In their own words: James Tostevin and Marcus Chiminello

James Tostevin from Marshall White in Victoria has established himself as one of the top agents in Australia, and is acknowledged by his peers as providing the benchmark for prospecting. Marcus Chiminello is a co-director of the company, and sells in excess of $150 million in prestige property every year. He has also been awarded Marshall White’s Salesperson of the Year for three consecutive years. Here is an insight into their careers to date, and their personal recipe for success.

What was your first job, and what did it teach you?

James: On April 14 1985, I began working in real estate after a suggestion from my father, who had a good friend who was a director of a real estate business. My overriding memory is the expectations – there were no favours – and the demands he placed on all the staff, including me, were unbelievable. I was expected to produce listings and business opportunities from a very early age. I spent three years in property management then moved into sales. It was a great grounding in terms of learning how to deal with people and negotiating much smaller deals. It taught me a little bit about the structure and process that had to be put in place when negotiating and interacting with landlords and tenants. When you’ve come straight from school as I had, it was truly being thrown in at the deep end, but the grounding in property management was fantastic.

Marcus: Now you’re bringing back memories, frightening memories of earning just over $4 per hour! My first job was flipping burgers at Hungry Jacks. At the time it was an opportunity to earn some money and work with my friends, but looking back it’s interesting to note the lessons this job taught me. Systems, procedures, customer service and expectations, teamwork and fun were the basic fundamentals taught in this role, and ironically they are also what are needed to be successful in real estate. Within four months I was working three different part time jobs, doing VCE and playing football so I’ve always thrived on having a heavy workload.

What do you like most about your work now?
James: I love the fact that I’ve got freedom and flexibility – I’m not tied to a desk all day every day. I’d find it a bit limiting and a bit boring to be in the office all the time. I love meeting and dealing with people and getting to see so many different houses. Another benefit is that there’s no set wage in sales – the money is unlimited if you’re good enough, and there are some fantastic rewards if you work hard and put the right systems and structures in place.

Marcus: Sometimes it’s easy to forget we work in such a fortunate industry. I can’t think of another industry where you can design a career to suit you: work the hours that you want, have a virtually unlimited income, meet and work alongside some amazing people on the journey, and not be tied to a desk all day long. Aside from the diversity of what we do, for me it’s still the thrill of the chase and doing deals that gets the blood pumping! Listing, negotiating, and successfully selling.

What do you still find most challenging about what you do, and how do you deal with it?
Marcus: The most challenging aspect has to be the huge amount of hours required to become successful in this business and how contactable we have become. At times you feel as though you can’t or won’t let yourself switch off, particularly when you are in momentum mode. I find the best way to try and deal with this is to remain single-minded in my endeavours; when I’m at work, I’m really at work. I stay completely efficient and focused and suck every minute out of my day. I avoid distractions, such as gossip, lunchrooms and those people in the office who do laps looking for someone to dump their day on! When you’re at work, switch on, focus and momentum will follow. But when you’re at home with family or with friends socializing, it’s important to be there and be present. (Except if you have an offer or listing pending!! Ha Ha!) I believe finding balance is the one major thing that eludes most agents nationwide, but creating success as an agent is like investing: you have to invest in the hours, invest in the training, invest in your clients, invest in yourself and you will see handsome returns. Balance will hopefully follow!

James: I agree with Marcus about the hours, the commitment required and the impact that that has and has always had on my wife, Sim, and the family. As the children got older, working six days a week meant missing out on some of their Saturday sporting events. That would undoubtedly be the most challenging thing, because really in every other respect I love what I do to the extent that it’s almost insane.

Describe what a typical day looks like for you

James: I take my youngest daughter to school every day and I go the gym three times a week before work. Work is typically 8-8.15am through to 8-8.30pm, sometimes even later. I’m pretty streamlined with how I structure my week: in the mornings, especially on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays, I typically do prospecting between 9.30am and 2.30pm, and on Fridays I basically do it all day. Mondays and Thursdays are for listing presentations, mid-campaign and pre-auction vendor meetings, appraisals and open for inspections. I am very structured and organised, and I believe I use every minute of every day effectively. The greatest weakness of some real estate agents is that they waste vast amounts of time.

Marcus: My day usually starts around 5.30am at the gym, followed by a great breakfast and family time. It’s the best way to start every day! I review my daily plan, send some emails and then I’m off. I make myself contactable from 7.30am so I can get numerous calls out of the way on the way to the office, which is usually around 8.30am. From 9am to 12 noon it’s typically sales meetings and phone calls; from 12 noon to 4pm I’m on the road, focusing on appraisals, listings, deals, buyer appointments, meeting with architects and developers, catch-ups with AAA clients and being seen in my market. Then it’s back to the office for more calls, vendor meetings, planning my next day and so on. On an ideal day I’m home by 7.00 to 7.30pm, before my daughter goes to bed.

Is there one thing that’s not obvious about you that you wish more people would get?
Marcus: From a real estate perspective, it’s hard for some clients, particularly new clients, to believe you really have their best interests at heart, simply because you are a ‘real estate agent’. Sometimes you feel like making the point by taking a polygraph test when meeting with a client to present offers or provide good advice! I truly believe by really looking after the people I meet and deal with on a daily basis, the business will look after me.

James: My reputation – because I’ve had success against many of my competitors, there are some that might think that I’m arrogant and overconfident. I’m very confident with my real estate ability, but I’m just a very down to earth person apart from that. I love life, Sim (my wife), my five beautiful children (Madeleine, Charlie, Ed, Bella and Sophie), being around and with my family, and going to the footy to watch Carlton play, so I think I’m a pretty normal sort of guy. When I’ve done sales training in the past people have come up to me and said, “You’re not what I thought you’d be. I thought you’d be a lot cockier about your ability.” I’m not; I’m just confident with what I do day to day because I’ve practiced and worked so hard over the years and that’s brought success.

What’s your secret skill or superpower that makes you so good at what you do?
James: Prospecting over an extended period of time has separated me from my opposition. A listing I achieved late last year – I’d been in touch with the prospective client for 24 years – I’d kept in touch and chipped away, and 24 years after doing business with them the first time I did business with them again – that’s just one example. So that’s probably my superpower; that sustained contact and perseverance. Also I hate to lose. I really enjoy winning, but I really hate the feeling of losing. Another thing is getting people to feel comfortable with you and like you. Our industry doesn’t have an amazing reputation, so if you’re likable, believable, people feel comfortable with you and feel they can trust you, and you’re going to go a long way towards getting their business. I’ve been able to build rapport over a long period of time with hundreds and hundreds of people, to the extent where when they’re ready to do business they ring me, and that puts me in a great position to get their listing.
Marcus: I have an uncanny ability to match buyers to properties, particularly when it comes to off-market transactions. It was something I really focused on early in my career and it’s a skill that I have honed and often call upon, particularly in the high-end luxury market these days.

What makes you laugh?
James: Sim does, without a doubt, and then a number of the people I work with are very, very funny guys. One of my favourite films is Dumb and Dumber (which is embarrassing to admit). I’ve grown up watching that film with my children and my eldest daughter can reel off so many of the one-liners that we all still get a laugh from that. Sim and I have lots of laughs. People think I take my real estate very seriously, and I do when I am at work, but when I’m away from work I’ll certainly have fun and laugh with the best of them. I’m happy to stir people and be stirred back, so I have quite a bit of fun with my real estate mates.

Marcus: My beautiful, almost-2-year-old daughter, Sophia, makes me laugh every day with the simplest things. And any movie that stars Will Ferrell, he cracks me up!

What’s the best compliment you’ve ever received, and why?
James: When people come up to me, especially when I’m doing sales training, and say to me that I’m at the coal face and I’m doing what I actually say I’m doing – I’m actually doing it right now and this is what they need to do now. They are interested in what I do, from the prospecting to how I go about listing, negotiating, selling, and dealing with people too. They get great confidence and belief from the fact that this is a guy that’s actually doing it, while juggling family life with five kids. So when people make compliments about what I’ve achieved, when people say ‘I can’t believe you write what you do and still stay very normal’, those sorts of things are always nice to hear. I also think the respect is an important thing. My immediate competitors may not like me, but that’s only because I come up against them a lot. I remember one of my main competitors said to me once that 60 to 70 per cent of his team were beaten before they got in the door against me, which I took as a great compliment because he said they’re intimidated by my follow-up and my ability. In a nutshell I’d say the respect, being well-liked and people wanting to come to listen to me doing sales training and prospecting – I think that’s a huge compliment.

Marcus: The best is from James, who is always publicly claiming that I’m one of the best real estate agents in Australia, and that I will challenge him for the most gross commission written. That’s quite flattering coming from a guy that consistently writes $4m per year; but he did teach me everything I know so I suppose he has to say that!

Is there anything you’re afraid to do or you would do if you weren’t afraid to do it?
James: On a personal level I wouldn’t skydive or bungee. I’m probably a little bit risk-averse so I would never do things that endanger my life, but at the same time I do enjoy life. On a professional level, just making sure that anything I do in the future is designed to build a bit of a wall of financial security around me and Sim and the kids, so I don’t ever put myself in a precarious financial position. I don’t think there’s anything I’m worried about day to day. Some people fear rejection. Real estate’s not a good profession if you fear rejection, but that’s not something I fear; I don’t enjoy it, but it’s not something I fear. My wife says it’s like going for job interviews all day every day – you have to be a very resilient person.

Marcus: I would jump out of a plane. I used to have a hard enough time just getting on a plane as a passenger, so for now I’ll just enjoy sitting comfortably inside one whilst enjoying a drink. The jumping out part is still a little way off.

If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self, what would it be?
Marcus: Get a mentor straight away. Find an agent who is successful, whom you can relate to or would like a similar business to, and learn from them. Success leaves clues… follow them.

James: I changed companies far too often in the first 15 years of my career. I would have great success in a certain environment and I’d get to the summit and look around and think, ‘Where’s my next challenge?’ I had so much going on in my personal life – I had no children at 24 and then five by the time I was 29, so my life just turned on its head in a short period of time. Whilst I had to be very settled at home, and was, professionally I used to chop and change. My advice would be to settle into a groove and not always think the grass is greener on the other side of the fence.

What’s next? What are your upcoming goals?
James: I can’t imagine retiring. I’m 46 now, maybe when I’m 60? I’ll certainly remain at Marshall White. The foundations we’ve got in place at Marshall White are first class. We’ve got the most incredible team; they just get on so brilliantly, and the way the nine directors all work together is fantastic. I want to be part of that for a long period of time. I work with my brother, Hamish – he’s my best mate and we’re incredibly close – and Marcus, who I believe is the best real estate agent that I’ve ever met or dealt with in my 28 years of real estate. Being around these people is what excites me.
Marcus: Just to keep growing positively as a person, a father and an agent. My wife Shelley and I have just found out that we are expecting our second child so my first and most important goal is to ensure we are well and truly prepared this time; Sophia caught us by surprise! She was almost 4 weeks early and thought I was going to have to deliver her on the side of the freeway so preparation will be a massive priority this time! On a real estate perspective, I am determined to break the $2,000,000 gross commission barrier this year and like James has mentioned, continue to embrace and grow the amazing culture we have at Marshall White.

Both James and Marcus will be keynote speakers at the The Ideas Exchange in May 2013. 

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