John Carew Shares His 5 Year Journey As a Buyer’s Agent
Below you will find the conversation between Ben Handler and John Carew for the Buyers Agent Institute Show.
So I guess out of school jumped into university at Sydney there did agricultural
economics degree actually. From there straight into banking was sort of the
logical progression for a lot of the guys in our degree. spent some time on the
trading desk, in business banking, in group strategy. So it was a really good
sort of, I guess grounding if you like,and got a good breadth of experiences
and always had a bit of a, I guess a bug for property though. And , that was
sort of just slowly pulling me towards it.
Welcome back to the buyer’s agent Institute show. I’m your host,
Ben Handler. Today we have the pleasure to be discussing and diving into
John’s business. He runs a business called Mayfield property. And I remember
back in the day when I was at Cohen Handler and John was a one- man band
and now he’s built a business into five people. So I’m really excited to dive
into this today with John. And I guess the skills you develop and
cultivate in the corporate world. I mean, they’re highly transferable.
Yeah, they are. I mean it’s good to see large scale businesses and the
professionalism in which they’re run.
So that’s something I’ve tried to sort of bringing across into the
buyer’s agent space. but yeah, just the, the, the mix of people you meet,
the functions you’re exposed to that the caliber of people that you’re
working with. it is good, a really good background.
It’s a good opportunity I felt when I was working in corporate to see how, what,
what culture looks like, what culture you don’t want to bring into a new
business of yours and how you treat people. Leadership. Did you learn a lot about
that and how you’re going to interject that into your business?
Yeah, definitely. I think, you know, there’s some, some great things with big business, but there’s also some downsides and
challenges as well. You know, larger business, it takes longer to implement change to, to turn the ship around as it were. So
I think with your own business, one of the advantages is you can be more nimble and you can take all those great bits out of
corporate that you, you love. But leave some of the, maybe the corporate baggage will side behind, you know, which is actually
And Mayfield Property, it’s obviously been going for five years. I love the name. I mean it sounds quite, I don’t know English.
How did you come here?
It’s actually, my parents have a beef cattle farm in Southern New South Wales is a, is a story there. And, and, and Mayield I
guess is the, I guess that location of that property. and yeah, JC property or anything like that, then it never really appealed to me.
So yeah, we went with the name of a Mayfield and yeah, it seems to resonate quite well with people, which is good.
Yeah. Nice. And when were you first exposed to buyer’s agents?
Yeah, I think, look, I start, I remember probably it must’ve been about 2010, reading, I think it was an article in the fin review about,
you know, the benefits of engaging a buyer’s agent. I’d never heard of it until then. and at the time I’d actually started to help some
family and friends. whether it was bidding at auction or you know, helping out some, you know, my folks, parents, you know, secure
an investment property and, and I actually didn’t realize you could really do that as a career. So yeah, it was relatively late in the piece.
I guess that I picked that up and that was probably for me where the seed was planted to thin,: “Hey, this could be a possibility to turn this,
I guess sort of hobby or passion into a career into a career.”
Did you ever, when you were working in corporate think that you wanted to get into real estate, however you didn’t want to become
a real estate agent?
So that was a roadblock to get into real estate. Yeah, I guess, yeah. I always did have a passion for property. Even through school I was
quite interested in design, in investment in development. but yeah, the traditional real estate sales agent role was always something I
guess I’d thought about but, but was never sort of, you know, grabbed me enough to want to sort of make that jump. so I guess you’re
learning sort of the, there was another Avenue available in the buyer’s agency space. Certainly probably helped pull me into the industry
and maybe I wouldn’t be here, if it wasn’t for that option. And so you’re based obviously your head office in Sydney. Yes. Yep, yep.
Correct. You’re a team of five now. And I guess, you know, being an entrepreneur business, I know we, I mean I, from my perspective, we,
we, we transform a lot, like personally, professionally, self-awareness. We, we go through so many stages of growth. What are, what are
some key things you’ve learned about yourself along the way of your five-year journey?
Probably becoming the father of three young boys has been a bit of a, a game changer.
I think becoming a sort of a parent really gives you a, a different perspective on life and certainly helps you get a lot more balanced,
I guess in terms of priorities, what’s important, what isn’t. So that’s been, you know, really interesting. I think, you know, just probably
just brought a maturity as well. you know, when you’re younger and, and you know, sort of first starting out, you know, you don’t have that
volume ofexperienced sort of behind you. So I think I’m just sort of the maturity, you know, on the personal front, but then sort of, you know,
growing out the business as well.
That’s probably where the biggest couple for me and..
guess two key opportunities that you feel are really, again, I guess, beneficial for this career, I guess this path for you as, yeah
I think, look, I mean opportunity, it’s an incredibly empowering thing we get to do every day. So to sitting in people’s lounge rooms or kitchen
tables and invariably it’s at one of the key junction point in their life. You know, it might be their first home as a young couple or their, you know,
they’ve just had, some children are about to and it’s the family home or they’re, they’re downsizing after 40 years. you know, it’s an incredibly
sort of, you know, you know, important decision, a milestone they’re going through. So I think, that’s certainly to be involved in that and for
people to trust you in that process I think is really empowering and, and really rewarding.
I think, you know, linking to the personal side as well, it’s incredibly demanding what we do. And at this time of year where we’re
virtually working seven days a week, but you do have a little bit of flexibility as well. and again with young children now it’s nice to be able to
occasionally workaround, just schedule with your family at times to, to sort of be involved where in a corporate world that’s not nearly as readily
available to people. So look, it’s very hard work. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a lot more hours than I was doing previously, but it’s nice because you
can pick and choose and, and flex where you need to.
Yeah. And it is seven days. You, you work hard. I mean I was running a podcast earlier who quit the nine to five and I thought at times it was a miss.
A misconception around you work less, you work a lot more, but you do have flexibility during the day. You could go for a swim. You could do
something. You’re not stuck in that office. It’s hard work. It is hard work. And I mean, what are the key challenge? I mean, running a business,
obviously there’s challenges and in real estate it’s, it is high demand. Have you found any key challenges that you’ve faced since running your business?
Look, I think, look, running a business, I think for any sort of small business owner is always has challenges. And I think obviously for us buying
properties is, is the business. But behind that there’s a lot of other functions and activities that need to occur. So I think it’s the balancing of the two.
because if you don’t have sound business fundamentals in place in terms of your processes, your procedures, your, you know, finance, HR, you know,
marketing, all of those sort of foundational elements, your client facing stuff is going to suffer. so I think it’s important you’ve got both because without
those solid foundations and even though some of them don’t necessarily make direct money, they’re very, very important activities, so they’re really in
a critical to do so. I think that’s probably the biggest challenge, sort of, you’ve got to wear different hats at different times, but at all times sort of keeping
your clients absolute top of mind.
Yeah. Then it’s an ongoing process, right. Refining systems and procedures and optimizing. It’s, it’s, it’s, you’re refining every month. That’s right.
That’s trying to get a better, I drove past you, I saw last week in, in Potts point and it looked like you with some clients was always at a client meeting or,
Yeah, it was, yeah. We get out to quite a few coffee shops across Sydney, so we’ve got an office in Hannah’s seal in Bridge Street. But a lot of the time, yeah,
we’re sort of out out with the people in the coffee shop.
Nice. And what are you finding your why? Why are clients typically engaging you? Like are they typically time poor or are they expats? Are they sick of
missing out? Is there any common theme?
Well, well you’ve just touched on a few of them. Definitely. I think, look with the way the market sort of shifted over the past four to five months in
Sydney in particular, there’s a lot of frustrated buyers out there and I think a lot of people were sitting back trying to pick the bottom of the market.
Well that’s, that sort of happened and gone. so that’s certainly a big cohort of people. I think regardless of the market, there’s always people that want
to buy property and they just simply don’t have the time or the expertise to, to sort of know what to do or how to do it. So I would say for us, we have
sort of, most of the people that come to us have probably had a bit of a journey already. You know, so I call it the Sydney property jungle. You know,
if you don’t know what you’re doing, you can get eaten or you can have a very long lonely journey. so that’s sort of the, the, the first chunk of the, a
lot of the referrals we get, which is 95% of our business, people that have said, you know, you bought from my friend a couple of years ago, you know,
we’d love it if we could have a chat. And you know, we pick it up fairly early in the piece, which is, which is nice.
Yeah, it was incredible. At 95% of your businesses referral base. So do you find yourself, cause I mean typically when you receive a referral, the ladies,
let’s say relatively warm or hot, do you find yourself in meetings having to really go through value prop and potentially justify why? Because we charge
a lot of money. We’re not shapers buyer’s agents, depending that we’re charging what we should be. Do you find yourself having to
Look? I think clients are always looking for a return on investment regardless of, you know, what, what, you know, what we’re doing in life and
unarmed that like that personally. So I think, look, clients have gotta be comfortable that the value you’re going to add. and look it’s hard
because some of the value we add is quite intangible. So what value do you put on a great relationship with the agents, you know, or that agent
in particular, it’s quite intangible and even what we might save clients. it’s somewhat of a bit of a hypothetical, but I think it’s important that clients
have a really clear roadmap in terms of how you run your process. I think you should, it’s really important. You should be able to show them a number
of case studies of where you had added value. And we always offered a client, so here’s our last 10 or 20 buyers that we’ve bought for. This is their name,
this is the address, this is their mobile, please feel free to give them a call. So I think when you offered that sort of level of integrity and transparency,
it resonates with people. and I think as well with, with buyer’s agents, we’re always competing against, even if it’s not another buyer’s agent,
we’re competing against the client doing it themselves. So they’ve got to see the value above and beyond them spending the next, you know,
52 Saturdays out there on the beat of bringing you in.
Yeah. And that leads to the next question. How many properties that you’re purchasing are, let’s say, off-market versus on market or,
yeah, look, we definitely do a fair bit of off-market purchasing or pre-market purchasing and I think that probably changes on the market.
So I would say earlier this year when the market was not nearly as hot, we were buying very little off-market or, or pre-market because we
simply didn’t need to. and there wasn’t, I guess that level of urgency in the market as the market has shifted up. A couple of gears recently though,
we are getting more aggressive with our buying strategies and certainly hunting those off markets and
pre markets a little earlier. but yeah, it just shifts. And I think that’s the thing with this industry.
Even in the sort of five or six years I’ve been buying professionally, the market has changed so many times and you’ve got to adapt
and be nimble with it to ultimately give your clients the best results.
Yeah. And I guess I’m assuming the conversation you’re having with your clients, let’s say 16 months ago it was different now
very different. Yeah, that’s right. Like sort of pre federal election late last year. it was really, if we went for a property we
would, we would definitely get it. It was just how cheaply we could pick it up for. now it’s actually about how do we secure
with this property before it actually runs away or above what we believe fair value to be. It’s a pre-election you, I’m assuming
you’d be like, let’s go to auction, correct? Yeah, exactly. Let it run out. Exactly. Let it run out. And quite often we’re buying at
auction or if not weeks after, now it’s a lot more sort of pre-market, pre-auction and, investment versus owner rock. Like,
I would say our business is probably two thirds on a rock, one-third investor.
so we’re just exclusively based sort of in the blue ribbon parts of Sydney. a lot of our clients will do both with us. We might do the
family home and then start to build a portfolio. but yeah, that obviously ebbs and flows over time as well. Do you guys do property
management? We don’t know. We don’t, we sort of just partner with select people in, in sort of the relevant parts of Sydney that
we’re buying. so yeah, that’s not something at this stage where we’re doing. Okay. And the agents that have joined your firm, did
you find that they got up and running relatively quickly? Yeah, so what, what I did, I meant that was probably, you know, a couple
of years ago was hitting sort of brick walls in terms of capacity, wanting to scale the business. So I sort of have partnered with
Paul poker bar out of McGrath.
He’s a sort of 20, 30 plus years in real estate. He’s come on board and actually made the transition really, really well. I think sales
agent and buyer’s agents are skills are actually very, very similar. You know, we’re essentially walking down the same path just on the,
on the other side of the fence. you’ve got to, you know, add value to clients, give them really good strategic advice and be able to execute,
you know, and be a real subject matter expert. So he’s made the transition really, really well actually. and, and just killing it. but yeah,
I think it is not as easy as people probably think. I think people watch shows on, on TV and, and the like and think, Oh, this will be great.
And people that just want to do this, but you’ve got to have the business fundamentals in place. But yeah, as I said earlier, also be able to
actually genuinely add value to people, otherwise they’re not to want to partner with you. And where do you think, I mean, I remember
when I can’t handle the days, especially the earlier days when we will try to articulate our value prop a client, why would I pay you a
retainer? Why would I potentially pay you 2% of the purchase price and yeah, going back to adding value. I mean, do you feel,
I mean I’ll rewind a lot. We used to have prospects
or clients who would say, we want you to find something off-market. And I’d be like, hold on. I think your problem is you can’t
actually execute what’s on the market. You want off the market because you can’t buy what’s on it’s fix the first problem. Yup.
Let’s try and nail what’s on. And then if something comes off and it’s really well priced and it’s right, let’s attack that. I mean,
where do you think as buyer’s agents, all of us are really or should be adding the most value? Like is it the negotiation that sauce
look the other, it’s a lot of, I think a lot of it is, yeah, just getting real with people early because there’s a lot of buyers out there
that are just spinning their wheels and they’re not realistic. They don’t even know what they want, you know, which is why
they’ve been looking for 18 months, 24 months. So I think the ability to refine a brief really tightly and with a lot of clarity is,
is a really key value add that we can do. I think definitely in that searching process, refining that, you know, yeah sure the off
markets, but even what is our market really working through? What’s the the good opportunities, what’s overpriced, what’s
actually a bit left of centre that they might not have considered and brought it to them. It’s amazing how often we’ll bring a
property to a client, maybe one suburb out to where they are looking or something that was sitting on a domain that they
had been under their nose but they hadn’t even thought to, you know, the potential of that property. So I think that’s key.
And obviously, when it comes to the negotiation or auction bidding, whatever it might be, that’s critical as well because
clients want to know that they’re not paying overs. I think that’s a big part of the reason why people bring us on. And we
have a lot of clients saying, look, we don’t mind what you save us. Just don’t let us get ripped off. Don’t let us pay overs.
And when we find the right one, just help us secure it.
Yeah, it’s interesting. Like negotiation’s a big one. I think buyers forget, which is why a lot of them don’t use buyer’s agents.
I think it should be a lot more, it should be more prevalent, is the real estate agent works against the buyer because they’re
legally obligated to get the vendor the highest price. And so they’re professional negotiators acting on the vendor side. So a lot
of buyers, I think who don’t negotiate a lot, they don’t realize how much they could get rolled by trying to go up against a
real estate agent by themselves. Yeah.
And we see this a lot because of we sort of socialize and have really good relationships with a lot of the sales agents and we
hear directly firsthand, you know, buyers spending a hundred, 150, 200,000 more than the next buyer. Now, you know,
as you said, absolutely. That’s the right thing that the agents are doing their job, you know, and that’s what I want agents
do when they’re selling properties for me. but I think that’s the benefit of the buyer’s agent in terms of being able to sort
of a, give a proficient sort of professional estimation around price and value. But equally give the best advice in terms of just
actually that negotiation and buffering the emotion because as we know, sales agents love to plan that emotion and the fear
of missing out. So being able to do that I think can just keep clients in check and sometimes that gives them a little bit of a
nudge. Other times it’s holding them back a bit. But just knowing sort of, you know, what to say when to say how to sort
of act and execute.
How often are you communicating with your, like average your client is it daily?
Yeah, 48. So 24 to 48 hours at a minimum is sort of what we operate to. yeah. So I think that’s really important that clients
know what you’re doing, what we’re seeing, what we, you know, have ruled out. they need to know that you’re on the, on the job.
Obviously you don’t want to bombard them. because that’s kind of why they’re offloading the process. But yeah, you need to let
them know what you’re up to and, and you know, it’s very much a partnership. and we say quite openly to clients. Look, when
we’re sitting down for a briefing meeting, or a get to know you session, they’re interviewing us, but equally we’re interviewing
them as well cause there’s gotta be that fit. and I always, in my opinion, it’s a lot better to be clearer with that upfront. And if there’s
not the fit and move on, you know, it’s going to be the best thing for the client and the buyer’s agent. But if there is the fit,
absolutely. Take it further and, and see where you go.
Nice. And if you have a client who, let’s just say they came to you with a brief and you might’ve thought it was realistic at the
time, but then you get out in the market and realize that, Hey, we need to maybe reset expectations, or are you pretty transparent?
You call the client, say, let’s, let’s meet and yeah,
Yeah, definitely. Yeah, I think, look, you have to know the market, especially at the moment. It’s very fluid. It’s moving very quickly.
but again, I think in sales agents, we’ll talk about this in terms of listing right up front. , and I think we need to do the same as buyer’s
agents. There’s no point promising device. Someone a one point $5 million terrorist for 1.2 million, you know, it’s just not going
to happen in this market. So you know, if you’re going through recent sales with a, with a bar at that sort of listing meeting, qualifying
what sold within their budget, and if they’re saying, look, those sorts of properties, yeah, they’re ticking the boxes, great. You know,
we’re on the same page. But if they’re not and saying, no, I wouldn’t buy that, wouldn’t buy that, wouldn’t buy that. Well then there’s a gap.
There’s an expectation in terms of budget and reality. so I think you’ve really got to do that up front because it’s a lot easier to do upfront
than do it, you know, one, two, three months down the track. Because they’ll come back to you and say, well, hold on. This was the same
when we first sat down six weeks ago. Why are you changing the goalposts on me now? You know, look, potentially at the market could
be moving over fast or, or something like that. But it’s better just to calibrate and get on the same page. because it just sets you up for a
much sort of smoother journey and partnership ahead.
What are plans for Mayfield moving forward? Are you looking to expand?
I think at the moment it’s probably the sort of consolidating where we are. We are looking at sort of bringing on potentially a couple
of other buyer’s agents in the next six to 12 months. We don’t want to be sort of massive and take over the world, but you know, we’ve
got some , I guess good coverage at the moment, really good sort of market knowledge and agent relationships. But yeah, we are sort
of basically now running an attraction business where people are reaching out. so we are sort of looking at just adding a couple of key
people in, in certain pockets of Sydney moving forward. Yeah.
So that I really respect and admire what you’ve done and what you’ve created over five years. I mean, it’s not a long time to be in
business and for you to drive the business you’re driving, you’ve grown your team. Obviously it’s looking to grow further. I just
wanted to say, well done. It’s awesome to dive into your story. You didn’t know, you know, your bit, your background and yet even
three kids. So very nice. And guys, we’ll see you next week on the new show. And there I guess people listening, where can they
find you on your website?
mayfieldproperty.com.au or, jump online. Give us a buzz. Thank you.
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