Engel & Völkers prides itself in producing some of the best agents the industry has to offer. Their In-House Training Academy offers various courses for agents, management and support staff and is bench-marked on international standards. “Our goal is for our agents to become successful through our training programmes. New agents opt in favour of joining Engel & Völkers due to our intensive training and then ultimately remaining with Engel & Völkers as a result of the standard of our training” states Craig Hutchison, CEO of Engel & Völkers Southern Africa.
We had the opportunity to take a look behind the scenes and meet the head of the training academy and qualified trainer, Lara Machado-Spronk to find out a bit more about who sits at the helm of the In-House Training Academy.
Lara was born in Mpumalanga, and then relocated to Bethlehem where she spent most of her childhood. She is the youngest of 3 girls, with Bianca being the middle child and Tania who is the oldest. In 1996 her journey began when they moved to Johannesburg, she matriculated in 2002 from Sunward Park High School and if asked, Lara will passionately express her love for the big city and given the chance, she would love to one day own a loft apartment in New York. With school out of the way, she decided to jump straight into her studies by studying a diploma in Press and Broadcast Journalism which included PR, Radio, TV Presentation and Media Law from Damelin and graduated in 2004.
Throughout her schooling career and her studies, Lara also focused on her dancing, which has been a passion of hers since she was 5 years old. She was a dance teacher for over 5 years. “I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to pursue my passion in life, but I have always wanted a corporate career and after graduating in 2004 this was my target” Lara shared. Being the dynamic person she is, she picked up the yellow pages and called various events & exhibition companies in search of a job – and of course, she succeeded, although it did take admirable determination as she only landed her first interview on her 73rd call. “What can I say, I was born for the career I have today as I have always been a big fan of cold calling”.
The interview was a roaring success and she joined an exhibitions and events company which then took a turn to construction with her completing her qualifications in Project Management & HR. She ended up living in the Middle East for just over a year where she learned a lot about culture, business, and also managed to fit in a bit of travelling in between. Upon her return to SA and catching up with some friends on Facebook, she came across an advertisement for a career in real estate and so her journey with Engel & Völkers began.
We sit down with Lara and delve a bit deeper:
Who is Lara when she is not training or travelling around the country?
Lara is a very happily married woman with her husband Ryan always by her side, encouraging or motivating her after those tough days. They live in the Beverley area of Johannesburg and are the proud parents of two 4 legged children, Soup and Pooky – who Lara says definitely run the house.
Given the chance, she enjoys hiking and some arts and crafts to give her mind some much needed rest. “Nothing better than getting out in nature and taking walks exploring rivers and mountains. I am currently training to do the Otter Trail next year, and hopefully soon get to do a few overseas hikes. If I can’t get out into nature, you will find me on my patio with a good book and a cup of coffee enjoying my weekend. My life is filled with 7 nephews and nieces, so any time I get to spend with them is treasured”.
Tell us about your experience
My first professional job was working for a company that specialised in events and exhibitions. We ran events for South African government officials as well as sold expo stands to our target market of ambassadorial teams from the United Arab Emirates including Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Dubai to showcase what their country could offer South Africa and vice versa. The company then progressed to project management where we headed up projects on construction sites including ambassadorial homes in Waterkloof, mosques in Killarney and various other projects in the Middle East.
I then took a leap of faith and responded to a Facebook advert for a Team Assistant position at the Broadacres office, where I was later promoted to Office Manager and Team Leader for both the Broadacres and Bryanston shops. I assisted agents and the shops to sell properties for just over 2 years. I was approached by MLP SA to move over as the Team Assistant and Systems Trainer, I did this for just over 2 years and then started heading up the SA Training Academy where I was privileged enough to be trained by one of the top trainers in Hamburg, to be recognised as an International Sales and Operational Trainer for Engel & Völkers. My focus is to provide hands-on training and support for LIPA’s, managers and agents on the day to day functions in a sales environment.
What is your ultimate goal in life?
Professionally, I would like to own an E&V franchise and personally, to own a few loft apartments in New York City and build a property portfolio there. I would also like to once a year, explore a city or country that I have yet to see.
What do you think makes a successful agent?
Understanding that this career is not an 8 – 5 job. This job requires you to become the job. You need to live, breathe; sleep real estate and you need to enjoy the process. It has serious ups and downs and you need to roll with the punches. You need a strong sense of integrity, drive, passion and be able to work well with the most difficult of clients. It is not rocket science, it just takes a personality that enjoys consistency, reliability and an urge to learn that make the most successful agents.
What is your most memorable training session?
As a trainer, it is very difficult for me to choose one session that I hosted as my most memorable, as each session brings out various moments of connection between individuals that are either complete opposites or like-minded. However, my most memorable training session was the one where I was trained, by E&V and Pawlik consultants in Hamburg. They taught me that to train is not to teach, but to give the tools to the delegates to teach themselves.
What do you love most about training?
The fact that I get to motivate people that have taken a leap of faith by leaving a permanent job with a salary, to become commission earners and giving them the tools to assist them in becoming successful. The most rewarding part of training is after training when the agents contact me about their first mandate, showday, listing, and enquiry and offer to purchase. That is why I do this – to see other people succeed at something that they were nervous about.
Tell us a bit about the In-House Training Academy / what your training comprises of?
The In-House Training Academy is divided into 3 sections:
- LIPA and management training
2. RtS! for Agents
- RtA! for Team Assistants
I am very fortunate to have Elfie van der Westhuizen focusing on and managing the RtA! (Ready to Assist) training for all the Team Assistants around the country. Her dedication, attention to detail and focus really has made a serious improvement in the skills of the Team Assistants across the country. The RtA! content focuses on the on-boarding plans of Agents joining our brand, HR, marketing of properties for agents, agent management and support roles as well as the day to day functioning of an E&V office.
The RtS! (Ready to Sell) is run by myself for all the agents across the country and the main focus of this 4 day course is to introduce the agents to E&V, the tools they have, to create business plans and marketing plans, the sales process, customer relationship and management as well as creating a long-lasting career. We also spend a lot of time on self-development with relation to sales competencies as well as developing personal plans to strengthen any areas that may need it.
We run workshops countrywide covering topics from OTP to mandates to after sales to marketing and tools. The LIPA and management training workshop is focused on running your shop and agents according to the E&V systems and procedures. These hands on workshops guide and educate the LIPA’s and managers on what is available, how to use it and how to execute it in their shops. Our Sales Director, Wendy Williams and I work on the content together so that we ensure we cover all topics that the shops may need.
Why do you think training is important for agents?
It is important that the agents have a foundation upon which to build a successful career. Whether they are completely new to the industry, or experienced agents, training allows the groups to learn from each other, build networking relationships among themselves from across the provinces, as well as give them a clear guide on what is expected from them and this career and the potential that they can achieve. The E&V training for agents allows the agent hands-on experiences in a practical manner that gives them the tools they need to either go out for the first time agents or enhance and refine their skills for the experienced agents.
Tips for people who are not yet in the industry, and want to make a career move to becoming an agent?
Firstly, ensure that you have financial backing or savings to carry you through to your first sale registering. Sales can take anywhere between 2 – 4 months to register and in the beginning the agent needs to have financial peace of mind. Secondly, understand that this is not a part-time job. This job requires you to become the job. You need to eat, breathe and sleep real estate in order to become top of mind. Lastly, what better job to have, than one where you write your own pay check? Consistent hard work will provide the agent with financial freedom.
Be sure to join a real estate company that provides you as a new agent the right tools, be it marketing, support or management tools in order to succeed. The E&V way is designed that if our agents follow the system they will be successful.
What qualities and attributes do you think makes for a successful agent?
Local knowledge, or the willingness to gain local knowledge; if an agent works an area that is manageable in terms of size and transfers happening, their knowledge will increase and become a great asset for future sales. Having a tendency to pay attention to details; in this industry, the smallest of details could make or break a deal. Tenacious – clients want to work with an individual that never gives up and always has the energy to carry on. Honesty and reliability – you are dealing with probably the most expensive asset a client owns. Having traits such as honesty and reliability as an agent is what generates positive word of mouth advertising to future clients. Lastly hardworking – what you put in is what you get out. It is that simple.
Give us some insights on the property market at the moment from the agents’ perspectives that you’ve trained recently
We are still very much in a buyers’ market with sellers holding their ground in terms of prices that they want to achieve. Unfortunately this makes the seller overprice their properties and in turn makes the buyers offer an amount that is way below the value. Agents are currently emphasizing information and market reports to both buyers and sellers so that they can meet in the middle. The market at the moment is all about being top of mind so maintaining the activities of agents is very important. If an agent is managing their farming area correctly and consistently, they become top of mind to current sellers as well as future sellers that will be going on the market.
Do you have any buyer/seller advice?
Always work with a reputable agency and agent. I encourage sellers to sign exclusive mandates with one agency, so that they are not seen as desperate sellers. The agency will spend money on marketing their property exclusively to the market. Agents are achieving closer to asking price on exclusive mandates versus open as they push the buyers to put in higher offers, as well as negotiate with the seller’s interests in mind. From a security point of view, you deal with one agency that has access to your property and brings qualified clients through to your home. More agents do not equal more buyers. When buyers are shopping and they see a property listed by more than one agency, they immediately think it is a desperate sale. To add insult to injury, some open mandated listings are priced differently by all the various agents and this creates an even poorer image in the buyers mind. For buyers my advice is always become qualified before you go shopping. Our E&V Finance department will assist all our clients with per-qualifications to see what you can afford and once an offer is signed, they approach all the banks to get the client the best offer.
Not only does the In-House Training Academy provide the various courses and workshops to assist new or experienced agents, we also do many shop visits across the country throughout the year to motivate and coach all agents in anything that they need. We also encourage agents to do refresher courses with the academy so that they keep up to date with any changes that they need to be aware of. The In-House Training Academy is not just a training facility it is a hands-on coaching department too.