Flying High

Sep 8, 2017 | Features, Slider

Amanda Cuba’s entrepreneurial family background taught her to look for opportunities. This is her journey

RE/MAX Southern Africa chief operating officer Amanda Cuba has always been fascinated by the property industry, studying newspaper advertisements to learn about areas, properties and prices.
“At 14 years old I wanted to go and do my own thing, be independent, but I had to wait and go through university first,” she says. After Cuba graduated and was working in management consulting, she reached a point when she wanted to diversify and contacted a few real estate agents via email. “Nobody came back to me. It was the strangest thing … Now it is one of the things I watch out for in our business. When there is an enquiry somebody attends to it, especially when it is about joining the industry.”

Cuba is a “Cape Town girl”, who was born in Gugulethu. “I’ve had this beautiful, exotic surname throughout my life. You actually pronounce it with a soft C, the Xhosa way.” Married with three children, her maiden name is a conversation point as she has no links with the Caribbean island many will associate her name with. Cuba says she retains it for practical purposes because changing surnames is an onerous administrative process. Born into an entrepreneurial family, Cuba says she has always known where she was heading. “I actually wanted to be a pilot but I am too short. Option two was getting into management consulting where I could have the opportunity to execute strategy, not just formulate it, with the hope that I could get into property.” As it turned out, she did not have to work her way to the top as she had expected.

SEIZING OPPORTUNITIES

Opportunity knocked when she heard that RE/MAX Southern Africa founder Peter Gilmour was looking for an empowerment partner who would not be just an investor but somebody able to grow the business. Cuba and her Z Capital Properties partner and sister Yolanda proved to be the perfect fit. Once US franchisor RE/MAX LLC approved the proposed agreement, Z Capital set about sourcing funding for the 45% ownership deal finalised in December 2014. Cuba was appointed nonexecutive director with RE/MAX Southern Africa, effective 1 January 2015. A year later she was appointed an executive director. “From day one it’s been a fantastic organisation to be with and the experience has been great so far. Although it has been a huge learning curve, being a former consultant means that it is not that difficult to deal with the amount of information coming my way.”

Cuba’s role as chief operating officer is to lead a team that supports the RE/MAX broker owners, drive their objectives and grow their business. There are close to 160 RE/MAX offices across South Africa as well as in Namibia, Swaziland and Botswana. “I have seen real estate agents succeed (and fail) in different environments. For aspirant property professionals that result is influenced more by personality and communication skills than a university degree. This is a relationship-building game.”

CREATING ENABLERS

Real estate is an industry that offers tremendous opportunity for ambitious entrepreneurs but Cuba stresses the need to create “enablers” as well. RE/MAX supports the concept of interns and there is the Estate Agency Affairs Board (EAAB) One Learner – One Estate Agency programme, which places rookies at a registered estate agency for 12 months of mentorship while they work towards the necessary industry qualifications. Offices that have a proper support structure for interns often see rookies getting to the point where they are selling. But in an environment where people are driving sales, a full-status agent may not have sufficient time to focus on someone who is starting out. “It is a Catch-22 scenario when we are looking at how to build and transform this industry,” says Cuba.

“When you get it right it can be a successful career. It allows flexibility for those who want that in their lives and those who become disciplined, strong, consistent, tenacious individuals tend to succeed.” Although an industry challenge is its commission-based payment structure, there is a growing trend globally for the provision of some form of basic pay. This has already taken effect in the Philippines, with Australia starting to realise it too. Cuba believes there will eventually be an expectation to offer agents a basic salary in South Africa.

Amanda Cuba’s thoughts on…

Urbanisation: To think that in 1960, 47% of the population lived in urban spaces … By 2016 that number had grown to 65%. There is growing demand for people to be able to live closer to where they work but space is scarce in urban areas and properties are not geared up for huge populations.

Affordable housing: Not only are there challenges around finding affordable housing in cities but in financing it. Government has initiatives where they try to help subsidise potential buyers. The issue for me is a lot of people try to buy the homes, and use the schemes, but struggle to get the money they need to access, to help them along. It is expensive to purchase a home. Yes, government has decreased the charges for registering properties costing less than R750,000 but there are still expenses such as lawyers’ fees. South Africa has a poor savings rate but there is also not a lot of excess cash for people to save.

For me – and this is my personal opinion – when people think about affordable housing in an urban space, they imagine a small, cheap apartment block or house, but it is not necessarily that. In some countries, it might be a block of apartments, well managed, rather than run down just because someone who does not have lots of money lives there. That is a fundamental thing.

Barriers to entry: These are not excessive. The biggest challenge is that the industry is commission based. Real estate rookies need financial support to help them through the first six to 12 months.

Development of assets: At the recent SAPOA annual convention, EFF leader Julius Malema said commercial real estate owners and managers should include black people in the development of retail assets and offices. A lot of points he mentioned are pertinent to a country such as ours with its history but I don’t fully agree with his method. When you look at the demographics it is imperative that we shift to a point where there is some form of redistribution of wealth. But the question is how? It is about providing opportunities for people to get into environments that allow them to be educated, to earn and to shift to the next level from where they started. This will create an enabling environment for the next generation. Even if it is from a zero base, it is a huge step forward.

Racism: Racisms is a reality in our country and we have experienced incidences. At RE/MAX, we encourage tolerance and acknowledgment of the differences we have as people.

Words: Debbie Hathway | Images: Supplied