oc | Tuesday 31st March

Welcome to 2017 – Back on the hustings today



Clockwise visits today – no substitute for foot leather, listening, looking and listening again.

1st Slide

Clockwise from top left: Malvern East:$2.5m?  – little cutie – no, not the agent John Manton – the house. Good crowds at the OFI.

: $4m? Off -Market or Pre-Market? – good family home. Crowds – Only one!

Armadale: $4m? Nice one – listening to the same team we bought Charlotte Street, St Kilda off before Christmas – this could be just as interesting. Big crowds at this OFI.

Canterbury: $3.5m? Couple of old foes Richard and Campbell – this was on the market a few years ago – it looks good from the street, but still reckon a bulldozer is the only value add. A bit quiet at this OFI.

2nd Slide

Clockwise from top left: Camberwell $3.5m? – equal biggest crowds through this family home on Camberwell Hill OFI.

Armadale: Good info.

Brighton: Who do you run into in Brighton – why Nick Johnstone of course  -and thanks for the tip Nick!

Canterbury: $4m? Great spot – not so sure about the home. Small crowds at this OFI.

Brighton: Middle shot – Shooting for $4m I would think for this family home. Average crowds at this OFI.

James Buyer Advocates full Auction Reporting begins in two weeks, Feb 11th – next week is a special edition about the Top End, Younger Homebuyers and the Homeless.

Well done Christina Zhou from The Age;


Actually to give the media their due – and aren’t they taking a pasting from a certain person right now – to give the property media its due; this Christmas was one of the more sensible reporting Christmas periods I have seen in a decade – or maybe I don’t read the stuff as much anymore.

Why so good this year?

It was sans (without) the scary negative rubbish.

One article for me stands out, head and shoulders above the usual stuff – under the guise of property reporting.

This article was basically factual and positive – it also had a message that was clear and helpful.

What we usually get is a collection of facts, stats and quotes, all mashed in together and then a headline is chucked on top (with an alarmist or sensational tone) in an attempt to glue it together to attract a passer-by.

It’s all about attraction, not information – it’s all headline and no substance.

It is so boring and so useless – I am really hoping to see a lot less property reporting in 2017 – quality, not quantity – but I know I won’t.

Well, Christina Zhou bucked the trend – well done. If you want to read her article on young homebuyers click here or on the above headline.

It’s all happening already in 2017 – the holidays were great and we at James Buyer Advocates had a sensational finish to 2016 – however it is good to get back out there, in amongst it – meeting people, listening to stories, getting the scoops and low-downs – off markets and newbies.

This business isn’t a real mystery – you have to work hard: visits – make the calls – report back and listen – well that and a little magic!

At James Buyer Advocates Market News we have some exciting changes to better reflect and report the markets – especially the deals not done under the auction hammer.

More and more of our business is away from simply putting your hand up – we still do it and we still buy under the hammer – but the Top End market is so, so much more than auctions these days.

The Top End is about strategy!

Our reporting will be less at auction and more away from it – less on useless stats and more on what can really, really help you.

Remember the big 2016 Stat?

82% of the first 100 homes over $4m in Melbourne in 2016, were NOT sold under the hammer.

So please enjoy James Buyer Advocates’ first article for 2017 – How to Buy Well at the Top End Away from Auction (for real).

Towers Road Toorak

Towers Road,


If I told you buying a home at the Top End is more about trust than money, would you believe me?

Maybe, maybe not.

Well this is a story about three homes involving strategy, dealmaking and truths at the Top of the Top End.

Towers Road, Toorak ()
Bought 2016: James Home Rating 942/1000

Kooyongkoot Road, Hawthorn (Ross Savas / )
Bought 2016: James Home Rating 744/1000

Moule Avenue, Brighton (Ian Jackson / Michael Gibson)
Bought 2016: James Home Rating 760/1000

Let’s start with a question, is buying a home at $10,000,000 any different to buying a home at $1,000,000?


Mal, that was an appallingly bad opening $10,000,000 question – you got nothing mate.

At this level – you only get a few seconds to make a first impression and only high quality questions get through the invisible barriers.

OK Mal, tell me about how you buy $3,000,000, $6,000,000, $9,000,000 homes for clients and please tell me how you don’t actually stuff it all up?

Good question, I suggest you go straight to Chapter Two because that’s the start of the interesting bits.


Buying a home well at any price level, is initially about gaining clarity on what it is you want to achieve; understanding along the way there is good, bad and indifference in homes, in the people you meet, in decisions that can be made; and then if the jewel is at your fingertips, actually finishing it off; by doing what it is you really, really want.

Buyer Briefs

In the beginning our three buying said this to us, when asked what they really, really wanted.

Brief One: Please organise the sale of our home to maximise the financial return, whilst buying us a classic family home closer to schools.

The buy/sell which we felt needed to happen at the same time, involved the co-ordination of four agents and a combined amount just under $40,000,000.

The strategy was ………………….

Brief Two: To buy a long term family home with a tennis court, close to specific schools that would hold its value.

The strategy was ………………….

Brief Three: To buy and sell within the same precinct, but closer to where they wanted to be.

The strategy was ………………….

Common issues of significance with each of the families included;

privacy of dealings,
long term value for money.

These were similar to many of our $3m clients’ briefs in 2016.

The Players

Similar player types at $2,000,000 are there at $20,000,000.

$20,000,000 agents, like the $2,000,000 agents have their bag of tricks – meaning their ways of doing business – albeit different personnel.

Sellers have similar views at $1,000,000 as they do at $10,000,000 – their home is always more special than the neighbour who just sold.

Other buyers are here as well – it has been reported in the press that there were seven expressions of interest on Towers, over $20,000,000.

It Ain’t the Same But!

So there are similarities between $20,000,000 and $2,000,000 with the player(s) needs – seller, other buyer, agent and you – however as you will see, they play the game very differently.



Timing & Time

The Top End game is almost always played over a longer time frame, therefore requiring additional skills such as holding your bottle, multiple strategies and being patient – if you want to buy well.

Fake leads, pull backs and go-hards are normal fare – all part of the rhythm of the deal.

In a world of instant messaging and quick solutions – the game of real estate is played at a prehistoric pace – meaning slow – meaning dinosaurs.

Time on market for Towers, Moule and Kooyongkoot was 3, 6 and 18 months – our time in actual negotiation was measured in weeks, not hours or a 15 minute auction.

More good deals are done at France-Soir over lunch, than on realestate.com.au over the phone.

Most meaningful interactions are not two minutes, more like two hours.

You’ve heard of the Slow movement – at Kay and Burton, Marshall White and – they would call that the Fast movement.

And these slow deals almost always involve the same agents, meaning longer term relationships are important.

Real and professional relationships – not the “oh yeah, but we’re friends, he wouldn’t do the wrong thing by me” type relationships.

Maaaaate he’s “friends” with the sellers as well, has a legal obligation to them first and on top of all that, they are paying him money and you’re giving him zero. Mmmmm … he must be a great friend.

Now we’re cracking open the egg and getting into the differences between a $1,000,000 and a $10,000,000 deal!


Yes, the influx of Chinese buyers has somewhat diminished the power of the relationship, due to the sheer size and volume of cash – but the flood from overseas is no longer a shock and there are greater cultural understandings – meaning the power of the relationship is returning with locals and overseas people alike.

While on the subject of cultural differences; buying patterns, cultural understandings and basics like access to (skilled) interpreters are an important agenda topic at $3,000,000 and above.

There are only a dozen or so agents on my speed dial, as these guys/girls are just about the only ones that can bring home the bacon – or kale, if you are a vegetarian – speaking of which, I always get asked at France-Soir “will sir eat chicken or fish then” when I remind them of my “vegetarian disorder” … but I digress.

Solid working relationships are a big key to good dealmaking, outside the absence of a disgustingly large surplus of cash over Property IQ.

Money v Strategy

Many people still think real estate is bought by just money. Most at this level know it is not.

There is a greater understanding of the concepts of positions versus interests versus money versus strategy versus timing versus………..

It can’t be just money when you are competing against billionaires and your client is not one and you win.

As for strategy – a favourite is the Luke Beveridge quote:

“At the start people thought we were a 10% chance of succeeding and a 90% chance of failing.

We chose to focus 100% on the 10%.”

Giving Up – Inner Strength

This cannot be underrated – on all three homes, at various times – we were dead and buried, shut the gate on the way out please, let’s pack up and go home.

Nevertheless each time our client was able to continue again, to keep fighting the good fight – and giving credit where it’s due; each time on the other side, the agent and seller were able to keep hitting the ball back over, until the job was done.

At the Top End, you need quality and some gumption on both sides of the fence – or else everybody is frankly,  just pissing in the wind.

These deals are rarely quick skirmishes – wood-ducks (crazy price buyer) excepted, in which case it’s more a one winner, quick slaughter skirmish.

No, these deals are more often longer battles, yes with flesh wounds – but in the end, on the good deals involving the good players, there are winners on both sides.

The key is persistence – to paraphrase Mr Coolidge – persistence gets past genius, education and raw talent almost every time.

Our take home – experienced persistence gets good deals done.

Moule Avenue Golden Mile Brighton

Moule Avenue, Golden Mile Brighton



The volatility of price is far greater here, than at the lower levels.


Fewer buyers means larger inconsistencies in individual markets, involving fewer tested public opinions (on precincts, home and comparables); which in turn leads to a wider range of private thought – meaning greater volatility and also meaning a greater chance of error for inexperienced buyers.

There are lone wolf offerings at big numbers in the strangest of places – ones we would not touch with a barge pole and yet their postcodes are still 3186, 3122 or 3142.

Risk is a concept seldom thought of at $800,000 – different up here.

Streets and Precincts

Forget the suburb’s historic growth as a guarantee for value – we feel you must consider precinct and street histories.

The three we have highlighted are in “the” precincts and “the” streets.

Golden Mile BrightonMoule, Seacombe, St Ninians and a few others.

Kooyoongkoot is on Scotch Hill and it has to be before the hill, to pay the price that was paid – some biggies in Hawthorn are Kooyongkoot, Chrystobel, Hawthorn Grove and Shakespeare plus one or two more.

And in Toorak it’s hard to go past Towers, Lansell and St Georges – basically they almost intersect at the above home. However, we wouldn’t shy away from Macquarie, Irving, Albany and others.

Home Value

A number of Toorak, Brighton and to a lesser extent Hawthorn buyers (more Heritage controls); see many a beautiful home as vacant land, in need of a bulldozer.

Big premiums are being paid for No Heritage Overlay land, so as the new owners can level the home.

Two years later their brand new “masterpiece” is built on this levelled land.

Ten years later the “masterpiece” is back on the market – only to be seen again as vacant land in need of a bulldozer, by the next generation wannabee owner.

It’s a nice way to get rid of a few  and keep your growth to almost zero – despite land values going through the roof.

So we try and be careful when guiding clients as to the value of the homes – not to see them as any more than 25% of the total value and preferably less than 10% – unless they are of exceptional architectural or historical merit – as is Kooyongkoot and Towers.

Land Value

Land value is the key to protecting your high end investment through the vagaries of time and changing opinion – wherever possible it should be approaching 80%, even 90% of the price – unless you clearly understand and therefore choose, to have a significant “lifestyle” or emotion component in the $ value of your purchase.

Late 2016, Toorak land is going at $8,000 per sqm on Irving, St Georges, Cloverdale and Whernside. But it has also been less than $6,000 per sqm in other areas – on roads as well known as Hopetoun Road.

That’s a $4,000,000 difference on a big block, just on a land opinion – so it can be professional, it can be caring, it can be free, in fact it can any type of opinion – except it can not be a wrong one.

Not unless you want to;

  1. Overpay
  2. Miss out
  3. Avoid Growth

The air is thinner at these prices and to pay too much on the assumption of steady capital growth, for a specific period of time, is to show a lack of sagacity on the workings of the Inner Melbourne Top End market.


At any price level, if information was just about more – then we’d all be rich, gorgeous and living to a hundred. (Hey, one out of three for me isn’t bad.)

Information at this level is rarely fact – information is mostly opinion. And that opinion is often somebody else’s, with a diverse agenda attached.

So sourcing, corroborating and then sifting opinions/information is a lot like down on the farm – there is a hellava lot of manure to get through before the cream.

Kooyongkoot Road Scotch Hill Hawthorn

Kooyongkoot Road, Scotch Hill Hawthorn


The Top End Industry

We’ve heard a lot about the ruling class, the political elite – well, there is also another industry – those that work around the influential families.

The industry that builds, that renovates, that helps finance and co-ordinate these homes is a powerful one indeed – interspersed in among this group of talents and thinkers are crooks and second place getters.

They are architects, builders, developers and ancillary craftsman including financial advisors, agents and advocates and some of them are geniuses and great to work with and some are not.

Somebody may claim to be outstanding in their field – but so is a scarecrow.

An interesting world to navigate, a headache for many.


Seems to be the right spot to put this. We wrote a series on negotiation noise (click here); and nowhere in Melbourne is it more noisy and distracting than at the Top.


Where do you test your opinions – yes, they say they are here to help you – but are they? Loose lips do sink ships (deals) – this is a world of opinions – and many like to talk.

Every careless enquiry you make in an attempt to find info – gives more help to the other side, than you get in return.

Our biggest fears when dealing on a home is not price – it’s process.

Is there another buyer with a home to sell, when we don’t have one – another agent connected in the deal, but with an alternative agenda –  a whisper to a competing buyer or the seller about our client which “confirms” things, true or false, that we preferred were not “confirmed”?

Footnote: At this level of dealing there is lots of googling, phone calls to friendly bankers (to understand buyer positions) and reading of past bidding records (did you underbid last year on a $4,000,000 home and now are bidding at $5,000,000, claiming no more in the tank ……mmmmm).


The good, the bad and the ugly – the good, the great and the pretenders.

The ugly and the pretenders are sometimes manna from heaven – but more often than not, they are a brick wall in the way of a deal – I much prefer to deal with quality agents at this level.

Some of their moves are simply brilliant and like in the movie The Sting – with the best ones you never know – well not for sure.

To see a quality agent dress mutton up as lamb, to actually make you believe it’s a silk purse and not a sow’s ear; is to behold a master at work at their craft.

And it is a craft – the power to influence can take years to learn and decades to master.

A real treat is to witness this craftsman dance their buyer up the step quote staircase, like a prince taking a princess by the hand and saying come with me, it’ll be ok……..it’s a thing of beauty………. well in a Shrek kind of way!

They are doing what the seller wants – no complaints here – and the buyers at $10,000,000 are sophisticated (well, they should be) – it is buyer beware.

Not every agent can influence like this – and you see sellers throwing away hundreds of thousands, even millions before they start – through their choice of agent.

There have been times when I have thought a particular agent was unreasonable or not that smart; but upon reflection if I was being honest, I usually reached that conclusion, just after I found myself out-positioned by that same unreasonable or not so smart agent.

This peripatetic profession will never lose it’s true home – the Top End – the stakes are too high.

The best are good – real good.

Commission Structures

At $4,000,000 levels, the way a particular agency commission structure works, can have a greater effect on you, than if you were a buyer at $1,000,000.

Lower down deals are mostly auction based (agent control over outcome diminished); often driven by the buyer (not the agent) and turnover (meaning deal after deal, rather than this one deal) is the holy grail.

There are ownership of you questions – meaning as a buyer you are assigned to an agent within the agency (unless you have an advocate); by a mechanism, not usually based on merit or your interests – and who “owns” you can have a direct bearing on your negotiation, either negatively or positively.

We run a business as well, you have to pay people – my point is not about ethics of the other side, it’s about awareness.

Buying a Top End home well, requires effort in recognising the interests of all, not just stating your own position.

Principles v Interests v Positions

Interesting. Challenging on both sides. Constantly on display.

Method of Sale

Very Different – Not as many public auctions at the $4,000,000-plus level.

Yes Boardroom Auctions, Tenders (Open and Closed), Direct, One on One, Best Offer In, Deadline Offer, Expressions of Interest – been there and done all of that.

Each requires a different mindset, as each has different rules – even same method has different rules within the same agency and the rules can and do change during the process with the same agent, even after they have been written down.

Conjunctional Agents – meaning two different agencies selling the one property – rare at $1,000,000, not so at $6,000,000.

For a buyer it’s another game of chess – actually it’s more like a game of poker – and many buyers don’t even know they are playing.

Whilst dealing with one agent in one agency, another agent in another agency is going down a different path with another buyer.

It can get interesting – are they sharing commissions and talking to each other – or are they competing – or do they even know the other exists, as some sellers play certain strategies.

Whilst you are looking for the finish line, you may in fact not only be on the wrong horse, but also at the wrong track.

It’s not always sinister – it just adds another layer of complexity at $5,000,000, that is rarely there at $1,000,000.

Other Buyers

While you are focused on the agent, another buyer (with his/her advocate) buys the home out from underneath you.

So is/was the agent your real enemy?

At any level you need to consider all your real competitors.

We had no other buyer competition on two of the three deals and strong competition on the other.

It is true you need to be careful of reacting to shadows only – but it’s just as true that shadows can also mean substance.

Often your biggest competitor is yourself – you can take that at least three ways can’t you – and each of those three interpretations can be true!

Semi-Closed Shop

It still largely is a tight-knit semi-closed shop – even though the force of overseas money has blown some holes in the outer shell, allowing in new players.

It has been, and still is for the most part, impenetrable to many buyers.

Buyers and agents and sellers and advocates often interact in a way foreign to those buying a $1,000,000 home in .

Old school tie? Well not really, but sort of.

Opportunities are fewer – yes it’s true that half of the Top End is for sale every day at a price – meaning my home in Brighton doesn’t have a internet listing or a for sale board, but if you want to pay me 75% greater than its long term worth, then I’m listening, but my home is not really for sale.

Good value homes that are really for sale, are not always easy to hear about, let alone buy.

Logic should tell you that the upper end market has less (per buyer) family homes for sale than a decade ago; and that its an ever diminishing circle as more local buyers hold, more overseas buyers buy and don’t sell and more homes are gobbled up by apartment developers.

So other than for the wood-duck (crazy price buyer), it is a semi-closed or restricted shop and getting more closed and more restricted.





It may seem strange to write this here.

Many deals done by us, involve a large degree of trust – hard to explain to the uninitiated – but trust is a key element in most Top End deals we do.

Not specific blind trust on every point, but a general trust by all players on their understanding of each others’ positions and interests.

The best dealmakers on both sides engender a positive environment, that allows for a balance of trusting and being trustworthy.

In my opinion, the trust with Ross, Ian, Mike, Jeremy and Marcus was the difference between the deals happening and not happening.

You may not believe or understand this – but this is the Ultra Top End – this is what happens in our experience.

Everybody says they can tell when an agent is lying – when he moves his lips.

Not a bad punchline, but it’s also a baloney of sorts – the best agents tell you a truth 95% of the time – it’s just perhaps, you as a receiver are not listening or not wanting to listen or more to the point, not asking the right questions.

Granted the other 5% is challenging and interesting.

So you can tell when an agent is lying? Can you tell when he or she is telling the truth? Does it matter?

Are you yourself being straight – are you trustworthy – are you allowing trust to form on the other side?

On some deals even if there are lies, I find it can actually help me understand the other sides’ positions and interests, which in turn can allow my trust in the deal to build.

However on the best deals, with hard work on both sides, we can all get to the cream – the truth – the essence of the deal – the interests and positions of each of us.

A truth comes at this point.

Trust can then build.

And the deal can be done or moved on from.

We find trust and respect, combined with some manners (where have they gone please), gets the deal done more so than money and more often than not – be it $2,000,000 or $5,000,000 or $20,000,000.

Now with these comments maybe you don’t trust me anymore, or do you?


Not always something that gets a real run in discussions – at $1,000,000 it’s harder to see in all the hurly-burly, but it’s there with some.

At $6,000,000 it’s easier to see, but it’s not there as much as you might think.

Buying a $3,000,000 or $13,000,000 home well, requires wisdom.

This is not meant as a financial comment.

Buying a home well in the Top End, when your family is involved, requires money and wisdom.

Price and the Wet Fish Slap

As previously said, many things are for sale at the Top End, at an asking price.

And with price, there is usually a difference of opinion – compelling the start of thrusts and parries.

For many years now we have called these jousts, Wet Fish Slaps (Fisherman’s Friend commercial click here) – and almost every deal at this level involves WFS’s – some multiple times.

For the uninitiated, it can be very difficult, as players are hit time and time again with a Wet Fish Slap, sometimes resulting in poor decisions due to stress.

However, we feel multiple WFS’s are positive – they mean you’re still in the game.

If you don’t attach, the feelings are usually ephemeral, allowing your good decision processes to continue.

The three homes we use as examples – one from Bayside, one from Stonnington and one from – had an average initial asking price of just under $20 million, but were bought for our clients at an average price of just over $16 million.

That is not to say we didn’t pay solid prices – we did – the agents (+ sellers) involved rarely allow weak prices – as well, at $20,000,000 you are guaranteed of a bruising WFS or two, unless you’re paying overs.

So how do you agree on price at $16,000,000?

Well, we didn’t send a box of chocolates and they didn’t pick us up in a limo, there were no power ties or screaming phone calls to make the seller go hey WOW, I’m scared or impressed so here is a couple of million off the initial asking price.

How then?

To buy/sell well, at the important right price – usually takes time, due diligence and skill on both sides (yes both); the occasional WFS, a smidge of luck and in the end congruent circumstances – which begin to come together only when all the ducks mentioned in this story start to line up.

Interesting though, the asking price v sale price?

How many $2,000,000 quoted homes go for $1,600,000 – they tend to go to $2,400,000 don’t they?

And so there you go, a little bit of a look into buying well at the Top of the Top End – it is a world of intrigue, of the nice and the not so nice, of the brilliant and the also-rans and it’s a world that I wouldn’t swap for anything.

Mal James

We bought for Anna and Adam in 2004. Click here for their video.

We bought a very substantial home with Anna and Adam in 2004. This video is 2016. Living proof of how to buy well at The Top End. Click here for their thoughts. 

In the meantime, next week you can read our little teaser on the advantages of James Buyer Advocates helping you buy and sell at the same time.

Mal, Gina, Sim, Rhi, Kathy, Randall and all at James Buyer Advocates.

Subscribe to our Market News Newsletter

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Be with James

Would you like to talk to us about finding or negotiating on your next home?
We buy 100 homes for our clients every year.
We buy Inner East and Bayside over $2m.
View more MasterClass Articles

Inside James Market News