In every company there are one or two people clearly destined for the top. They appear to learn faster, achieve more, and have a knack for being in the right place at the right time. In many cases it is simply because they have found their professional niche in a business which ideally suits their talents and personality.
William Yau, senior account manager, Centaline Property Agency Limited, is one such person. He has taken the fast track from new recruit to super salesman within just a few years and shows no signs of stopping there.
On first acquaintance, it is immediately apparent why he is cut out for the job. Eloquent and cheerful, he quickly establishes a natural rapport and admits that his ability to understand clients and make them feel at ease is the key to success. He explains that, apart from selling skills, every property agent should have an outgoing personality plus good interpersonal and presentation skills.
"In our profession, though, knowing the theory of sales is not enough," says Mr Yau. "You have to get out and do it every day. Even then, you will find that hard work can make you a good salesman, but to be a superstar agent takes something extra."
Inspired by his parents' activities in the property market, Mr Yau landed his first job as a real estate agent in 1996 after graduating from the University of New South Wales with a degree in economics. "Dealing with so many different types of people makes it a challenging profession," he says, "but the rewards are good and there is always something new happening in the business."
Hard work can make you a good salesman, but to be a superstar agent takes something extra
Mr Yau believes the Hong Kong market will see price increases since there are now many potential first-time buyers as well as the usual speculators looking for quick gains. This is in sharp contrast to a few years ago when things hit rock bottom, forcing Mr Yau to leave the industry for a while and work for a bank in fund investment. However, when the property market bounced back in 2002, he was more than happy to rejoin the sector and accepted a position with Centaline in March last year.
He is currently responsible for selling luxury flats in Mid-levels and his clients are among the richest five percent of property investors in Hong Kong. Although the supply of luxury apartments is limited, Mr Yau managed to earn around HK$2 million in commission for Centaline in his first nine months, easily surpassing the company benchmark for annual earnings. This year, as the prices of luxury units have rocketed, he is well on the way to setting further records. As a result, he has become a member of the company's Centaline Eagle Club, an honour bestowed on only about four percent of their property agents.
The daily routine includes checking property and financial news, regular meetings with clients, and visiting new developments. Mr Yau has built up an extensive network of contacts through referrals and cold calls and is always on the lookout for suitable deals. "I try to know clients on a personal basis, " he says, "as that helps in understanding which properties will be of interest to whom."
For those interested in joining the sector, a university degree is by no means essential, but graduates with good language skills do have an advantage. Personality and the ability to sell are important along with fluency in English and Putonghua, which particularly helps in dealing with overseas buyers. Recently introduced legal requirements state that a registered real estate agent must now be at least a Form Five graduate and obtain an Estate Agents Authority licence.
In Centaline, promotion is based on performance and an outstanding salesperson is able to move up to branch, district and regional management positions. The greatest job satisfaction, according to Mr Yau, is in meeting clients' needs and having the chance to be well rewarded financially.
With the property market picking up and prices paid at land auctions hitting record levels, overall prospects for real estate agents look bright. In addition, the influx of mainland enterprises investing in Hong Kong should provide a further boost. "If ten percent of these corporations send staff to work here, we can play a role in finding the right offices and residential units," Mr Yau says.
Several leading Hong Kong property agencies have already established branches in China, making it easier for their employees to find jobs on the mainland. Usually they assign experienced staff to work as branch managers and train mainland salespeople. Being able to adapt to China's work culture is an important factor.
Salary packages may be less generous in China as property prices there are lower than in Hong Kong. Nevertheless, Mr Yau explains, future prospects are good since China has great potential for business development which will spur demand for offices and apartments.