What I learned about real estate after 50 years in business

As Philip Webb Real Estate celebrates its 50th anniversary this month, I have had the chance to reflect on how my journey in real estate, how Melbourne’s real estate industry has changed since 1972 and also the aspects that have remained the same.

Diving headfirst into the industry as a land seller, the first block of land I sold was for $5600 in Doncaster, which would probably be worth close to a million dollars in today’s market.

After working as a land salesman for a year, I took a chance and opened my business at the age of 19 with my partner Jim Reed. Starting a business so young was crazy, because I had more ego than anything else.

Our business began by selling homes in Doncaster East and Lower Templestowe, which was a relatively new area but quickly became popular with the opening of Westfield Doncaster, formerly known as Shopping Town, in 1970.

The average price of a new four-bedroom house in 1972 was $22,000, and if you had told me that the median house price in Melbourne would exceed $1 million, I would have called you crazy.

So what has changed in 50 years?

A significant change has been the steady increase and prevalence of auctions.

In 1972, almost all properties sold were by private sale – it was very rare to sell a house at auction.

Agents would have ad books with 50 to 100 listings and drive potential buyers around all day until they found a home that suited them.

There were many more properties than there were buyers, so the need for an auction was much less, but over time as the population grew, auctions were essential to the selling and buying process.

The most transformative event that has happened has been the digitization of the world.

Photocopiers and fax machines were introduced first, followed by computers, the Internet, cell phones and the iPhone, which completely transformed the way real estate agents work, communicate and sell homes.

Before properties could be advertised online, we advertised in the newspaper and buyers contacted us that way.

It used to be much more the realtor’s job to educate buyers, whereas today a buyer will know just about everything about the house and whether they want to buy it before they even approach the agent.

However, despite one person being able to sort through thousands of properties a day and having access to a 360 degree view of the home, the role of the real estate agent has remained essential.

People still need to connect with people. Whether it was 50 years ago or today, buying a home is still one of the most important decisions people will make in their lifetime, and they need trusted people who have their interests at heart.

Despite huge changes in my 50 years in business, one thing has remained the same: the reliability of real estate as a long-term investment.

Despite what the next six, 12 or 15 months hold for the industry, the value of a property will double in the next 10 years.

As inconceivable as it may seem, we have seen this trend in Australia over the past 200 years and I believe the trend will continue.

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