A duck and a dream

I had the pleasure of watching arguably the world’s best magician David Copperfield live in Melbourne recently. The magic itself was awesome...

17 reasons you should always carry a book with you

1. As someone who used to spend a lot of time waiting for real estate clients to show up – I know that clients / appointments / people in general are often late...

Reality Television your way to Success

I think I’m one of the only “motivational speakers” (not that I call myself that) who will openly admit that I watch television. I watch bad television too… even… dare I say it… reality television.

Where is the love?!

One of my businesses, Elephant Property, works in the notoriously under appreciated category of residential property management. The old adage in property management...

The power of the word

I’m quite distraught. I was eating my personal trainer approved afternoon snack of 12 almonds (my suggestion of 12 Tim Tams: not approved)...

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Babelfish me Baby – It’s a Global World in which we Live!

In my early days managing my real estate agency we used to have a client who was an Aussie ex pat living in South America. He once signed off an email to me with “adios” (Spanish for goodbye). Not wanting to be outdone, I started my next email to him with the only Spanish word I knew that wasn’t a type of food - “hola” (hello).

My client was impressed and let me know this in his next email. It was then that I got my courage up and found a great little way of making myself stand out on every email I sent to a global client from then onwards. I found Babelfish.

A Babel fish is a fictional species from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy that can instantly translate any language into another. In my client service world however, Babelfish http://babelfish.altavista.com/ is the niftiest little online translator, brought to the world by search engine Altavista (the search engine that was all the rage before googling became a verb).

After catching my own Babel fish I took to writing a basic sentence in the foreign language of my client on each email.

Grazie per il vostro tempo e spero di comunicare presto. - Italian
(Thank you for your time and I hope to talk soon.)

Je vous souhaite chaque succès avec la vente de votre maison. - French
(I wish you every success with the sale of your home.)

One sentence, as simple as these examples above, was often enough to set me ahead my competition when pitching for work and almost always gave my client a nice warm fuzzy.

I only had one client who ever decided to write back to me completely in the foreign language (!) and we had a joint laugh together when I explained how I used Babelfish to assist me with foreign clients. The client was most impressed.

I typically use Babelfish when dealing with global clients, but there’s nothing to stop you using it to help you with local clients who may have English as a second language. If you’re going to take it one step further there are many online and local translation services who can perfectly translate your business letter or proposal into the language required for a relatively small fee (when you consider the potential impact). Tiny tip: I usually recommend translation services instead of Babelfish when the content is long or complicated, after all Babelfish is a simple online tool and the nuances of your content may not always be perfectly translated.

For a simple way to make you stand out on a global level with just seconds of effort – I couldn’t recommend Babelfish more!

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By Kirsty Dunphey with No comments

Blame or Action? The choice is yours.

Action exercise for today:

Get out a shiny piece of blank A4 paper.

On that piece of paper write at the top My Definition of Success.

Write under that everything you will have achieved, everything you will possess (skills, belongings, everything) and everything that you will be when you’re a success.

Then get out another shiny piece of blank A4.

At the top of this page write Why I haven’t yet achieved Success.

On this page write every reason you can think of that spells out why you haven’t yet achieved your definition of success.

If you’ve got nothing to write – because you’ve already achieved your idea of success – rock on! Go grab an ice cream. For the rest of us (me included) get writing!

If you’re actually going to do the exercise, don’t read further until you’ve completed writing both of these sheets.

Done in one way this second sheet detailing the “Why” can be like an action plan for your life. Examples of reasons why might be similar to these:
• I don’t read enough books
• I haven’t been associating with people who are achieving the level of success I want
• I haven’t gone out and done X
• I don’t have my goals clearly written out

When this sheet is an action plan for your life – each one of these reasons will be items you can do, or change (if you choose to). With this type of list – success is merely a matter of doing what’s on the list (if you’ve identified your “why” properly).

Done in another way, this sheet could turn out to be a litany of blame:
• I don’t get paid enough at work
• My parents didn’t have money when we were growing up
• I’m not tall / pretty / whatever enough

When done in this way – you’re saying that your success is determined by other people and by things you can’t change.

I know for my way of thinking - I’d like to know that my personal success is determined by my actions, beliefs and associations. The books I read, the people I network with and model myself on and the choices I make determine my success.

I’ll let others play the blame game – but not me, what about you?

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By Kirsty Dunphey with No comments

Fire Damage To Your Customer Service

Ladies… prepare to get jealous. I’m married – to a fire fighter. And yes, he looks spunky in his uniform and yes, this morning he came home with video footage of a huge fire he was in last night and yes, sometimes I imagine him as Mr. August in a fire fighter’s calendar (too much information?).

So I’m married to a fire fighter who is this amazing creature. He’s very different to me and yet very similar all at the same time. We’re similar in our values and beliefs and we’re different in… nearly ever other way!

One striking difference is that he’s more of the strong silent type whereas I’ll often talk to the wall if that’s my only option. After having been married now for almost two years, I’m starting to learn that when someone who doesn’t speak much chooses to break their silence – I should choose to listen, it’s usually important stuff.

One morning over breakfast my fire fighter looked me lovingly in the eyes and said “Kirsty…” I looked into his eyes and with anticipation said “yes honey”. The romance in the air was palpable… until he said “Do you know where most people die in a house fire?”

The Mills and Boon moment was broken, but I was still interested in the question. I mean, surely most people know in a fire to get low and get out of the house! My fire fighter told me that yes, most people do know to get low. They do so and then crawl to their front door – and then when they reach their front door they… stand up to open the door. And that’s sadly where many people die, right at their own front door because when they stand up, they’re in the smoke and that’s when they’re in trouble.

Now this isn’t just meant to be a fire safety lesson (although I’d love it if you could remember not to stand up in a fire!) It struck me when my fire fighter was recounting this gory fact that many businesses conduct our customer service in this same manner. We do the right thing up until the end and then BAM – we stand up (or stop doing the right thing) right when it’s vital for us to persist.

A few days ago a good friend of mine told me of a real estate agent who did a remarkable job finding them a great property to buy. He serviced them exceptionally well the entire way through… until the contract was signed. Then she never heard from the agent again.

The agent, thinking his big pay day was secured, thought the relationship was over and didn’t even contact my friend on the day her property settled.

What this agent needed to know was that with some ongoing service, his pay day may never have been over! I hope the agent wouldn’t be surprised to know that his name wasn’t mentioned when my friend was asked to refer a real estate professional earlier this week.

In stopping the service early this real estate agent’s head hit the smoke right at their front door. Will you escape the fire by doing the right thing the entire way through or will your customer service be fire damaged?

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By Kirsty Dunphey with 1 comment

Thursday, November 8, 2007

21 Tips to get the most out of Renting

In many parts of the world including the Australian state of Victoria, where I have two of my rental properties, rental property demand is at a massive high at the time of writing this article.

For people renting residential properties this can mean consistent rent increases for those already in properties and a shortage of properties on the market available to rent.

In this the following three article series I’ll address the following topics from my own experience as a tenant, a real estate business owner, a property manager and as a property investor.

1. How to make yourself the most desirable tenant when looking to rent a property
2. How to negotiate the lowest price for your desired rental property
3. How to keep rental increases to a minimum once you’re in a rental property

Notes, the following terms are interchangeable:
• Renter / tenant
• Landlord / property investor / property owner

Part 1

As a renter or tenant, here are some ways you can make yourself more attractive to the property owner or property manager when you’re looking for a property:

• If you’ve rented a property before, always ask to get a reference in writing from your previous landlord or (even better) from the property manager who you rented through. I say that a reference from a property manager is better than one from a private landlord in that it’s harder to fake a reference from a legitimate real estate company. The best rental references discuss the condition you kept the property in while you were living there, the condition it was in when you left and your consistency in paying your rent on time. Best of all is the final line where your property manager (hopefully) states that they would love to rent to you at again at any time in the future.
• If you have a pet be prepared that many investors may not even want to consider you for their property, however written pet references (note multiple if you can!) from previous landlords or property managers will speak highly for your case. Also – if your pet is small or presents well, a photograph attached to your application doesn’t hurt.
• In some areas (not Tasmania where the bulk of my rental properties are) you are able to pay a voluntary increased bond or “pet bond” to further guarantee that your pet will provide no long term damage. Offering to do this is a good sign of your intentions to a property owner.
• If you’re young sadly at times this can make you as undesirable as a Doberman dog! I know this personally from renting while I was 17 years old at University. To overcome this, attach with your application a few written referees from the most responsible adults you can find (teachers, employers etc). Remember here that putting down your parents or relatives as references doesn’t really hold that much sway as they’re obviously going to be biased!
• Why do I keep going on about written references? For one, they look good but for two, they save a property manager some of their valuable time. If a property manager has ten applications to check and yours is partly done because of the written references – you can come across as a more appealing tenant to the time poor property manager.
• If you really want a property and believe there is going to be competition or you simply think that the property is good value or will be hard to find again, consider offering $5 a week (or any amount you like) more in rental. This obviously isn’t going to be the answer for everyone, but is an option. (More on how to get the rental down in part II!).
• Present well when you inspect a rental property. A property manager or property owner only has limited information to go on when deciding which tenant to chose. One of the things that will be a factor (regardless of whether they admit it or not) will be your presentation and the first impression you make at the inspection.
• Remember that property managers may look to see how well you take care of your car as an indication to see how well you’ll take care of the property (NB. McDonalds wrappers all through the car – not a good sign!)
• Ask the person in charge of renting the property if there is anything you can do to make your application more desirable to the property owner. Examples of this may be: length of lease, gardening, presence of pets, supply of references / guarantors etc.
• Where possible I always recommend that if you’re unsuccessful at getting a rental property that you ask why. For anti-discrimination reasons you may not find out, but it never hurts to ask the question because it could lead to you being more successful next time.
• When you do apply for a rental property, have everything ready in advance. If the property manager has five applications to check and yours is incomplete it’ll go to the bottom of the list! A great idea is to have all the information photocopied and ready to hand over including credit checks, references, photo identification, birth certificate etc.

Part 2

In this day and age in many areas it can be difficult but not impossible to negotiate on the rental of a property. In your area there may be a high vacancy rate which puts you as the potential tenant at an advantage.

Here are some ways to negotiate when you rent. This may be to either attempt to save money on the rental price or to maximise your chances of being the number one picked tenant.
• Ask what length of lease the landlord would prefer and then submit your application with that lease length. Asking to see if the landlord wants a long term tenant gives you the advantage of being able to offer a 2 year lease instead of 12 months (if it suits you) which may put you one step ahead of the other applicants who haven’t thought of this.
• If gardening is included in the rental amount, offer to do your own gardening and provide (yes, you guessed it) a written reference to say how immaculately you maintained your last garden.
• Being ready to take the property immediately may put you in a position where you can negotiate more easily. To a property investor, any vacancy means a zero percent return, so if you’re ready to move in tomorrow – sensational! Consider stating that you will take the property immediately even if you don’t need it for a few days to put you in a stronger negotiating position and gives you a little breathing room to move in!
• I once bought a property specifically for one set of tenants because they offered to pay 6 months rent up front. It was a great bargaining chip for them because, as a property investor, it was money straight off my mortgage. This can be used as a negotiation strategy for any tenant (who has the funds at hand) and while you may not pay 6 months rent up front, two identical applications from tenants can be quickly separated if one wants to pay say 12 weeks rent up front instead of 4 weeks.
And don’t forget to go through part 1 and make sure that you present as the most desirable tenant!

Part 3

Of course most property investors want to maximise their return on a property, ie: they want to get as much money as they possibly can. However, it’s not rocket science to figure out that most of us also want to attract and retain a quality tenant and some investors will sacrifice some of the higher end of their return to do so.

If you’re in a property, here’s a way to make yourself a more valuable tenant and to try and avoid some of the rent rises:
• Be a long term renter. I know as an investor myself – I’m the most lenient on rental increases to tenants who have been in the properties the longest.
• Be nice to your property manager (they have a lot of sway as to whether an owner renews leases or increases rent and to how much!)
• Keep the home in great condition on rental inspection date. Working in property management through my real estate career I can’t believe the condition some tenants leave their properties in on rental inspection date. While I’m certainly no Miss. Neat and Tidy every day at my own house – on those 2 - 4 days a year, make an effort and it won’t go unnoticed.
• Be a problem free tenant. Most investors I know will be far more likely to extend a lease to a tenant (and sometimes without a rent increase if the rent is consistently paid on time).
• Don’t be a “difficult” tenant. Now this sounds a lot like the above, but a difficult tenant to a property manager can mean a whole swarm of things. Some of my big “no-nos” are as follows:
o calling up about “emergency” maintenance at 2.00am when it’s just a broken cupboard handle (extreme example, but trust me it has happened)
o making it difficult for trades people to access a property to complete maintenance
o insisting on being present for routine inspections (yes, we know it’s your home, but when a property manager has 20 inspections to do in a morning coordinating each one personally is impossible!)
• Where possible (and appropriate), treat the property like it’s your own. Don’t get on the phone complaining about every loose washer or blown light bulb. Just let your property manager know on the next routine inspection if you’ve replaced anything minor like this. (NB. Before even considering attempting anything major, even if it’s in an attempt to help, call the property manager or owner first)

Most of what is written in this three part series is common sense. For new renters and those looking to capitalise upon their renting experience I hope you’ve found one or two tips to help you on your way! Good luck with your renting experience.

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By Kirsty Dunphey with No comments

Knee-d some goal setting pain?

Goal setting can be a painful process.

As I write this, my lower thigh is bunched and labouring under thick sticky tape which is pushing my iliotibial band in a direction it just doesn’t want to go. Earlier this morning for the third time in as many weeks a lovely lady with a deceptively sweet smile massaged the area sending bolts of red hot poker like pain shooting down my side and then she also stuck a few acupuncture needles in (just for good measure).

Yes indeed, this is what goal setting has done to me.

Each year for the past four years I’ve set myself the goal of running the Burnie 10, a 10 kilometre road race here in Tasmania, in under an hour.

Problems with this scenario:
1. I’m not a runner. The 2 kilometre race I ran in last year scared me!
2. Each and every year in my lead up training I’ve injured myself in some way (back, knee, ankle) causing me to drop out just before the race.

I vowed that 2007 would be my year - despite my lack of running prowess and well, my coordination if I’m being honest. And then four weeks out from race day, my knee started to ache during a training session. Despite rest, physio visits, a week at a health retreat and sooo many knee specific exercises the knee pain worsened and I was pretty much unable to run for three weeks prior to the race.

Race day arrived and my knee was beautiful… until the 2km mark when it started to ache and cause me pain. I pushed through it. At 3km I shed a surreptitious little tear because the pain was so great. I thought about stopping so many times, but I knew if I did I’d be back in the same spot again the next year, trying to achieve this goal that had eluded me for so long.

I kicked through the pain and pushed on. At the 6km mark (which was my previous mark for most distance run without stopping) I kept going, no walking for me. At 8km, despite the pain, I actually was able to speed up.

As I crossed the finish line I felt a lot of knee pain, but also a lot of personal satisfaction. The time read 1:01:40 – I was at first dejected, but then elated when I realised I didn’t cross the finish line when the starting gun went off, but over 2 minutes later, leaving me with an eventual time of 59:14.

And now – I’m dealing with the knee pain that follows from pushing an injury a little too far. But every time I feel a little twinge in my knee – it reminds of me of the goal that I’ve finally achieved.

My 10 kilometre race run involved so many of the same steps that I’ve needed to achieve goals in my business life:

Know your weaknesses and plan to minimise them

In my race preparation I knew that there was going to be at least one large obstacle (my knee injury) so I did everything possible to mitigate the effect this would have (I went to my sweet smiling physio, I trained specifically to avoid the injury with my fabulous personal trainer and I rested the knee as much as I could).

In my business career, when I first started selling real estate I was a baby faced 19 year old. To mitigate the effect this could have had on my ability to succeed I took every course and read everything I possibly could, what I didn’t have in experience I made up in knowledge.

Know when to take the more difficult option

When I wanted to give up (and walk) I pushed on, knowing that what I was striving for (the achievement of a four year goal) was more important than the pain in this case. Now I’m not saying that you should always exercise with injury and tough it out – but in this case, it was the right decision for me to do this.

In my business right before I opened my own real estate agency at 21, I had an opportunity to stay overseas, travel, see the world and take the easy option out. We all will be confronted with difficult choices in our working and personal lives. Taking the tougher option at the right time can open amazing doors.

Written goals are vital

Each day next to my head at my desk I had my training program which I would tick items off daily. At the bottom of my training sheet written clearly was my goal time – 59:00. I finished only seconds off despite my knee.

I write down my goals (personal and business) and I check them weekly – sometimes more often when the time frame is pressing. Three years ago I wrote down that I wanted to speak at NAR (the world’s largest real estate conference.) I have studied that goal so often and I fly out to Las Vegas to do just that on Friday.

Whatever your goal, whatever your personal challenge – I wish you every success!

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By Kirsty Dunphey with 2 comments

These are a few of my favourite things… lately anyway

Where: www.joesgoals.com
What is it: Online super simple goal tracking site.
Why I love it: It’s free, it’s very visual and it’s so intuitively easy! Check it out yourself.

Where: www.springwise.com
What is it: If it’s cool and new – they write about it here
Why I love it: Check out this story: http://www.springwise.com/weekly/2007-10-25.htm#sas to see what I mean. It’s perfect if you’re a blog writer wanting content, an entrepreneur wanting ideas or if you just want to kill 15 minutes reading about everything from gyms where kids exercise with video games to vending machines for prescription drugs.

Where: www.threadless.com
What is it: Artists submit t-shirt designs, the public vote and then the most popular ones get printed and sold
Why I love it: I’m a huge t-shirt and hoody fan and the designs on this site are tdf (to die for!)

Where: www.reallysold.com
What is it: An online site to assist real estate agents in writing amazing advertisements for their properties
Why I love it: Because if I see another advert with the heading “This won’t last” or “Affordable 3 bedroom home” I may choke on my own vomit!
Why I’m biased: Because it’s my company!

Where: www.allaboutolive.com.au
What is it: Olive was born in 1899 and she blobs… ok – she blogs, but sometimes she calls it a blob – too cute!
Why I love it: How old is too old to blog? If 107 isn’t – then you’ve got no excuse!

Check out some of my other recommendations (perhaps a little more on the serious side) here: www.kirstydunphey.com/recommendations.html

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By Kirsty Dunphey with No comments

“Efficient kitchen = Too small to fit two adults” –don’t let your real estate advertising miss the mark

I once went online to view the ad for one of my vacant rental properties. After reading the advertisement three or four times I realised something quite stunning. After no less than 12 years experience working in real estate, owning my own real estate businesses, selling and renting real estate and having had investment properties for over 8 years… I didn’t understand half of what was being said on my own advertisement! My property manager had crammed in more LUG, BIR, WIR and XYZ’s than you could fit jelly beans in the Grand Canyon! I immediately thought, if I can’t understand this – what hope does the average consumer?

Real estate advertising mistake number 1. Over use of abbreviations on the internet! This isn’t print advertising and space is not sold per word – live it up and really sell your properties, for sale or rent – please!

To follow is an excerpt from a Barbara (aka real estate giant from NYC, author of my favourite business book of 2006 – If you don't have big breasts, put ribbons on your pigtails) Corcoran article.

The most misleading words in real estate (and what they really mean)
1. Cozy (too small)
2. Charming (too old)
3. Original condition (appliances are 50 years old)
4. Needs TLC (it’s a dump)
5. Conveniently located (noisy)
6. Desirable neighborhood (this little house has been way overpriced because the neighborhood has some snob appeal)
7. Efficient kitchen (too small to fit two adults)
8. One-car garage (you can drive your Chevy in, but can’t get out)
9. Peek at the park/river/mountains (if you angle your mirror just so)
10. Useable land (no trees)
11. Beachfront steal (no hurricane insurance available at any price)
12. Country living (too far from anywhere to drive to work)
13. Must see inside (outside is ugly)
14. Unique (hard to sell)
15. Just available (previous owner just died on the premises, hope you don’t mind)
(read the full article here: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/20215090/)

Real estate advertising mistake number 2. Over use of over used words!

Just 5 minutes ago I did a search for properties for sale in my home suburb with these less than staggering results as the headings for properties:

So Close to Town
Peaceful and private location
Affordable 4 bedroom home
Investment opportunity
And some with the fabulously creative heading of just the suburb!!!

C’mon real estate agents – let’s provide a bit more value for money in terms of the advertisements we provide! Using www.reallysold.com (the ultimate online tool for creating real estate advertisements – which I created to help real estate agents avoid advertising mistakes) what about these substitutes:

A hop, skip and a jump to… well… everything!
Been saving for a rainy day? It’s pouring right here, right now!
Is this how Donald Trump got started?
To each his own… bathroom that is!
A winner for a beginner…

Real estate advertising mistake number 3. Using headings that a four year old could have written! According to the National Association of Realtors (NAR) in the United States, the headline is the most important thing in writing a successful ad – use this one chance to really make the most of your advertisement.

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By Kirsty Dunphey with No comments

Awards programs – do they really mean anything?

I’m happy to admit it – I’m an awards junkie. I’ll submit my application to any awards program I even vaguely qualify to enter. I’ve had a good amount of success too in the Telstra Business Women’s awards, BRW Fast 100, Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year awards and the Young Australian of the Year awards.

But does it actually mean anything? Does the fact that I won Young Business Woman of the Year mean that I was the best business woman in the country that year under 31? Of course not! But it does mean the following:

• The free publicity I got from that awards program was amazing. Cover of BRW magazine, The Today Show, speaking jobs and more.
• The networks and connections I made will last a life time. Meeting other business women like Julia Ross and Dr. Judith Slocombe was my equivalent of meeting Brad Pitt.
• My team and family got to go to sensational lunches and dinners where they got to have a blast and network.
• The preparation of an awards program application is one of the most cathartic things a business person can do! It’s a business plan, goal setting and review exercise in one.

If you enter and you don’t win – you’re in no worse position than you were before – in fact you’re in a better one because you’ve had the opportunity to reap the above benefits.

Get out there and enter an awards program today! We just entered one this morning for best online blog of all things.

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By Kirsty Dunphey with No comments

A perfectionist? Who me? No way!

“I’m a perfectionist” is the most common answer I receive when asking people to name one of their weaknesses. In thinking back to my own experiences interviewing for jobs, I think I even used it once or twice myself!

I believe people like to list perfectionism as a weakness because it sounds like it could be a strength as well. After all – who doesn’t want things to be done perfectly?

I don’t! I’m not a perfectionist and I’m darn proud of it.

In high school one of my favourite subjects was mathematics. I was even offered a scholarship for University to study pure maths (I know – riveting stuff!) The reason I liked maths so much was that it was possible to turn in a perfect exam and get 100%. I like perfection, I liked getting 100% or striving to. And yet, I still say I’m not a perfectionist. So how does that work?

Well – in maths, there’s typically a right answer and everything else is wrong. In the world of numbers and formulas perfection is possible. In the real world however, most of us don’t deal in realms where perfection is attainable or even measurable.

How does an author measure that they’ve written the “perfect” book?

How does a waitress know they’ve made the “perfect” skim cappuccino?

How does a hairdresser know they’ve given someone a “perfect” hair cut?

How does a business owner know they’ve managed their staff in the “perfect” way?

You can strive for perfection all you like, but in my experience the strive for perfection:

• Leads to procrastination
• Leads to not doing something
• Leads to something taking so long that your competitive advantage is gone
• Is often an excuse to procrastinate!
• Is often a myth and what you’re really feeling is fear of failure (so you put it off and off and off under the banner of “I’m getting it perfect”)

In short – perfection in the real world is, for the better part of time, a myth. Kick ass is possible, awesome is possible, quality is possible – but not perfection.

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By Kirsty Dunphey with No comments

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