and they’re still at home with mum and dad, it’s pretty difficult to convince people to put their biggest asset with them.
You have to be quite a precise, persuasive person. It does take a while. If you’re an employee, you’re only ever going to make as much as your salary. We’ve had people who worked in the bank and they were told if you want to earn as much as the guy next to you, you’ve got to work here for 10 years and then you’re only going to earn this much. How are you ever going to get ahead in life if your income is capped?
We’d like to encourage young people, anyone under 40, that real estate is a great career to pursue. Maybe get a bit of life experience, travel, do some jobs in your twenties and see what you actually like doing. If you do like helping people out and you do feel you can multitask and could add value to the process for people, then look at doing real estate.
You might start off as a cadet or rookie and work with an existing successful sales person that can really help in your career, or you could start off on property management. There’s commercial and body corporate as options. There are lots of roles in the property industry that are not commission-only.
We’ve had people that started off as a receptionist who’ve gone all the way to being a branch manager. We’ve also had people start off in property management who are now successful branch managers or successful salespeople, or the other way around. You’ve just got to find out what you like doing and are good at.
There’s no such thing as one career these days. But don’t wait until you get a lot older before you do real estate, you should start considering it in your late twenties, early thirties. We do have a lot of older real estate agents who are looking to retire at some point, so they will need someone to fill their shoes.
When you look at the next couple of years, are you optimistic for New Zealand?
Businesses used to have five-year or 10-year plans, but I think they can be a bit of a waste of time now because nobody really knows what’s going to happen especially in technology. I think we’ve got every reason to be optimistic in New Zealand. We’ve shown that we can carry on, even though we’re so far away from the rest of the world.
We can be quite self-sufficient and I think a lot of us learnt that we do make toilet paper here and we’ve got fresh water, so we don’t need to buy it from other countries. We do have so much going for us in New Zealand.
You can do a lot of business from your home now. Now it’s okay to work from home, it’s okay to have meetings on Zoom, etc. I think the sky’s the limit for New Zealand, if that’s what you want. We’ve just got to embrace it and be extremely grateful we live in New Zealand and we can celebrate simple everyday things with our families.