John began his career in real estate in 1977 and opened his own business, Cunninghams, with his wife Ann in 1991. With a reputation for innovation, a personal approach to excellent customer service and using his exceptional market knowledge to advise clients, John’s award-winning business is trusted in the community for delivering the best outcome for clients every time.
“I see my career as a series of highlights, which all tend to be in five-year time frames: becoming an auctioneer in 1986, opening our office in 1991, becoming an independent agency in 1996, taking on our first business coach in 2001, joining the Real Estate Results Network in 2006, purchasing our own premises in 2011, bringing in our key people as equity partners in 2014 and opening our second office in 2015,” John said.
As a member of REINSW for 32 years, John has seen many changes in the industry and the important role REINSW has played in ensuring new legislation and policies are in the best interests of agents and consumers alike.
“We know that REINSW needs to continue to add value and be relevant for both our members and also the wider community,” John said.
“We need to continue to strengthen our advisory role and continue to lobby for both members and consumers. At REINSW we are constantly reviewing and redefining our role to ensure we stay relevant to members and consumers, and are always working towards the betterment of agency practice.
“I’d like to see REINSW have an even stronger influence as a lobbying group and be recognised as the peak body that can speak with authority, and to do that we need to get the best of the best agents involved.”
Raising industry standards
One of the key areas John will be focusing on as President is increasing the qualification and education requirements for agents to ultimately raise the level of professionalism across the industry.
“It’s critical that as an industry we become viewed as trusted advisors and this means agents across the board must take their role much more seriously. I want to see the real estate industry become known for professionalism, and agents valued for their expert knowledge and reputation for providing honest, excellent service to the community. On the whole, this is not how we are perceived by the public and we need to change that so consumers respect the industry and feel they can trust agents.”
John said raising the level of qualifications required to become and remain a real estate agent will have a number of positive flow on effects for the profession as a whole.
“Once we raise the education requirements, we’ll start to see a higher calibre of agent enter and remain in the industry. Right now, the divide between the best agents and ‘the rest’ is too great. We need to close that gap and have consistent, high standards of practice across the industry.
“With higher standards of practice for agents, the client experience will improve. I want to see excellence in service as an industry standard. Why do real estate agents always rank so low in public opinion? The main contributing factor must be because, in general, the public have a poor experience when dealing with the industry. Of course there are already many agencies that provide an excellent experience, but there is still a lot that do not. This needs to change, and it needs to be a priority.”
Be the change you want to see
In an age of disruption, John sees the need for the real estate industry to forge a united front and implement change rather than simply respond to disruption from external factors and groups acting on the industry.
“We don't just need to adapt to the change, we need to be the instigators of change,” he said. “We simply can’t rely on the status quo. At the moment there are too many agents and agencies sitting in the bubble of complacency. Sure there will still be selling and leasing and a lot of the fundamental principles will remain, but with the rapid rate of change our whole way of operating will change. We also need to be influencing government policy, leading the industry and we need to do that more effectively.”
John believes the key to bringing about positive change and recognition of the industry as a professional body will be to tackle the most important issues at government, industry and grassroots levels.
“There is no doubt we need to continue to lobby and ensure the State Government continues to take our industry seriously and value our input on policy and legislative matters. We are a strong lobbying group and we need to make sure we are leveraging this for the good of agents and consumers,” he said.
“We need our entire industry to start recognising we are part of an interconnected ecosystem. Ultimately we all rely on each other for success and we need to work together. There needs to be an end to ‘silo thinking’ and we need to act collectively and leverage the power our industry has as a whole. We are already making some headway with this through the Industry Summit, which is now in its third year, but we need to do this across everything we do to make long-lasting changes.”
With more than three decades’ experience in the industry, John has seen many changes to practice and how agencies are run, and he believes those who will succeed in the long term are those who embrace change without losing sight of the core principles of service.
“Technology is your friend. It is an important tool to use and can help you to think outside the box and do things more efficiently and effectively. Singularly, technology isn’t the answer to everything but it’s a critical component and will continue to be. Fundamentally, real estate is a people business; that face-to-face interaction will always be the most important element.
“Technology enables us to provide a better quality of interaction, more touch points through your e-communication strategies, website, social media, and marketing, and can make all communication more efficient and free us up to have more time for personal interactions with clients,” he said.
“Good agents need to be able to give good advice, positively influence the interaction with clients and, in most cases, be great at sales, leasing or management. Being able to do all of this effectively is only going to become more important as we incorporate more technology into how we operate.
“At the moment, I do think there is some complacency and ambivalence in the industry and we need a shake up. I think a lot of agents and agencies tend to take the ‘what’s in it for me’ approach, rather than thinking about what’s good for the industry and what’s good for their clients and consumers. We need to be taking a broader view and move out of the ‘silo mindset’, because that sort of thinking, attitude and approach is not going to get us where we need to go as an industry and has led us down the path to where we are today – a disruption target with far too much friction in our transaction methodology.”
But on a positive note, John believes wholeheartedly that real estate practice in Australia has a huge opportunity to reinvent itself into an innovative, proactive client-focused profession within a very short time frame as the current thought leaders and future leaders are lining up to forge positive changes.
John Cunningham’s goals during his term as REINSW President