Integrity, passion, and keeping it real aren’t words that people often associate with real-estate agents, but Lauren McHutchison is a breath of fresh air in the real-estate world. Community minded and family focused, we spent an hour talking real estate, honesty, and why communication is all important when you’re juggling community and family commitments with a 60-hour work week. As we sat in the local coffee shop, it became clear very quickly that everybody knows Lauren and that Lauren has time for everyone.
The first thing you notice when you meet Lauren is that she is not only outgoing and bubbly, but she has an incredibly mature head on young shoulders. At only 31, she is a full-time working mum of three beautiful kids aged 8, 6, and 3. Lauren’s gentle yet familiar accent is a nod to the fact that this freshly-minted Australian citizen hasn’t always lived in this neck ‘o the woods…
From Mt Maunganui to Brisbane
Lauren I can hear that soft Kiwi accent you have there. What brought you from a sleepy beachside town like Mount Maunganui to leafy Yeronga in bustling Brisbane?
I left New Zealand and came to Australia in 2006 when I was in my late teens. I initially came to Australia as a stepping stone to Canada, but met my husband Chris very soon after arriving. In 2009, Chris and I travelled Australia and then moved to Canada. We had gone to Vancouver to work in hospitality during the Winter Olympics. Instead, I continued to work in insurance loss adjustment which is what I had been doing in Australia, and Chris is a refrigeration mechanic so he was working in that field. We had planned on being overseas for a year, but we found out I was pregnant on Boxing Day. I was 22 and Chris was 27, so we came back to Australia and moved into a little two-bedroom rental house in Yeronga owned by Chris’s parents. The rest is history!
Community is Everything
It must have been tough being young, pregnant, and not having your own friends and family close by?
Because I wasn’t from Brisbane, I didn’t have a school cohort. I didn’t know anybody. I hadn’t lived in Brisbane until I arrived here at 28-weeks pregnant. So for me, I had to build a community, because my community didn’t exist. I spent a long time getting to know people at daycare and chatting to people at the parks and playgrounds. I was also extremely lucky to have Chris’s family as an incredible support network. They have been there for us through thick and thin and continue to be amazing support for us and our children.
“I had to build a community, because my community didn’t exist.”
So you’ve taken it upon yourself to make a very concerted effort to build your own community, where you had none?
Yes. But it’s more for support for the kids and Chris and me as parents. I’m a big believer that it takes a village to raise a child. I also feel that women should talk more to each other about the daily struggles around being mums. You know, I’ve had miscarriages, and post-natal depression, and all those things that come hand in hand with the stresses of motherhood. The one thing I had all the way along though was friendship to hold me up. That’s the same thing that I’ve found going into real estate. I’ve just had such amazing support from the local community already because people already knew me and people already trusted me.
“The one thing I had all the way along was friendship to hold me up.”
The Journey to Real-Estate Agent
You seem like you’ve been doing this forever, given how well respected you are in the local community. When did you go into real estate?
I only started in 2016. When we came back to Australia, I continued working in insurance loss adjustment. Then about three years ago, I became a PA for a local real estate agent, and 18 months ago I got my full real-estate license and moved into sales, initially with my partner in crime, Juliet Brooks, and just recently I’ve gone out on my own.
Was there a particular catalyst that made you finally take the plunge into real-estate sales?
To cut a long story short, on Boxing Day 2016, we were away on holidays and I had a sore neck which turned into excruciating pain and restricted movement. I spent four days getting worse to the point that I could not turn my head and was in immobilising pain. I ended up in hospital on stroke watch on 29 December at age 29. I spent New Year’s Eve in hospital. Chris shouted me and the three male patients in my room a burrito, and we sat and watched the fireworks from the Neurology ward at the PA hospital. I had what’s called a vertebral artery dissection. It’s an artery in your neck that supplies blood to the brain. It tore open and then a clot forms. (It’s rare - 1 in 100,000, but accounts for up to 25% of stroke in young people.) They don’t know what caused it and say it was probably totally spontaneous. I wasn’t allowed to drive for three months or lift over 5kg while I healed, just in case I had a further dissection. My parents flew over from New Zealand, and my 18-month old son went to live with my parents in a two-bedroom granny flat that was part of my dear friend Juliet’s house. So in hindsight, that was the massive jolt. I realised life was too short to sit in someone else’s shadow, and I needed to go out on my own and pursue my own passion for real estate.
Honesty, Integrity, and Communication
How has becoming a real-estate agent affected your community involvement?
If anything, I feel like now that I am a real-estate agent, people treat me differently. And that my community involvement and contributions are now questioned. People question my motivation. But again, I have been involved in our community since the day I arrived in Brisbane. This is who I am. I enjoy being involved, introducing people, creating memories, and enjoying life with friends and family which also includes my local community.
How do you build that trust with people, whether you know them already or not?
From the beginning, what you see is what you get with me. When I first meet people, they get to know the real me and that is in both a social and professional environment. For people I have known previously, who want to engage my services in real estate, I’ll have a very frank and honest conversation that we might be friends outside of business, but the minute you appoint me this is a business relationship. I take control of the situation and start setting expectations from day one. We need to separate the personal relationship from the business transaction, because I want you to always feel that I’ve done my job. That clarity has to be there for me. It’s about setting those boundaries and expectations from day one. Communication is paramount to any great business relationship, regardless of the industry.
“Communication is paramount to any great business relationship”
It’s not all wine and roses, so what happens when it’s not smooth sailing?
Again, honest communication is paramount in any business. Sometimes, the market can change dramatically in a really short space of time which affects expectations and outcomes. Regardless of how a campaign pans out, at least we can always come back and acknowledge that there has been honesty and transparency right the way through. Integrity is so much harder to question when you come from a place of honesty.
So would you say your values are honesty and integrity?
Absolutely. And how can they not be your values? You don’t want to soil in your own garden right? I still want to be able to go to the supermarket and not have people hounding me and people stopping me in car parks because I did the wrong thing by them for my own self-gain. More importantly though, I want to be in real estate for the rest of my career and be recognised as one of the top real-estate agents around. How can you possibly sleep straight at night if honesty and integrity aren’t high on your moral compass?
Putting the 'Real' Into Real Estate
So my first impression is that you don’t strike me as a ‘typical’ real-estate agent. You seem really down to earth.
I just say it how it is. I don’t have the capacity to pretend that I’m someone I’m not. For me, it always comes back to the fact that I’m a real woman, a real wife, a real mum, and a real-estate agent. There’s no fake persona, and it’s really important that I build those trusting relationships with buyers as well. If buyers don’t feel an element of trust with me as an agent, they are less likely to want to do business with me. I am employed to negotiate. It is the one part of my job that I get paid for. Buyers who have more trust in me will be guided by me, and in many cases they will be prepared to spend more. The more they spend, the more valuable my service becomes to the sellers who employ me.
“I don’t have the capacity to pretend that I’m someone I’m not.”
It’s hard to find someone who doesn’t have good things to say about Lauren McHutchison Property and for that matter also Juliet Brooks when you were working as a team. What is the magic ingredient?
It’s so hard to know what it is. We were just us, and now I am just me. People would tell us that we were the best thing to happen to real estate. I get emotionally involved in people’s transactions because I care. It’s not just about getting paid. For me, it’s about getting people to the next step in their lives and moving on and making their dreams their reality. It sounds cheesy, but that’s true. I’m like that in the community as well. That’s why I’m a big believer that we should be getting out there and sticking together and incorporating everybody. My aim was to always have an organic approach. If business customers were already friends, I want to be able to continue the personal part of the relationship after the transaction.
Loving Your Job
What advice would you give women who want to have a career and children?
It’s something that you’ve got to know independently, that it’s what you want. You’ve just got to believe in yourself. With the juggle, it’s really important to have the support network at home. I’ve got amazing support from my husband, and also from my kids as well.
“You’ve just got to believe in yourself.”
So they can see the benefit of mum being happy in her work?
Absolutely. I’m a much happier person. And a much happier person going to work. And they know that. They see that. When I was in insurance, I was nominated as one of the top 10 insurance Young Professionals across Australia, and then I left fairly soon after. Even national recognition still wasn’t enough, because my heart wasn’t in it.
So you’ve been on both sides of the fence as employer and employee. Now that you are growing your team of staff, what will you do differently?
It’s really important to trust your staff. I think that’s the biggest thing you can possibly do. If you don’t trust your staff, there’s no point having them. They’re never going to be anyone. I have a really strong belief—being self-employed and having staff—that you should always educate your staff to be better than you. If you build their capabilities to where they’re on a level playing field, they become competition. But if they become better than you, then they’re far more valuable to your business, and you can learn so much from them to improve yourself! If staff aren’t happy, or feel underappreciated, how can you expect them to have great customer service? Going back to integrity and honesty, I want my staff to tell me if they aren’t coping, or having issues inside or outside of the office that they need help with. There’s always a solution.
“It’s really important to trust your staff.”
More Than Sales
So coming back to sales, how do you go about the business of selling?
It’s only a portion of my job. I don’t have magic dust that I can sprinkle over buyers as they walk into your home. The property needs to meet the majority of their requirements before they’ll even consider it. Even the top agents in the world can’t convince a buyer to buy a property they don’t like. But, what I can do is to facilitate the transaction and work as the conduit to push buyers to their capacity to ensure that I am getting the best possible price for my vendors. There is so much more to my job than the negotiation, but the negotiation is the part I get paid for. Preparation is key. So yes, I work in sales, but the majority of my job has got nothing to do with sales!
“the majority of my job has got nothing to do with sales”
So is your job more about the preparation before the sale?
Yes. I have the view that you should spend more time getting your property ready for market than being on the market. The more you can do in preparation to hit the market, the less likely you are to sit on the market. For example, a house that went on the market yesterday, has been in preparation for at least six weeks. I arrange quotations for painting, styling, external house washing, and so on. Thorough preparation of your property is your insurance policy to a successful sale. You won’t have to look back and say “we could have done better” if you do everything you can to present your property at its best. I never quite understand when vendors don’t see the value in preparing their property. When you sell a car, you always get it washed and detailed, but yet some people won’t even consider a bond clean and an external house wash!
“you should spend more time getting your property ready for market”
You organise quotes? I’ve never heard of an agent doing that!
Yes. I want to be in control of where my customers are going and who they’re dealing with. I want to make sure that my tradies are turning up on time, and I want to make sure my stylist gets the job done. And by outsourcing that, and saying ‘you do it’ to the vendor, I can’t guarantee that the house is going to be painted. I can’t guarantee it’s going to be washed. It gets to the point that by the time we’re on the market, I’ve already seen all the steps that we’ve gone through to get there, and I’ve fallen in love with the house myself! It is much easier to sell a property when you have invested your own time into getting it ready. You become emotionally invested and even more passionate about achieving an outstanding result. Like any sales position, you have to believe in the product yourself. If you just turn up on photo day, and then turn up on Saturday at the open house, I don’t know how you can possibly know enough about the house to truly up-sell the property to potential buyers.
“You’ve got to believe in the product yourself.”
Sales seems like such a competitive profession. Do you find yourself getting caught up in the comparison game?
If you get caught up in the comparison game, you lose focus on where you are heading. Every agent offers different qualities. Vendors are also looking for different qualities in agents. I attract a particular type of vendor, and those vendors are attracted to what I offer. I don’t see other agents as competition. I just focus on my own clients and getting results. There are enough houses to go around, so there is room for everyone.
“There is room for everyone.”
So you don’t feel the need to compare yourself to other agents and their achievements?
Of course not. I have never understood why any agent would go into a client meeting and talk negatively about other agents. It doesn’t make any sense. You should be focussed on educating your vendors as to why you are the right person for the job, not knocking the competition. I only have one chance to make a first impression. Why would I waste that opportunity talking about other agents!
The Business of Success
You’re still young by many standards. Do you feel like you’re being judged for your success so far?
Any judgement that exists, will be from people that don’t know me or my story. Everyone’s definition of success is different too. Success for me is living a life worth living, not about how much money you have or what you do for a living. Public perception is important, but definitely not high on my agenda. Like most people, I have struggled through many challenges and will continue to for many years to come. After all, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, right?
On Giving Back
Community spirit seems increasingly rare in our disconnected communities. Where did you get this amazing community spirit from?
My parents were always heavily involved in our community. Both my parents owned businesses locally in NZ and were involved in the P&C of our schools and kindy, so it was something I was raised with. I find it really difficult to say no when you can see that something’s missing or it needs doing.
“I find it really difficult to say no when you can see that something’s missing or it needs doing.”
I know that you’re a big contributor to the school community, and not only are you co-organising the fete with Juliet Brooks, but you’ve recently been announced as the Platinum fete sponsor. That is a huge commitment of both time and money. As a fellow school parent, I feel like I should say thank you on behalf of everyone!
I don’t want people thinking that I’ve only done it for myself, that I’ve only been involved with the fete committee or become the Platinum sponsor for my own gain. The reality is that I am here to support the school, with the added bonus of getting exposure in the local community. As a family, we are going to be at Yeronga State School for 13 years, so everyone’s kids, mine included, will benefit from the money we raise for the school.
Lauren McHutchison is a local real estate agent in the Brisbane suburbs of Yeronga, Mooroka, and surrounds. You can contact Lauren on 0406 993 206 or head to her Facebook page.
Yeronga State School's Biennial Fete is on Saturday 25 May 2019. Head to their Fete Facebook page for all the details.
Fiona waxes lyrical about whatever takes her fancy. Some stories, some tips, call it a blog if you like.