The making of a great buyers agent – Cate Bakos

We will be joined in the show today by a buyer’s agent who has just been crowned as Your Investment Property’s number one buyer’s agent in the country.  Cate Bakos from Melbourne talks to us about her all woman team and how she got her start in property.
Kevin:  Here it is. We are, in fact, talking to Australia’s number one buyer’s agent who has just been crowned as Your Investment Property’s number one buyer’s agent in the country, Cate Bakos from Melbourne.
Hello, Cate. Nice to be talking to you, and congratulations.
Cate:  Thank you. It means a lot. You can tell I’m still in shock, somewhat.
Kevin:  Good on you. It was only last week that we had you in our sister program, Real Estate Uncut, talking to real estate agents all around Australia and New Zealand about what you do as a buyer’s agent, so well done, Cate.
Cate:  Thank you. It was good to share some commonality.
Kevin:  It was, indeed. I notice that you say that you don’t consider yourself as a buyer’s advocate; instead, you’re an agent for change with a mission to solve problems to help people. The role of the buyer’s agent is becoming a lot more important, isn’t it, Cate?
Cate:  It is, it’s getting more recognition, but I think it’s also very important because we’ve had some enormously challenging times over the last few years in our seller’s market regions and it’s really come to the fore for a lot of people who needed that extra help.
Kevin:  Of course, you established your own business, Cate Bakos Property, and you’re now pushing the envelope in terms of its success. Last year, very successful.
Cate:  Thank you. We certainly worked hard. And one thing I really need to say upfront is that there is no way I could do this on my own; I have an incredible team of people behind me. I work with three full-time women who just make every day a joy. They manage me most of the time, so I feel very, very fortunate that I have such a great work team.
Kevin:  Interesting that they’re all women. I don’t know whether that’s been a deliberate focus for you, but it’s something that’s fascinated me for quite a while, and that is whether women are much more intuitive. Do they click into the conversation about what a buyer needs more so than men? I know that’s a generalization, Cate.
Cate:  I think not necessarily. To answer the first question, I didn’t design it. I didn’t engineer a team of all women deliberately. We’ve all kind of fallen together, and interestingly, everyone who works with me hasn’t come through the normal HR channels. They’ve found their way to me through the community or Facebook or been a past client, or whatever it might be. I feel very fortunate in that regard, because applying HR principles and going through all of the interviewing is not something that I’ve been trained to do. We’ve all just found each other.
I think women are very intuitive. We all multi-task. Our office is just crazy, with files and phone calls and all of us chatting to each other all the time. It’s a lot of fun. It’s obviously high stakes, but it can be very high energy and lots of high stress, and they just deal with it so well.
Kevin:  In the article, too, in Your Investment Property Magazine where they’re acknowledging your success, they say that before getting into property, you studied chemistry. That’s quite a switch.
Cate:  Yes, it was a switch. I don’t think I was a very good chemist, to be honest, Kevin. I didn’t love it, I didn’t have the passion for it, and it’s a very lonely role if you’re doing the kind of chemistry that I was, which was air-sensitive. So, you’re not hanging out with people and talking to lots of people; in fact, you’re working away from people because in a sense, it kind of explosive. If you make a mistake, it will blow up.
Kevin:  Why property? Why did you choose property?
Cate:  I was always interested in property. I started off as an investor or a homeowner at a pretty young age. I was 21 when I got my first deposit together and bought a property. I found all of it hugely rewarding but really exciting.
I remember in my honors year, instead of doing my experiments and writing up my thesis, I was spending a lot more time researching auction clearance rates and trends and suburbs to keep an eye on. I probably should have just listened to my own heart, but you do what you think you should do when you’re that age and you try and finish your degree and make your parents proud, and I guess that’s what happened.
But I certainly lean on the analysis that I was able to utilize during that time, and I apply it now.
Kevin:  You chose to open your own business, Cate Bakos Property, that we’ve already mentioned. You would have, obviously, had the opportunity to join other buyer’s agency business but you elected to open your own office. Why was that?
Cate:  I was working for another firm for four years prior to that. And they were great; I grew some wings and went my own way. But I learned a lot and I had some fabulous people around me then. There was no point in leaving a great organization to leave another organization, so if I was doing this, I was doing it for myself.
It was a real challenge and it was obviously a little bit scary and exciting all wrapped up together, but I knew I could do it.
Kevin:  I’ve interviewed you on a number of occasions for both of our shows, Real Estate Talk and Real Estate Uncut, and I’ve followed your career. I remember those early days of you sticking your toe in the water and opening your own business. Was that a scary experience for you, Cate, or were you full of confidence that it was going to work?
Cate:  A bit of both. It’s always scary. I remember signing up for a photocopier, this big unit, and Xerox said to me, “If you’re signing this equipment lease sheet, essentially, you’re responsible for this.” I said, “We’ve negotiated our monthly repayments. What am I actually signing? Talk me through it.”
They said, “If you want to break your agreement, you’ll owe us $11,000,” and I remember thinking “Oh my gosh, I’m really doing this. I’m signing a lease for a business, I’m getting equipment. I have to do this.”
I knew I could, but of course, it’s scary. You pull all your collateral together and get ready to serve clients, and then you open your door on day one and it’s petrifying and exhilarating all at the same time.
Kevin:  That moment when you put the key in the door for the first time and you know you’re actually opening your business to the public – and I’ve spoken to many people who have opened businesses – that is a very, very exciting and thrilling time, isn’t it?
Cate:  It is. It certainly is. I remember starting as small as I could and biting off as little as I could in terms of expenses, just to make sure that I could focus on everything and start small and get it exactly where I wanted it. I’m still boutique to this day and I don’t have any aspirations to be a massive, big business. But I remember those days when it took a lot of guts, but it was also a really exciting challenge, and I was ready for it.
Kevin:  In your own words, you say you don’t want a very big business; you have a very successful business and you also play a very important role an industry level working with other great buyer’s agents in the REBAA organization, the Real Estate Buyer’s Agents of Australia. That’s a key role for you, isn’t it? It gives you the opportunity to influence the industry a bit.
Cate:  Yes, it’s a really important role, and it was an honor to get that position. Probably the most exciting thing for me is that I’m working with and rubbing shoulders with amazing people across the country. We talk, we get together each year for our conference, but we stay in touch as well. We see each other, we ask quite a few questions.
I really value the friendships and connections that I’ve got through REBAA and I love that we’re standing for something strong and looking after the interest of the buyers, and we have a really strict code of conduct.
I’ve certainly experienced a lot of personal growth by taking on the role and there’s a lot more to come, but most importantly, I really admire the people I work with.
Kevin:  I believe you also have a policy where you assist at least one gratis client per quarter, someone who is identified as really needing the care of a buyer’s agent. It’s a wonderful thing to give back like that, but has that been a great learning experience for you as well, Cate?
Cate:  Not so much a learning experience; it’s just a really special experience. They’re like no others because they’re the people who really need you and for whatever reason, can’t afford you. I think if everyone could have access to a buyer’s agent, what a great world that would be, but that’s not the reality.
It’s a huge investment of our time and resources, but it does feel very special. And it lets my staff get involved in helping someone who really appreciates it, and it makes an enormous difference to that individual or that family’s life when we can do that, so I have no intention of changing that policy.
Kevin:  Congratulations, Cate. It’s a pleasure to talk to you and especially a pleasure for us to be able to congratulate you on taking out Your Investment Property’s number one buyer’s agent award for this year.
Congratulations, Cate, and I look forward to talking to you again in the near future.
Cate:  Thanks, Kevin. It means a lot.

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