A man selling luxury: Berry Everitt
“The luxury market is one of our focus areas. Our three goals are to capture market share, capture the luxury market share and do everything with excellence”
My meeting with Berry Everitt is inside what may be Johannesburg’s most expensive residential sale yet. The home is in Houghton, of course, and on the market for R110m. It has the requisite sweeping staircase, an indoor pool, Versace armchairs and automated everything … Everitt, driving up the manicured driveway in his black Aston Martin DBS and bespoke suit, could well be the owner. He’s not, but this is his market. “The luxury market is one of our focus areas. Our three goals are to capture market share, capture the luxury market share, and do everything with excellence,” he says. That’s why the company, Chas Everitt, is part of Luxury Portfolio International, a global network of premier, locally branded agencies. Says Everitt: “In the past nine months, we’ve seen an improvement in the luxury market in South Africa, especially in Johannesburg. We’ve hired a team of private bankers who understand that luxury environment. They fit in with the Luxury Portfolio International offering. Dealing with the 3-million high-net-worth individuals around the world gives us a great deal of confidence that we will be able to give our clients what they’re looking for.”
Growing the business
The company wasn’t always so global. In fact it, wasn’t even national when Everitt’s parents, Charles (Chas) and Tilla, started the business in Randburg in 1980. Everitt bought the business from his parents in 1997. A few years later he took the brand national. “Once you get to a medium-size business you start competing with the big players, so we needed to establish a national footprint,” he says. “It also meant we could reap the benefits of scale, displacing the cost of our investment in training and technology. It was part of my dream to take our strong value proposition and grow it nationally.” Everitt says he was never concerned about losing the family brand established on his parents’ watch: “The roots were so firmly embedded in the culture of the brand from the beginning – we weren’t going to lose it. The company had a culture of attracting like-minded people and it still does.”
Part of Chas Everitt International Property Group’s recipe for success is its high agent retention rate and Everitt insists they work hard for it. “People want to work for a company where they are appreciated and where they can add value. We have incentive plans for our agents. One of those is helping them look after their retirement – agents aren’t known to be good at that. We also have “fun-ventions” every year to incentivise top agents. It’s great for them but also for me. I get into the trenches with them and hear about what they’re doing in a casual environment. Many of the strategic decisions we make come from those discussions.”
Everitts’s 2017 Strategy
After the year we’ve had in South Africa, Everitt predicts that the property market in 2017 will remain competitive. “It’s tough to look into a crystal ball on a national level because each city has its own attractions. Cape Town will continue to grow – there’s no more land between the ocean and the mountain now. The North Coast in KwaZulu-Natal is still attractive. And Johannesburg, as the economic hub, is going to be stable. The banks are going to be lending more in the big cities than in the rural areas, and they’re keen to lend. “We do have our challenges as a country but Chas Everitt’s focus is on taking more market share and making up the difference if the market’s a little slow. The housing market is going to depend on sentiment – and sentiment is going to need to be bolstered by professional agents who clearly communicate the value proposition of each property. If agents have that skill set, the year will be stable.”
What about the real estate industry feeling under threat by dominant property portals? Everitt takes a calm, cooperative approach. “We’ve got to keep our eye on the portals as they have a lot of power. The two big players – Private Property and Property24 – they’re head to head, and the industry has picked its partner in Private Property. The competition is good, though – it keeps them honest. “But because of the power they wield, the industry as a collective recently created a data repository through the Estate Agents Portal Company. This will ensure that the listing data gets fed through economically to the strong portals. If a portal prices itself out of the market, we might just slow down the feed to that particular portal until we get the prices right.
“Without the listings, there will be no eyeballs to those portals – the flow of those listings is what’s critical to the portals and what they’ll be fighting for. Agents have the power to slow that flow down for those that don’t cooperate.” Everitt points out that security measures are being built in to trip up disruptors, but says real estate agencies are the only ones that have access to sales information. “As an industry, we should find a method to monetise the information that we have and the data flow to various sources, and to create new markets. The key players in the industry – the ones who create and drive the trends – are quite far down the line with certain plans.”
“The housing market is going to depend on sentiment – and sentiment is going to need to be bolstered by the professional agents who clearly communicate the value proposition of each property”
Print vs digital advertising
Says Everitt: “Print is not dead. We see some brands still spending in these publications and we know sellers like to see their ads in print. The luxury environment is still focused on print – you can position a property beautifully.” He continues: “Chas Everitt has reduced their print advertising spend, however, and is spending more online.” But Everitt emphasises the need for a strategy behind that. It’s not enough to just put your properties on the portals. It’s about purchasing a lot more products to get your clients’ homes positioned correctly and to attract the right buyers. “You need to provide good-quality photography, video and floor plans. You need to make use of social media. Then you’ll create stickiness for your clients’ properties. That’s what can differentiate one real estate company from another,” he says.
Words Catherine Davis
Images Steve Marais