The Principles Of A Consultative Style & Process With John Comino

by Ben Handler

June 30, 2020

Consultative Style & Process in Property

John Comino
Lots of people have come out of the shadows there. They’re people who have, who had connected with me in 2018. Perhaps the market wasn’t right for them or they, they felt that the market might grind lower, for, for a bit longer than it had and they’ve sort of come out of the shadows and want to want to engage a lot more quickly than they had intended to. So business is going really well now. Um, but look, it’s, it’s a grind. It’s a slug. But I love every minute of it.

Ben Handler:
Welcome back to the Buyer’s Agent Institute Show. The purpose of the show is to bring awareness to buyer’s agents to bring awareness around the career opportunities that the buyer’s agent sector is providing to people to bring awareness around the value that buyer’s agents are providing to people who need help buying property. Our goal with the show is to strip back and dive into the stories of remarkable buyer’s agents who are paving the way forward in one of the fastest growing real estate career trends. Right now. Our guest today is John Comino. John’s background in investing started 15 years ago across Sydney. He’s very focused on Sydney, him and his wife, and they’ve built up an incredible portfolio, John’s professional background within the finance sector for 15 years where he served as a finance director and he bought his first property sight unseen when he was in London. John now runs a buyer’s agent business called Bridge to Bricks. It started at the beginning of 2018 and business is thriving for John. So I’m really excited today to introduce John and dive into what he’s doing with his business. Welcome John.

John Comino:
Thanks Ben. Great to be here.

Ben Handler:
And so you’re very Sydney focus, right?

John Comino:
Yeah, completely. Yeah, completely.

Ben Handler:
Is stock an issue in Sydney for you?

John Comino:
It’s probably the biggest challenge. Yeah, it is. Um, so you know, numbers are down about 50% or possibly a bit less than that of the previous year. It’s a reflection of the prices having come off the market, creating a disincentive for people to sell. So the biggest challenge at the moment is, I mean is, is finding stock. Obviously prospecting is the other big challenge when it comes to being a buyer’s agent as well. But the, we’re, we’re in spring now and the market is certainly picking up in terms of prices, but it’s also starting to pick up in terms of volume as well.

Ben Handler:
What do you do when stock is so low? And you’ve got a handful of clients that obviously desperate to buy a property and you can’t find it on real estate and domain.

John Comino:
Yeah, well you, your hustle, your hustle. But I mean it’s, they, they engage me to have an advocate looking for their property on a fulltime basis. It’s the, the sort of, um, search that they would never have the time to do themselves. So I call every conceivable real estate agent. I’ve been door knocking before.I’ve,you know, dropped letterbox, drops, all this sort of stuff. So the, I’ll get my property.but it takes, it takes time.

Ben Handler:
Nice. I also forgot to mention you are a chartered accountant, so I’m sure when the vendor has a nice chartered accounting knocking on the door, it’s, they’re okay with it.

John Comino:
Yeah. I mean, I, I wear trousers. I’ve, I’ve got a collar. Yeah. They, they like that sometimes. Yeah.

Ben Handler:
Let’s talk about this property you bought. So you’re living in London, you’re working in finance. I was a finance director. Yep. And you bought a property site unseen. How to go

John Comino:
was good. So I did the search myself from a little shoe box apartment in Bayswater and in London. And I ended up buying a, a townhouse in, I think it was 2006. So in hindsight, the market would have been quite frothy then actually. But I bought a townhouse and five dock and I did a bunch of research on the area of five dock. When I identified the property, I actually just called my sister and asked her to go and have a look at it. So I didn’t know what a buyer’s agent was back then. But essentially I use my sister as a buyer’s agent. And she went to the, um, she went to the property to have a look around. She came back and I said, what was it like? And she said, Oh, look, you know, the tenants were there, there were McDonald’s wrappers on the ground. It was pretty gross actually. And I said, yeah, but what was the layout like, you know, it was a close to transport and all that sort of stuff. And, and you know, we, we bought the property finance was a real problem as a, as a, as a non-resident back then, but no regrets. And that’s been the, the seed of other properties that, um, we’ve bought since. Um, interestingly, my wife had owned properties, you know, when I met her. So when we brought them together, we were able to do, some good stuff.

Ben Handler:
Yeah. Nice. And that experience of buying sight unseen, I mean, when I was a buyer’s agent, I used to see that a lot, but I guess now are you working with ex-pats who are buying in, who now are using your help?

John Comino:
Yeah, that, that’s definitely a category of my clients. Um, I bought a place for, a, an expat in, you know, Paddington recently, which was fantastic. So, yeah, the, the expats are really a common form of client.so certainly

Ben Handler:
are they coming to see the property or you just, I guess taking video photos and giving them the whole rundown due diligence?

John Comino:
It depends. Sometimes it’s video. Often it’s that they nominate people that they really trust. It could be, sisters and mothers and those sorts of things. But when we do the short list drive around, it’s with family members usually. Do they invest? The clients love you because you’re a number cruncher. They do, they do. I’m a risk guy, you know, a risk guy.so when I do provide a lot of numbers and, and those sorts of things and I guess the accounting background gives a bit of credibility and I know what I’d like to see if I was buying a, an asset insert asset name here. So I do, I do do a lot of, numbers and cashflow types of assessments and I think it’s helpful.

Ben Handler:
Do you, do you prefer doing owner or servicing owner occupied clients or investors? Is there a preference?

John Comino:
Um, well, for the owner occupies, the numbers are bigger. People generally looking for more substantial properties. And for investors, they’re usually looking for more, sort of, um, affordable types of properties that they can sort of accumulate rather than fall in love with, I guess I prefer the investors. It’s a quicker process. And it’s more, um, in terms of decision making, it’s a lot more straight forward. It’s about numbers and it’s about, um, attributes. So I guess I prefer the investors. Do you place the investors into a specific investment strategy that you have or do they typically come to you because they’re sophisticated and had their own strategies? Yeah, it’s probably the former. I tend to, they tend to come to me and say, well, you know, here’s the amount of money I’ve got. What do you think I should buy? And then I apply the sorts of investment strategy that I’d apply for myself, which would be, you know, looking at the, walk scores, looking at the convenience ratings, looking at the yields, those sorts of things.

Ben Handler:
Nice. And doing renos, like any cosmetic or structural stuff, do you do that? Well if they’re looking for a fixer upper, like I try to, I try to match the property with the buyer. So I was, I bought for a handyman recently, so we bought a fixer upper. But generally speaking people about finished products generally and buying for the second time for clients. Is that popping up a bit? Yes, it is. Yeah, it is. But just now. Yeah, it is. Um, one of the interesting things for me is that in 2018, my business is all about owner occupiers. So my average purchase price was quite high and this year the investors are back. So the volumes are up in the purchase, prices are down.so that’s a, that’s a good thing. And I suppose, yeah, definitely. I mean, obviously different experience working with an owner versus investor.

John Comino:
I feel like we own a rock for my experience. It draws out the time from signup to buying. Um, is there an average time frame that you, that you, you can see with investor clients? It’s around eight weeks for an investor client and for an owner-occupied client it’s probably around 14 weeks. Okay, yeah. And on market versus off-market and pre-marketing primarily buying properties in either of those categories? Yeah, so about probably just over 50% are off market, around 60% are off market, which is, which is pretty good. And what I say off market, they tend to be pre-market or post-market. So there, there’s still a motivated seller usually. and, and I’m seeing it actually depends on where in Sydney, um, I’m buying as to whether or not there’s a lot of off-market opportunities. So for example, in the lower North shore, which, which is where I’m based, I do a lot of off market deals, but when I’m looking for investors in say the St George area, it’s all on the them. It’s all on market. So it depends where and, and the, you know, the, the buying I’m doing in the St George area, it’s bringing that average number of kind of off market deals down, but it’s all good. And I’m sure all the agents know you now in st George. And they do. Yeah, they do. They do. And it’s, um, I mean it’s important to work with agents that you

Ben Handler:
see eye to eye with. And I mean it’s all supply and demand, right? They’ve got a motivated seller, we’ve got a motivated buyer and it’s just, it’s crunched the deal. Absolutely. Yeah. And in terms of, I guess let’s go back to the door knocking because it is like there is a lot of low stock going on. I’m hearing in different areas. I mean obviously managing client’s expectations because people are quite desperate to get in, especially before end of year. How do you go about that? Is just, is it just regular communication with the client?

John Comino:
Yeah, definitely. So I make sure I, I touched the client or I have a touch point with the client at least every second day.so they’re always, they always know what I’m doing and that’s actually that, that is a great way to incentivize me to keep the process moving, to always be active, for them to always do something that the progress is their, their purchase. So,yeah, I’m always in touch with the client. Um, and I always have to come up with new ways to get them to their, to their goal, which could be doing, knocking for example, or it could be, you know, the ring around. But um, yeah or we’re always doing something

Ben Handler:
nice. And we talked about prospecting early. I remember when we first spoke you, prospecting is typically a challenging aspect for anyone I think in, in where we are in a sales environment and your personality, you didn’t come from sales, correct. Entity die. Um, and I know when I first met you though, face to face, I thought you’re going to be brilliant because you’re non salesy. Your the opposite to what people’s or a potential client might kind of be like. Oh. So have you found, like with your professional background, you know, working in finance and obviously building up your own investment portfolio with you and your partner, has that helped you find when you get in front of prospective clients?

John Comino:
It does. It’s helpful to have a story to tell. It’s helpful to have a little bit of gray in the sideburns as well, just to, to have a little bit of credibility in that sense. Um, so prospecting is definitely the hardest part though. And I guess I, I, I can convert, but finding the buyer’s is the, the, the tricky part. And I guess anyone who’s interested in becoming a buyer’s agent needs to know that it’s all about the prospecting. It’s all about the prospecting. So, you know, a big fan of Ryan, sir Hampton, the U S and you know, he’s a, he’s a, you know, these Beachside properties and multimillion dollars and that, that’s part of it. But most of it is spent prospecting on the phone.

Ben Handler:
That’s right. And where are a lot of your clients coming from? Are they coming from particular source, like mortgage brokers? Are they coming from accountants, real estate agents or you’re doing marketing?

John Comino:
A lot of them come from networks, but actually the, my biggest referral sources probably online,property forums like property chat. So I’m a really active blogger. I give my opinion on all sorts of, you know, whatever’s going on in the property market. And interestingly, that’s where a lot of people find me and that’s where a lot of international people find me. So the expats are looking at these property forums and I get a lot of leads from there. But generally speaking, it’s a referral business.

Ben Handler:
That’s incredible. So would you say it’s like a hundred percent referral based?

John Comino:
I would say it is. Yeah, I’d say it’s, I’d say it’s 80% referral based and then there is a another sort of 15 to 20%, which is things like the property chat forums.

Ben Handler:
That’s a great model I think to have. And the more I, I mean, when I look at a business, the more referral-based, like the more trust obviously the, it, it, it’s, it’s a, it demonstrates how much people trust you. And I mean, hopefully I’m, I’m assuming you’re gonna start getting a lot of referrals from your past clients as well. I hope so. And it also, they’re all end snowballs. That’s right. That’s right. Um, I noticed from my experience with buyer’s agents who are focused in own occupier in that space, real estate agents are a great referral source because if you’re trying to service let’s say client in Mosman between three and five, who are those real estate agents who are selling between three and five and they’ve got buyer’s and how do we become friends, right? Yep. So have you found real estate agents have been helpful?

John Comino:
They, they have, less so I’d say, I’d say mortgage brokers would be higher in terms of referrals. Um, I’d say that, accountants and, finance brokers tend to be sort of up there as well. Low in volume, but high and trust.so real estate agents, probably less so for me. That’d be sort of second tier in terms of referral sources. But you get them where you can get them, right?

Ben Handler:
Yeah, that’s right. And so I’m assuming before pre Bridge to Bricks days, you’re in an office, correct? I’m assuming now you’re not office bound to the desk. How was that? I’m back in beginning of 2018. How was that transition?

John Comino:
The freedom was great. And I, you know, the, the risk there is that you squander your time watching like YouTube clips of, you know, whatever it is. So, so the freedom really makes you need to be very disciplined about how you allocate your time and, and you’re a buyer’s agent. Institute covers a lot of that stuff, which was great actually. Um, but the freedom, the freedom is great. Um, as a, as a chartered accountant doing finance director stuff, the work used to come to me. I used to turn up to work and,you know, and there was always something to do. It was always the same thing, generally speaking. But as a buyer’s agent, I, I make my own, um, opportunities. And if, you know, it’ll, I’ll be as busy as I, you know, as how hard I work. So that’s, that’s different.

Ben Handler:
You raise something interesting time management and I think we all struggle with it at every stage of the business. And especially being an entrepreneur and running our own business, especially in the buyer’s agent world, you can get distracted very easily. Um, how have you tried to deal with that? Because me running my new business now, the buyer’s agent Institute, I’ve struggled with that. And so I’m always looking at hacks and ways to try and really stay productive and not get too distracted in this crazy world of technology. Do you have any tips that you use or,

John Comino:
well, the main, the main, the way, the main way I get around that is having a very, determined wife who makes sure I focus on what the task at hand is. but you know, I mean mentally, you know, you just have to decide, is this productive? Am I going to, um, achieve something by whatever it is I’m doing? You know, do I make more money? Do I, you know, fill the brief of a client by watching this YouTube clip or doing whatever it is, right? Going on that run. So you just have to, because running a business as feast or famine, really, it, it’s as good as the opportunity you make. Um, eventually the necessities of life require you to be productive. And so that, that’s how, that’s how you allocate your time. But in terms of the specifics of how I allocate my time, I just make sure I allocate certain amounts of time to being on the phone a certain amounts of time being out and about. Um, and I try to, and this is talking about Ryan sir hand again, he has a goal of meeting three new people a day. Um, now he’s an exceptional US-based sales agent, but but he’s right, like you’ve got to try to, um, allocate your time in a way that you’re meeting a new person every day. So that’s what I tried to do as well. And how’s that going for you? Yeah. Good. Yeah. Good. I agree with that. Not three a day, but you know, it’s up there.

Ben Handler:
Hopefully, you get there. But I agree with that philosophy. We need to be as BI as Aiden’s getting in front of as many people or qualified style of people as possible or even people who can or have a distribution of, of customers potentially for us, whether it be a business partner, like an accountancy firm.

John Comino:
Absolutely. And even if it’s someone who’s passionate about property and that reinvigorates you. So maybe there’s no, they’re not a referral source, but maybe they just love property and it reinvigorates you. So you’ve got to, yeah. Getting meeting new people. It’s part of also the craft of being persuasive. So meeting new people is, is really important to, to learn how to be a person that people want to deal with, to be persuasive, to be compelling, to be charismatic. So it’s good to meet new people.

Ben Handler:
Yeah. I mean that’s, that’s an interesting point. And I think as buyer’s agents, from my experience in this space for 10 years, the potential client does not want to feel like they’re being sold to. Right. I feel like that. So the more consultative a buyer’s agent is, listens with intent, asks good questions, doesn’t try to sell to them, really just tries to be there to see, Hey, are we a fit or not? I feel like has the best chance of winning.

John Comino:
Yes. Certainly one of the [inaudible] that’s a really good point. And I know that I go further withclients once they converted by dissuading them from buying something. You know, we, there was a property yesterday that we decided not to buy on the basis of the strata report and it, look, it breaks the heart every time a deal doesn’t happen. But, but that’s where the trust is built that that’s a big step forward when you say, look, this is a dog, you don’t buy it. And I’m as sad as that, you know, as devastating as that is, it’s a really important step in that trust building process to say

Ben Handler:
don’t touch it. And then especially if they really want to buy it. And does that happen often? It happens sometimes, sometimes questions. So owner rock, you’re dealing with a lot of more emotion. I still think with investors though, there’s a lot of emotion. People are trying to retire early, accumulate wealth, manufacture equity, all that stuff. There’s emotion there. However, I feel like a skill of a good buyer’s agent or some specific skills of a good buyer’s agent when buying for owner occupied reasons is painting pictures they can’t see. So some of them have never done a rental before. Someone don’t know, you could have knocked through this wall and the place would look different. Do you, are you good with going through the property and actually helping them see the whole picture?

John Comino:
I hope so. I hope so. I mean, you mentioned before that I’m not a sales guy and that’s positive and negative, right. So I, I, I’m not sure if I speak the language of emotion as much as I should, but I suppose speaking to a client,the day before yesterday, a different client and, and I S I sort of said, did you go, did you go to the, the shop on the corner of the cafe on the corner? Have you been down to, you know, just to experience how convenient that location is. So I guess that was an attempt to kind of just allow him to envisage himself living there,and what life would be like. So, yeah, a little bit. Um, and not, I don’t do it so much in terms of renovation, like, you know, imagine knocking that wall down and imagine, ah, I can do more there. But, um, but certainly in terms of the lifestyle aspects, I, I try to point that out.

Ben Handler:
2020 your, I mean, you’re busy. I’m seeing you online. You’re doing a lot of deals. Things are going really well. Any new plans or are you just keeping it simple?

John Comino:
It’s its growth. The plans, growth. We’re not, um, we want to go beyond consolidation. I also want to refine the craft. I mean, the first thing you do when you become a buyer’s agent is you, you need to get proof of concept. Can I do this?so we’re, we’re past that. We’re, we’re growing the business, but I want to grow it a lot more quickly and I want to be at the stage where, you know, if a, if a buyer doesn’t decide to go with me. That’s cool. That’s cool. There’s, there’s that pipeline. So to build the pipeline, to grow the business and to, to refine the art.

Ben Handler:
Awesome. Where can people find you? Like, what’s, is it your website or

John Comino:
the website’s the best place? It’s a www.bridgetwobricks.com today, EU.

Ben Handler:
Cool. And I’m assuming you are on LinkedIn and

John Comino:
LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, homing pigeons, you know, all of the,all the ways very easily.

Ben Handler:
Did you like the social channels, by the way?

John Comino:
You know, I never had a Facebook account until I started the business, so I’m not a social media guy, but you know, it keeps me connected.

Ben Handler:
You won’t believe it. I didn’t have a face, a personal Facebook hand until I resigned last year. I never had one. Um, so I feel you. Thanks for being here. I appreciate it.

John Comino:
Pleasure. Ben.

Ben Handler:
For all of you listening, please check out John at his website, Bridge to Bricks and you can check them out on LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, all the socials. If you’re specifically looking to buy property in Sydney, whether it be for investment purposes or owner occupiers reasons, I highly recommend you reach out to John. See you next week.

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