The chief executive of one of Southern Africa’s leading independent property concerns, Andrew Golding says the residential property industry isn’t simple – it’s nuanced, requires skill and definitely focus. He has that focus

Andrew Golding comes downstairs from his office in the grand Bishopscourt building that is the Pam Golding Properties head office. He’s expecting an interview, but only a face-to-face chat … then he sees video cameras and lights set up. “Oh? Is this a video interview?” he asks. Somehow he hadn’t got the memo from his team that Property Professional would be filming the session.

Many people in that position would feel surprised and a little on the backfoot. They might want to dress differently, shave specially, comb their hair … Golding doesn’t even request a rehearsal. And no matter what he’s asked during the interview, his replies are measured, his delivery is calm. Ever the consummate professional, Golding simply says: “Good thing I wore a tie today. Where do you want me to sit?”

ON TRANSFORMATION AND RACISM

If you could make one change to the Property Charter what would it be?

The background to the Property Charter was well intentioned, both from the originators of the charter and the signatories. But in practice, that’s where the rubber hits road. It’s certainly helpful as a compass, but in terms of its practicability I’m not sure…

One of the challenges of the charter is that it puts an umbrella over the entire property industry, which is completely impractical. The residential and the commercial property industries are chalk and cheese.

What is applicable to the commercial industry, particularly the asset management of it, is so far away from a single residential agent who may operate his or her own business, that the relevance is questionable. The bulk of residential agents in this country are single operators – one- or two-man bands – so to expect them to be fifty-percent-empowered, for example, is clearly not practical.

With the benefit of hindsight, there should have been a different charter for the residential property industry. I would like to see a charter that takes into account the specifics of the residential property industry.

But there’s no getting away from transformation. What is the approach at Pam Golding Properties?

The recognition of the need for transformation as an imperative, from a moral, social and economic point of view, has been inculcated into our organisation.

Some years ago we embarked on an empowerment franchise initiative, which was not successful because of the global economic downturn in 2007/2008. Perhaps it would have worked if it weren’t for that.

Subsequently we have looked to raise the consciousness of transformation and empowerment at every level in the 300-plus offices we have. But there are structural challenges: the way agents operate, the attractiveness of the industry when there are other options, the hurdles in the regulatory requirements, the curriculum…

Transformation has been slow. We’d like to be leaders in this arena, and so unashamedly, when there is an opportunity to place a transformation candidate in a position, we are proceeding with that strategy.

With this backdrop, how do you feel about racism accusations pointed at the industry off the back of the Penny Sparrow post?

The specific incident was unfortunate, and the racism issue is a real one in the minds of many consumers. But a lot of positives have come out of it, as the industry has had to take a long, hard look at itself. To label all estate agents as racist is not correct, and companies such as Pam Golding Properties have come out unequivocally indicating that we won’t tolerate discrimination, and we’re prepared to nail our colours to the mast.

REBOSA has initiated an anti-discrimination pledge – every agent who works for a company affiliated to REBOSA is encouraged to sign it, and we expect a full complement of signatures. It’s important to keep the momentum going on the gains that have been made, but there’s still a way to go.

 

310+ Pam Golding Properties offices in Southern Africa and operating internationally, including the UK, Portugal, Spain, France, Germany, Mauritius, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Swaziland, Zambia, Kenya, Mozambique, Uganda, Nigeria and The Seychelles

 

ON MARKET PROSPECTS FOR THE YEAR

Lightstone released February 2016 data predicting that homeowners will lose wealth for the first time since 2011. Never mind increased municipal rates, interest rates and a poor exchange rate … Are we facing another 2007/2008 scenario?

The jury’s out on exactly where the market is going. There are two scenarios: a worsening market where house price growth is going to slow to below inflation and where, in line with current economic weakness, the market deteriorates. And the converse, which is that there is sufficient supply and demand, and so activity will continue to be strong despite the current economic trends.

As far as interest rates are concerned, we’re still way off the levels the South African market was able to withstand easily decades ago. My sense is that we’re not anywhere near a 2007/2008 scenario. On the balance of probability, as a business, we are being more cautious than exuberantly optimistic. We feel that the market will be more difficult, but not aggressively so. A slightly tougher, slightly tighter market all round, but not a terrible year.

But buyer sentiment is dropping – the public is feeling uncertain. Agents will pick up on this. How do you lead and motivate your staff in these tougher times?

We’ve been around for 40 years and we’ve seen a number of market cycles, so this feels quite familiar. There are a number of market conditions that one needs to adapt to – a buyer’s market is different from a seller’s market, and as a consequence the tactics and methodologies employed need to take into account the current conditions.

What we’re seeing now is two separate markets. We’re seeing a Cape Town or Western Cape market characterised by a shortage of stock and an oversupply of buyers. And in other parts of the country, we’re starting to see stock come in more readily.

It boils down to ensuring that the service you provide is appropriate to clients in their environment. Professional and honest advice should be given to both buyer and seller about the probability of a successful transaction, which is our core business.

ON BEING AN ESTATE AGENT IN 2016

What is the biggest challenge facing property leaders today? And what’s the next big thing?

Government regulations will be a challenge. The Property Practitioner’s Bill is an extremely important piece of legislation as it will govern how we operate going into the future.

We’re all trying to get to grips with the digital marketing environment. It’s a new platform – we need to understand how we can be efficient, how we can offer a superior service to buyers and sellers, and how we can differentiate ourselves from our competition. In addition, the client base is changing, so the difference between baby boomers and millennials is vital to understand.

Will estate agents have a role to play in 10 years time?

The future role of the estate agent is something the industry needs to think about. Other industries have been and are being disrupted. The jury’s out on whether or not with an asset like a home, which is so important and so big in people’s lives, they are going to be prepared to have no intermediary in these transactions. So far that hasn’t proved to be the case.

What is the case is that the role of the estate agent is changing. Technology has fundamentally altered the way people search for homes; it’s going to alter the real estate industry in ways we haven’t imagined. Agents will have to re-evaluate the value they add to a transaction and to find ways of justifying their existence.

You’ve surely made one or two mistakes over the years. How do you deal with them?

We’ve certainly made mistakes in the organisation over the past 40 years. But we learn from them. One thing we won’t do again is to diversify from our core business. In the run up to 2007/2008 – when it seemed like the market would remain strong forever – we diversified into business activities which were far from the sale of residential property at the top end of the market. Those activities weren’t as successful, and took our eye off the ball. The residential property industry isn’t simple – it’s nuanced, and requires skill, and definitely focus.

 

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Watch Andrew Golding on video sharing his thoughts about his business, industry transformation and the property market

SECRETS TO SUCCESS

“We’ve been fortunate in the incredible founder that we had. Pam unquestionably formed the bedrock of the organisation, through her personality, skill and values. As a consequence we’ve attracted like-minded people and that is our biggest strength. They identify with that set of values and that service ethic. That’s what has sustained our position in the market.

“We’re extremely ambitious. Africa still represents a major opportunity for us – we’re now in 10 countries, and will add Tanzania to the list this year. Ultimately we hope to add Nigeria, Ghana and Angola, as three of the larger markets in Africa. We’ll probably add more to those as and when it’s appropriate. We can then set up a genuine Pan-African network, which has all sorts of complementary opportunities within it.

“There isn’t necessarily a set of ambitions cast in stone – there’s always a moving target. We thought this time last year we would be open in Nigeria, and for various reasons we’re not quite there yet. It’s still very much a part of our plans, but circumstances and market conditions change, and different people come along and present new opportunities.”

Words: Catherine Davis