Top Melbourne agent Carla Fetter made a confession in front of 1,000 colleagues at the Rise conference – she only joined real estate because she was lost and needed the money.
But if she had not grasped her opportunity, “I don’t know where I’d be – that’s quite a scary thought”, she said.
Now a partner in agency Jellis Craig and leader of its top sales team, Carla has built a formidable reputation for her focus on prospecting and client retention.
She operates in four suburbs at her Stonington agency, including wealthy Melbourne suburbs Prahran and South Yarra, specialising in single- and double-fronted houses priced from $1.5m to $8m.
Real estate wasn’t her first-choice career. Carla started her adult life wanting to be a teacher but flunked university because “that routine piece” that gave a day-to-day consistency “abandoned me”.
She then “kept failing” at everything she tried.
“I was very lost,” she told Rise chair Chris Hanley in an on-the-couch interview. “At 23, I got a call from a friend who said there was a job going in her real estate office. I needed money. If I had not accepted that role, I don’t know where I’d be – that’s quite a scary thought.”
Even then, Carla wasn’t a stellar starter in sales. “I was one foot in the door and one foot out, peddling hard and grinding it out,” she recalled.
While she could look back now and see how those early days had set a foundation for success, at the time it was “like being on a hamster wheel, running and not feeling like you’re getting anywhere”.
“I’d look at my bank account and think, ‘God, that’s bad’,” Carla said.
Her 20s were marked by isolation and feeling lost. “I couldn’t really hone in on this craft,” she said of real estate sales. “I battled with being self-medicated with alcohol or drugs. It wasn’t an everyday habit, but I’d go out many weekends and wipe out half my week.
“When I look back at what didn’t help me, I’d say I was very isolated, and I didn’t talk to family or even my closest friends.”
She also began to question her sexuality. “I was struggling. I felt different. I was trying to be with boys, and I didn’t want to be gay. I was ashamed. When I got 30, I thought that if I didn’t do something, it wasn’t worth living.”
Quitting her job seemed a logical change, too.
“I remember handing in the letter,” said Carla, who told the agency she needed more money if she was going to stick around. When she got what she asked for, “I went all in and decided to take this seriously”.
Carla was mentored for a decade. “I was very grateful for the opportunity,” she said. Working with a successful agent is the best path to get into this industry.”
At 33, she decided to strike out on her own, and that’s when “I found my voice and began to drive the shift (in her life)”.
“The more confident I got, the more voice I had.”
Interviewer Chris Hanley asked about her reputation as a “ferocious prospector” – an element of real estate that challenges many agents.
“It took a while to get a structure and rhythm,” Carla told the audience. Prospecting was an “everyday job, not when you feel like it”.
“You need to train to get good at something,” she explained. “It’s just 20 calls a day. Not hundreds. It took six months to get momentum. I always call with a reason and add value. It is about digging for opportunity and making face-to-face appointments.
“My diary exploded after six months – hand on heart, my appointments went from two-to-three a week to seven-to-ten.
“I became obsessed by it. When I don’t do it, I feel anxious. I write the names of 20 people to call before work and call them in the morning.”
Part of the discipline was keeping the phone calls short and investing time in the subsequent meetings. “I want to get in front of sellers and connect with them.”
Carla said she kept Mondays free and scheduled prospect meetings for afternoons.
Asked how she retained her clients, Carla said colleagues under-valued the relationship with the buyer. She called each prospective buyer after an inspection, sent contracts when requested and called again to wish them luck at auctions they were attending.
“They might not always be happy with the price they pay, but they appreciate the work,” Carla said. “And they will hear from me two or three times a year, so when they sell, that relationship piece is there. If you can set foundations and create momentum, everything becomes so much easier.”
Today, nothing was hard in real estate compared with her “biggest challenge of navigating the world of being a parent and a busy working person”.
Asked by Chris Hanley to share any advice with her colleagues in the Rise audience, Carla said: “Happiness is a really big thing, and knowing what you want and who you want to be. Setting my goals helped me get to where I wanted to be.”