How to ‘survive and thrive’ as a rookie commercial property broker

Elton Holland and Andrew Forbes.
Elton Holland and Andrew Forbes.

Being a broker in the commercial property space is not for the faint-hearted. Approximately one in five rookies don’t make it. There’s a definite rite of passage. Roxy Mitchell from Creative Imagineering spoke to twenty-three- year-old rookie, Andrew Forbes and his mentor, Elton Holland, about his first year as a broker and what it takes to survive and thrive in this tough environment.

Fake it till you make it

According to Forbes, when you start at the bottom of the food chain you have to be content with everyone’s ‘sloppy seconds’ and humble enough to make coffee for your colleagues. You also need to develop confidence fast as you’ll likely be cold canvassing for the at least the first month. “At this point you don’t really know what you’re talking about as you don’t have a feeling for the industry yet. You must be bold enough to fake it until you make it and learn the industry ‘lingo’ fast,” comments Forbes. Furthermore, you need to earn your clients and peers respect by doing the time. After a while you can start nurturing your own network and generating your own deals. Your time
will come to shine.

Foot in the door

Elton Holland, Director of the Ikon Property Group says: “Brokering is a fantastic entry point into the commercial property sector and often leads to careers in Property Investment, Property Development or Property Fund Management. These are some of the examples of the various career trajectories that brokers often morph into.”

It also gives you the hands-on experience that University academia can never adequately prepare you for.” Whilst Ikon has always promoted taking on a newbie to mentor and train into the game, they have also become incredibly selective. “I won’t take on anyone without a degree in finance or property. Most importantly they need to fit the culture and energy of our team,” continues Holland. Another vital attribute for a broker is tenacity and the ability to focus on bringing a transaction to fruition.

Why property?

Andrew comes from a blue-collar family in the building and HVAC services industry. As a young kid, he spent much of his childhood on building sites. “I saw buildings going from zero to completion. I wanted to complement my natural affinity for building with an academic foundation. I did four years in financial and investment management at Stellenbosch. One of my subjects was property and I immediately gravitated to it. Property seemed like the natural intersect.”

A day in the life

This is not always a glamorous job. “I spend a typical day listing properties and canvassing for stock, buyers and tenants. I could do this on the phone, but I often find myself pounding the pavements. This entails visiting an office block in the CBD and trawling through the tenant schedule.” Forbes says that brokers are also encouraged to get into networking events and to socialise. The aim is to fill your diary with appointments. Initially its 99% sweat and 1% results.

Forbes maintains: “Whilst you have time flexibility in this game, this is not a 9-5 desk paper pushing type of job. You often find yourself working longer hours and going the extra mile to achieve results. If you put in the hours and work smart your earning potential can be uncapped. If you don’t, you’re shooting yourself in the foot as its only commission-based.”

Secrets to success

One thing I’ve learnt early in my career is that I don’t get paid for my time, I only get paid for my results,” says Forbes. You also need to know that it doesn’t pay to ‘be a busy fool’. You need to know when you’re walking into a dead-end and when a proposition is a non-starter.

According to Forbes, having a solid mentor is fundamental to success. A boutique property company like Ikon has a flat structure, hands on directors and great support systems in place. “You need your colleagues to keep you buoyant after some inevitable failures. The environment is collaborative with plenty of lead-sharing,” maintains Forbes.

Another factor that contributes to success is an established network that you can tap into immediately. It’s essential to be socially active at a business and friendship level and tap into your networks. Andrew maintains that you are always working, even at social braais you need to have your ear to the ground. “Make sure you have a polished elevator pitch as you never know who you are going to bump into.”

Highlights of the game

It’s commonplace for rookies not to conclude any deals in their first year. Andrew has managed to bring several deals to fruition. I think his work ethic and integrity are key attributes that have fast- tracked his entry and success in a tough environment,” concludes Holland.

When asked about one of his highlights, Andrew recalls his first investment deal. “It was a real baptism of fire just three months into the job. The deal was in motion when the seller called to advise me that the quoted price was inaccurate. I had to go back to the buyer and sell him on a tighter income yield and a higher price than the listing price. I successfully closed the deal.”