Property is currently the hottest topic on the streets of Sydney, which makes Peter Hanscomb, the CEO of Belle Property Australasia – one of Australia’s leading real estate agencies – a sought-after figure wherever he goes. But as he talks to The CEO Magazine one Monday morning, while studying the results of what he calls “an incredibly strong weekend in Sydney property,” he cautions against paying too much attention to the naysayers predicting the property bubble will burst.

“The concept that the market has gone soft is ridiculous,” he exclaims, using auction data from the weekend past to highlight just how strong it currently is. “We’ve just seen an historic clearance rate of 87%. “You only have to drive around Sydney to see the development of core infrastructure that’s going ahead at a rate of knots,” he continues. “It’s not like it’s just a little bit; it’s very, very strong.”

The concept that the market has gone soft is ridiculous. We’ve just seen an historic clearance rate of 87%.

Peter Hanscomb has confidence in the Sydney property market

Such is his confidence in the market strength of Australia’s largest city that, when he is asked that inevitable question, “Where is the safest place to buy?” his response is “within a five-kilometre radius of Sydney’s centre. There, you’ll always do well.

"It’s very hard to see how the market could ever be damaged. That five-kilometre corridor is home to a very high level of equity, due to the fact that so many properties have doubled or trebled over a period of time. So what you’ve got is free, unencumbered equity. That’s the underlying strength of those suburbs.”

Peter Hanscomb, CEO of Belle Property

Which is sound advice for those in a position to afford to buy in Sydney, where the average house price has cracked the million-dollar mark – but what about those looking to enter the market?

“The biggest drawback for housing affordability in many cases is the amount required to make up the deposit – not so much the ability to repay, because you can actually find a pretty good fixed-interest line over a three-to-four year period at a very low rate and be locked in. I think the biggest problem we face is people simply not being able to get into the game,” he says.

Belle Property, a premier, boutique brand

Himself a veteran of the real estate industry, Peter first got a taste for it in 1982 at Ray White, starting out as a management accountant before becoming deputy managing director and group director. By 1990, he had risen to the C-suite, as CEO of Reality Business Consulting. In 1996, he established RE/MAX Australia, introducing the internationally renowned business to home soil, and became its founding CEO.

A year consulting to McGrath Estate Agents followed in 2006, before the opportunity to buy the majority shareholding of Belle Property Australasia presented itself in 2007. He would become CEO in the process.

Belle Property

“The brand had captured my attention,” he says, when explaining how the company had been born out of Belle, the lifestyle magazine. “The credibility and the trusted, elegant, premium associations with the Belle publication were an incredibly valuable platform for us to launch off, because it attracted the right people. It also gave us an opportunity to frame our business around this premier, boutique brand.”

The trusted, elegant, premium associations with the Belle publication were an incredibly valuable platform for us to launch off.

Although the agency had been in business for seven years, Peter and his partners undertook a complete relaunch. “We basically started again: we threw out every single piece of IP that was in the company, bar the connection with the magazine,” he recalls. “It was very clear that the people who had been running it didn’t really understand how to build a real estate group and how to develop a successful, scalable, sales culture.”

International expansion & domestic growth

A decade of hard work later, and Peter can happily reflect on all that he has achieved. The five offices he inherited in 2007 have expanded to more than 80, and Belle is positioned as a leading agency with a portfolio of properties in Australia’s most sought-after postcodes. As he looks to the future, he is particularly excited about plans for international expansion, especially into Asian markets.

“Australia is a real jewel in the Asia–Pacific region, from both a lifestyle and an economic viewpoint, and will remain that way for many years to come.” He explains how Belle has identified an opportunity for people to learn more about the country before making a decision to buy or invest here: “There have been an awful lot of marketers who have been selling without any real process in place to actually educate buyers on what Australia is really like.” 

Australia is a real jewel in the Asia–Pacific region, from both a lifestyle and an economic viewpoint, and will remain that way for many years to come.

The company has already opened an office in Mumbai, India, and, unsurprisingly, China is next on its radar. “I’ve travelled to China a number of times in the last 12 months; it’s a very important market for us,” he says. “Every time I visit, I find that there’s a broader investment interest in Australia because of consistency and strength of the market. There’s a real long-term perspective. No matter what short-term hiccups may come in the next couple of years, Chinese investors are looking at a much broader cycle,” he says.

Along with international expansion, Peter predicts, the following year will bring growth in market share and in domestic presence “outside of the centres that we are currently strong in now,” he explains. “I can see us becoming a completely national real estate group within 12 months.”