The real estate market is booming on the back of a Covid-fuelled shot in the arm, low interest rates and high demand, pushing prices sky high.
And while the real estate agents used to be behind-the-scenes making the deals, an increasing number are building themselves a public profile, spending some of their commissions on self-promotion. Some are even emulating rock stars, rather than licensed professionals, in a bid to stand out from the pack.
The most recent example is the Amazon Prime series Luxe Listings Sydney, featuring well-known faces on the Sydney real estate scene Gavin Rubinstein, D’Leanne Lewis and buyer’s agent Simon Cohen.
The reality television show celebrated the celebrity element of these three agents, who list and sell some of the nation’s most expensive real estate.
We even got a look of Rubinstein being measured up for another Italian-made suit. Rubinstein presents his own Diaries of a Real Estate agent series on his website.
It was hard to look past the flashy cars, office parties on luxury boats on Sydney Harbour and cringe-worthy one-liners, such as Rubinstein’s “I eat risk for breakfast”.
These three aren’t alone.
Across the nation during the past few years real estate agents have been paying megabucks to have their faces plastered across billboards, with some looking more like the latest blockbuster movie release rather than someone who wants to sell your a property.
At the top end of the scale, the largest landmark billboard sites have market lease rate of more than $100,000 for 28 days.
There’s also examples of real estate agents garnering tens of thousands of social media followers, featuring images to rival a glamorous fashion shoot.
Hobart real estate agent Conor Canning has amassed 42,000 followers on Instagram, where he regularly posts images of his flashy lifestyle.
He appeared on reality TV series Bachelor in Paradise in 2020, finding love with Mary Viturino and elevating his public profile.
That certainly made the landing of his fall from grace even harder—Canning was de-registered by the Property Agents Board of Tasmania after he stole a client database worth about $800,000 a year and then lied under oath about it.
And then there’s the websites feature countless glamorous professional photography shots, fast cars and hints of an enviable lifestyle.
The Urban Developer is also aware of countless real estate agents who have PR firms on a retainer to pepper their social media with glamorous photos of them at work, and to try to land media coverage.
In some locations across the country, the reputation and personal brand of the agent can outweigh the franchise or brand they’re backed by, says Clint Willoughby, managing director of Foxwood Property in NSW.
“Personal brand, the reputation of the agent, the way they represent themselves through their social and digital media are all key components that vendors now look at when considering the appropriate agent,” he said.
“Many agents are now using third-party social media and creative agencies to create strategies for online platforms.
“Costs for this could be in excess of $4000 per month. This is relative, given the exposure and audience to generate new listings.”
But when The Urban Developer went looking for comment about the rise of celebrity estate agents and whether estate agents with a public profile actually performed well for their agencies, we heard the sound of crickets.
Real Estate Institute of Australia president Adrian Kelly declined to comment on the trend.
The managing director of a Sydney commercial real estate firm insisted he ignores the hype, saying: “I haven’t thought much about it other than they look like a bunch of morons.”
Others, however, were more forthcoming. Auctioneer Andy Reid says the celebrity approach being taken by some in the industry made him uncomfortable.
“These agents putting themselves on a pedestal and glamourising their lives for social media is a fair amount of bullshit,” he says.
Reid, who is the head of training for Century 21 and Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate has worked in real estate for a decade, and says connection and emotional intelligence is what separates the winners from the losers.
“I can’t stand the stereotypical images on Instagram of estate agents sitting on the bonnet of luxury cars with some bullshit line from Google trying to sound inspirational,” he says
The rise of celebrity agents creates a perception that you need to have style before substance to be in real estate.
“It’s this notion that you should fake it until you make it. But you’re playing with people’s livelihoods, so that’s bollocks,” Reid says.
“Any [one] can set a record in a suburb in the market we’re experiencing now. To be honest, our barometer for success has been fucked for a long time.”
Professional rugby league player turned buyer’s agent on the Gold Coast, Matthew Srama, admits he’s used his high profile to leverage his career.
He’s one of the fastest growing buyers agencies on the Gold Coast, using Instagram to tell his story and grow his business. He says: “Instagram has attracted some really good clients for me.”
Srama says that being recognised by clients is an ice breaker. “What comes to mind is familiarity. If someone has a sense that they might know you, they might be a bit more trusting toward you.
“But buying property is a big decision, and no one is going to do that just because they know you.”
There are countless estate agents in his neck of the woods doing the same thing.
“The fact is that it can work against you too, because they know your background, and know that you’re new to the industry, for example.
“You’ve still got to do a good job and do the work. There’s no getting around that.”