A silver lining in the aftermath

Making the move: Barry Kilkelly of Harcourts says everything came together at once.
Making the move: Barry Kilkelly of Harcourts says everything came together at once.

They say every cloud has a silver lining and for Wellington newcomer Barry Kilkelly that's certainly been the case.

Mr Kilkelly has recently taken on the newly-developed role of Wellington franchise development manager for Harcourts.

The real estate agent had worked for Harcourts in Christchurch for eight years, but the closure of his Avonside office after the earthquakes put paid to that.

''After the June earthquakes we made the decision to move on if we could and with family up here we decided to relocate.

''At our stage of life we wanted to live somewhere where life carried on normally.''

His Christchurch house wasn't badly damaged, suffering only small interior cracks, and it sold quickly.

And in Wellington everything fell into place so easily that he believes it was all ''just supposed to happen''.

''It was quite funny. I had an interview for this job on the Monday. I'd been here the weekend before and put an offer in on a house the same day. On the Thursday night the real estate agent called to say it's all sorted verbally [and] that same night I heard from our chief operating officer who offered me a job but hadn't sorted the package. "Then the next night the real estate agent rung again to say we own our new house here, and 20 minutes after that the COO rung to tell me about the package.''

Stepping into a new role in a completely new environment has had its challenges, says Mr Kilkelly.

But he has quickly found his feet, focusing on expanding his networks, setting up systems and processes, and familiarising himself with the Wellington region he's in charge of, which runs from New Plymouth, across to Napier and down to Wellington.

''All I can say is thank God for GPS systems, though I must say the people here so far have been very welcoming. I love the city, it doesn't move, it doesn't shake, and the fact you can walk everywhere is fantastic.''

The role is largely about recruiting experienced and new real estate agents, organising

careers evenings and speaking to candidates about the industry.

"I'm in a position to tell them about the real estate industry, and I'm able to give them advice on what's required of them, how to prepare themselves and if they do decide to

take it a step further introduce them to an office in their area.''

And Mr Kilkelly is well-versed to advise potential agents, having been one of the top three agents in his Christchurch office for a number of years, and just last year taking out pole position.

''That was just before we had to close the office. We were right in the middle of the east and though the building was damaged it wasn't irreparable, but the whole area was written off so the chance of doing any business completely disappeared.''

However, there have been highlights too, among them the dream start to his real estate career back in 2004.

''I was lucky - the second house I sold was $1.65 million. My first two listings were both auctions and both sold under the hammer. It was a tremendous start.''

To some extent Mr Kilkelly says, the real estate industry is similar to his previous life in the luxury car business.

''Real estate is a more emotional business because of the size of the transactions you're doing, and people don't change houses as often as they change cars, but there's a similar theme.

''You've got to know and understand people. To me, it's as much that knowledge of people and having empathy with people, getting onside with them, having them trust you, believe in you and know you're there to do the best job for them, not for you, and that matters most.''

Before making the switch to real estate Mr Kilkelly had spent 35 years in the motor industry, starting out in the parts department of a car dealership and then becoming a car cleaner.

Over the years his career blossomed, eventually becoming general manager of the BMW dealership in Christchurch and lastly working as franchise manager for the Porsche product.

''I spent 20-odd years mainly in the luxury car sector dealing with brands like Jaguar, Porsche and BMW, which I just loved because I'm a car nut.''

Mr Kilkelly says he was ''in heaven'' behind the wheel of cars worth anything from $120,000 to $270,000.

''I got to drive some of the best cars in the world and I never had to pay a cent. It was wonderful - it was like achieving a lifelong dream.

''You couldn't afford to own one, but you had this privilege of driving it and driving it the way it was supposed to be driven.''

But the demands of the industry started becoming more intrusive on Mr Kilkelly's personal time, to the point where he says his life had no balance in it.

''I started to look at my options - I still wanted to be involved with people, buying and selling, making decisions that move your life on. I enjoy that side of it.

''The team environment was important to me. Things like good systems, sales systems, technology and good people as far as a company that looks after its people, were important to me, too. After a talk with the owners of the Harcourts branches in Christchurch that became my chosen path.

''The career change has been great. In some ways I wish I'd done it 20 years earlier.''

The closure of his Christchurch office though brought about yet another new opportunity, this time a chance to assess properties damaged in the earthquakes.

''Driving around assessing houses was a huge eye-opener. It showed how broken our town really is, and how much the roads, the infrastructure isn't there. It'll take a huge amount of work to get things back to normal.''

''Fifty per cent of it was PR and 50 per cent assessments. I was dealing as much with broken people as I was with broken properties.

''Some of the people I met were just amazing, people whose houses were a heck of a mess, no toiletry, no nothing, the house was completely broken. But they were still living in it months later and they didn't complain. You had to take your hat off to them.''

Having left the earthquake-ravaged city, Mr Kilkelly says he and his partner are enjoying their fresh start.

''I've had a few life changes, but I'm not afraid of change - we're all faced with it somewhere in our lives and you've just got to embrace it and run with it.''

Fairfax Media