Anne Duncan: “I was told by many people that I would be a failure. So it’s good being a failure, I enjoy it.” Photo / Fiona Goodall
In 2004 Anne Duncan took a leap of faith and set up her own agency in Auckland’s Mt Albert. It has thrived and she’s gone from a handful of staff to a team of 22, including a rentals division. She’s become well-known in the area not only for her success in selling property, but for supporting the local community.
What did you do before real estate?
I was a teacher and then I was at home for a few years with my kids, Kate, Emma and Helen. In 1993, when my youngest was 7 and it was time to go back to work, I decided I wanted a job that was a good mix with managing kids. Ashley Goodwin, whose kids were at school with mine, owned Goodwin’s agency and he said work for him. I thought I could wing being a mum and selling houses.
And did you?
I did, actually. I was very regimented about my hours. I would get the kids to school in the morning then go to work until 3pm. I only went out in the evening if it was something serious like signing up a listing or getting a deal done. I kept Saturday mornings free so I could go to their netball games and I didn’t do open homes until the afternoon. Having time off was not negotiable. Easter, Labour weekend, school holidays. I had 12 weeks off a year. That all changed once they were older but I was strict about work not encroaching on family time. I got myself a mobile phone — one of those big old Motorolas — so the kids could contact me when they needed to. It cost me $1700 which was a lot of money in 1993 and I think every call was $1 a minute but I didn’t care. If the kids needed to talk to Mum, they could.
Can you remember the first house you sold?
It was in my first week. Ashley told me to choose one that had been on the market for a long time. I found one that had been there for about three years; it was vacant and neglected. I wrote an ad, describing it as the worst house in the street, and pitching it low. In those days there was no internet, you had ads in the Herald and you took a photo and stuck it in the window where it curled up after about a week in the sun. I showed some people through in the dark because the power was off, and I sold it. I thought, that’s not too hard. The client was impressed and I went on to sell other properties for him.
So you hit the ground running?
I sold a house the next week and the one after that; it seemed like I was selling a house a week for a while. At the time we were still coming out of the 1987 sharemarket crash so things were still tough. I didn’t have any perception of it being a good market or a bad one. I just thought, if the market is tough, you have to get tougher.
Why did you decide to open your own agency?
After 12 years with Goodwins I thought it was time I backed myself. It was quite a big leap for me — while a lot of ladies were selling real estate, the agencies tended to be owned by men. I was told by many people that I would be a failure. So it’s good being a failure, I enjoy it.
Why do you think you have been successful?
Hard work. Plus I have a very good team. The support of my husband Ross, who passed away two years ago, made a big difference. He was my right hand man and did all the backroom stuff, from looking after the books to taking stuff to the dump to doing the catering on auction night. Also I think giving back to the community is important. I’ve always given to schools in the area, sponsoring sports team and events. The community has been very kind to me.
What was it like, putting your name on the business?
Scary. I said to my marketing guy, “Shall we be Mount Albert Real Estate?” He said, “No, everybody in the area knows who Anne Duncan is, let’s put your name over the door.” But from the get-go, it wasn’t just about me. It’s about our team.
Have your daughters followed in your footsteps?
Kate used to work with me but now works for another firm. We used to clash, she’s a perfectionist and would be telling me what I should be doing. I was too busy doing my stuff. Emma was a nurse but moved to real estate and now sells with me. We have our moments but mostly get on very well. She’s got different skills to me — she’s got a great eye for detail and likes the digital world and social media, the stuff I don’t want a bar of. She keeps me on my game. Helen took over doing the books and works here part time.
How did the Covid-19 lockdown affect you?
We had been pumping along in March and then in April we did not sell a single house. We tried to sell some we had shown before going into lockdown but people were nervous. I said to my guys, “Look, go home, look after your families and your neighbours. Don’t prospect for any business, it’s not appropriate.” So for the first time ever, we had a month with zero sales. I did worry that they’d be unmotivated when they came back because they’d had two months of sitting at home in their slippers. But we picked up quite quickly again. We get a lot of repeat business because people in the area know us and they know we’re trustworthy. I’ve sold several houses for the same people and some houses three or four times. I’ve always told my team to think of every open home and appraisal as a job interview. You never know what business you might pick up from an appraisal or someone who comes along to an open home.
What do you do when you’re not working?
I like fishing. I love being out in the harbour in my boat with a line over the side and a beer in my hand. It’s my happy place.
Any plans to retire?
I can’t see myself sitting still to knit and there’s only so much fishing you can do. I’m 65 but I will be doing this for the foreseeable future. I might work less as the years go by but I have no intention of going anywhere.