Barfoot & Thompson – the powerhouse behind the Auckland property market

Alistair Helm

I admire and respect Barfoot & Thompson for many reasons, but most of all because it takes a professional and open approach to data.

On its site it publishes facts. It shares valuable insight into the property market. You can easily see how many properties it sold in a month, by price range, type and location. It also provides rental data as one of the leading property management companies.

This insight into its business should be celebrated, not so much for what it says about the company, as what it does to help us better understand the property market in Auckland – the powerhouse of the New Zealand economy and the hotbed of discussion of the property market.

Its ability to share openly its sales performance is a lot to do, I suspect, with the family ownership; thereby allowing the directors to make the decisions that they believe are in the best interests of their employees, their self-employed real estate agent contractors and their wider community, as well of course of their business.

The Barfoot & Thompson business is huge. In 2013 it sold four in every 10 properties in Auckland. A total of 13,123 transactions with a total transaction value of $8.5 billion.

2014 has so far been an even better year for it with sales in March exceeding a value of $1 billion in a month – a record quietly celebrated internally I am sure, a staggering success. In March its total sales of 1392 properties equated to 19% of all properties sold in New Zealand and it only operates in Auckland! (and Northland) although their data is based on Auckland.

Its success over the past couple of years is a testament to a classic marketing strategy I remember hearing in my early years in marketing. Increase your marketing investment in the downturn period of the economic cycle – just when your competitors are retrenching to save costs and secure shareholder dividends, that is when the smart company invests. As the economy improves as it has done in the past three years, then your investment pays off as your brand is well-established with strong emotional triggers to ride the economy upward.

Barfoot & Thompson is expert at emotional triggers being a passionate supporter in the community – whether it be sporting, the arts, charities and of course their support of Starship – their people wear their heart on their sleeve and back it up with resources to invest back into the community.

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Their business model is smart – do what other competitors do but make your presence felt. They charge a commission rate just less than the competitors – not so much to be seen as a discounter but enough to provide a point of difference and a sense of being with the community. They invest in their physical presence. They have more offices than any other brand in the region – over 60 offices, so there is a presence on every high street in the region. They invest in people and they support them, offering salaried apprenticeship scheme to get people into the industry. They invest in brand marketing – you don't have to travel far to see a billboard or the back of a bus to get that recall of the brand.

All this investment is paying off. Its market share in the Auckland market is growing, topping 46% in March alone to deliver a 12 month average of 42% up from 38% coming out of the recession in 2011. Almost all of this growth undertaken without buying up other franchise operations or building new offices (bar a very few exceptions) very much unlike how their competitors operate.

Barfoot & Thompson also delivers higher metrics than the other franchise groups in the country based on a per office or per agent basis.

They achieve almost twice the rate of sales per office a year as their main competitors and deliver a higher gross transaction value per agent.

They are also innovative, being the only real estate company to release an iPad app in NZ – an app that in my opinion is the best user experience for property viewing of any of the apps on the app store at this time – its only weakness being the range of listings, limited to just their own!

Returning to my opening remarks, the thing I most admire from the company is its publication of data, at a time when we need greater insight into the property market to assist us to make better informed decisions as to the state and trends in the market I am pleased we have such a forward thinking company in our leading city.

Former Realestate.co.nz CEO Alistair Helm is founder of Properazzi.

 

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