Commercial sector staff in demand

GREG NINNESS
Last updated 05:00 17/02/2013
Bruce Whillans
JOHN SELKIRK/Fairfax NZ
SKILLS LOSS: Bruce Whillans says qualified agents are hard to find.

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The job market might be tight but commercial real estate companies are having trouble finding extra staff as they gear up for an improving market.

"In the last six months I've seen a dramatic turnaround in business confidence and it's now across the board," said Bruce Whillans, the principal of Ray White Commercial in Auckland.

"In the last quarter of last year we were finally starting to see some developers put their heads above the parapet because prime lenders [such as banks] were becoming more interested in backing development deals, although they're still pretty discerning about what they'll take on."

So Whillans is looking for a couple of new staff.

"I need two experienced commercial brokers, ideally one with a background in industrial and a commercial leasing broker."

That's doesn't sound like such a tall order, but it's one that's proving surprisingly hard to fill.

Whillans is an industry heavyweight who set up Ray White Commercial Auckland three years ago. Although the agency is small in terms of staff numbers compared with the big four commercial agencies, it is a significant player in terms of the amount of business it is transacting.

However, Whillans is still hands-on in many of those deals.

"I haven't got time to train someone. There's plenty of people who want to come and work for us but they just want to dovetail in behind me and pick up the crumbs and then go to lunch but that's not what I want. I want someone with a proven track record.

"But unfortunately because real estate is a commission-based industry and we've been through the best part of six tough years, many people have had to move into other areas just to keep ahead of their mortgages. So there is a real shortage of experienced, qualified agents."

Over the same period, the skill levels that agents need to be be able to bring to their roles have increased.

"Clients are becoming much more discerning and demanding in terms of the service that the real estate agent provides, including the information they provide and its accuracy and their understanding of the market and any legal and planning issues," Whillans said.

"And the days when a bank manager would agree to fund a development or an acquisition over a big lunch are over. Having been caught out [by the global financial crisis] they are demanding a high degree of information from their customer, who in turn is looking for it from the agent."

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Just down the road at Jones Lang LaSalle, managing director Nick Hargreaves is facing a similar problem but on a larger scale.

Jones Lang is a multinational company that provides a full range of property-related services such as valuations, and property and project management, as well as sales and leasing work.

Hargreaves said he needs to recruit about 40 new staff by June as the company expands its activities in New Zealand, but he's not finding it easy.

"I don't think a marked improvement in the market was evident last year but I think everyone's starting to smell it now," he said.

"There isn't the deal flow that's making it obvious yet, but there's more investment inquiry and that needs managing. Organisations like us invest in what's coming next and we believe we can smell the wind shift."

Hargreaves said he wants to recruit people across the business but is looking for more than just technical skills.

"In sales, we want experience; in leasing, you want energy; in property management, you want detail junkies; and in valuation, you want people who are good at managing confidential information.

"But what connects them all is that they need to be good at making connections and managing relationships.

"I always say property is all about putting people together and by the way, there's some property involved.

"Most people just want a job where they get feed work. They'll come in at 9am and look at their in-tray and do the work. We want people who take life by the throat."

But finding them is not easy.

"It takes a lot of work," Hargreaves said, and he was not confident he would have all the people he needed by June.

But he was sure about the coming lift in business that would create the need for them.

"At the end of last year, we transacted a lot of stuff at above-book value, so people are becoming more confident.

"Everyone's had their money under the mattress. Now they are getting back to bricks and mortar."

- Sunday Star Times

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