Monday 16 September 2019

Boutique estate agent becomes hot property with 'the Three Ps - preparation, presentation and price'

Sean Gallagher meets owners of small and medium sized businesses and shares the lessons they've learnt in building their companies

Sean Gallagher with Rowena Quinn of Hunters Estate agents. Photo: David Conachy
Sean Gallagher with Rowena Quinn of Hunters Estate agents. Photo: David Conachy
Sean Gallagher

Sean Gallagher

Set up in 2012 by Rowena Quinn and Stephen McCarthy, Hunters Estate Agents is now one of the fastest-growing estate agencies in the country.

Headquartered on Waterloo Road, Dublin 4, and with additional offices in the city's Foxrock, Dalkey and Rathfarnham, the company employs 22 staff and has an annual turnover of more than €2m.

"We are a boutique property agency that specialises in the residential housing sector," explains Rowena, the company's managing director.

"Our key areas of business include sales and lettings, but we also manage properties for owners and landlords. This involves looking after everything from collecting rent and registering the property with the PTRB [Private Residential Tenancies Board], to managing repairs and maintenance issues as they arise. In short, we take the hassle away from the landlord and become the go-between between them and the tenant," she adds.

The company also carries out valuations for sellers so they have an advanced idea of what they can expect to get on the market.

"We also undertake valuations for receivers where a building is being sold to repay outstanding debts or being sold as part of a separation or divorce. While sad, this is an important element of helping couples move on with their lives."

Over the past two years, the company has added two new service divisions to the business, including Hunters Interiors and Hunters Buyer Agency.

"Through our interiors division we now bring specialist interior design services to clients where we help to prepare or stage their property for sale, thereby ensuring they attract the highest interest and achieve the best prices.

"This involves everything from painting and decor to installing furniture and fit-outs, as well as carrying out improvements to the gardens and grounds," says Rowena.

The Hunters Buyers Agent service works with potential buyers to help them source suitable properties without all the legwork.

"Our experienced buyers carry out all the research of on-market and off-market properties and then generate a shortlist of properties that best suits what the client if looking for. They will even negotiate the sale as required," says Rowena.

Rowena grew up in Kilkenny city, where her father ran a painting and decoration store and her grandmother a drapery business.

"I was always around business and entrepreneurs so I'm sure the idea of running my own business rubbed off on me," says Rowena. "My parents also instilled in me the importance of being independent and of going after whatever I wanted in life," she adds.

Rowena studied arts in NUIG after which she worked in the family business for a period before heading to the US here she spent the next three-and-a-half years, initially with an interiors company in Scottsdale, Arizona. Later, she joined Gerald McAleese, a relation of former President Mary McAleese, where she helped develop the family chain of restaurants and bars known as the Kells Group.

Back in Ireland, she returned to study in DIT, Bolton Street, where she qualified in property, later becoming a member of the Irish Auctioneers and Valuers Institute, the Society of Chartered Surveyors of Ireland, and the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors.

"For me it wasn't about getting a job, but about finding a career that I was passionate about and could progress in," insists Rowena.

Having worked with Daphne Kaye Estate Agents in Foxrock and later with Savills in its city centre office, she decided that it was time to go out on her own. In 2012, along with her co-founder and experienced property professional Stephen McCarthy, she set up Hunters Estate Agents.

However, starting a business in a sector with strong competition and well established incumbents was no small undertaking.

"At the time property businesses were closing down, not starting up. No one was buying houses and the people who were selling were more likely to use one of the big agencies than a new brand," she admits.

"Even finding talent was challenging with few new property graduates and few people willing to take the risk of joining a new property business during a recession."

Creating brand recognition became a major challenge and it would take time for them to get new clients to trust them with the sale of their home. However, they worked hard and asked individual sellers and institutions to test them out to see what they could do.

"Our principles and organisational culture soon became visible to our clients - the Three Ps - preparation, presentation and price.

"When it comes to preparation, we encouraged our clients to make sure all legal documentation was prepared in advance. This helped speed up the sales process and reduce the likelihood of a sale falling through. A small investment in presentation at the outset helped to sell the house faster and at the best price. Lastly, there's price: the price needs to be right from the offset, otherwise you won't attract buyers," explains Rowena.

Their hard work began to pay off. Their second office in Dalkey opened the following year, followed by Waterloo Road in 2014 and their most recent addition, Rathfarnham, earlier this year.

Creating greater efficiency and transparency within the residential sales process continues to be an important objective for Rowena. Through her partnership with Space Property Group, the company became the first residential agency to use proptech to close sales where an online bidding platform now allows buyers to see exactly what other people are bidding.

She is planning to open more offices while at the same time keep her focus on maintaining a high quality boutique type service.

"I love what I do and there is no better feeling than handing over a set of keys to a person's new home," says Rowena. "In a business context though, it's still all about achieving results and all about getting the best deal for our clients".

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