This January Engel & Völkers Pretoria New East celebrated their 6th Birthday as well as their 2nd year under the helm of the new Licence Partner, James Verwey. Chantalle Bell, Feature Writer of Engel & Völkers Southern Africa had a chat with him to gain some insight into his life, his interests, his outlook on the business and industry, and what plans he and his Team Leader, Mariëtte Schoeman, have for the future.
The professional side of James
James spent his childhood in Stellenbosch and later matriculated from Menlo Park High School Pretoria, where-after he returned to Stellenbosch to study Law at the University of Stellenbosch. He never practiced Law and opted to take up a unique career opportunity with Toyota South Africa as one of their first Graduate Management Trainees. His career grew rapidly over the 10 year period he spent with them and received great exposure and experience in the corporate business world.
Wanting to revisit his plans for the future, the next year was spent on a sabbatical traveling all over Europe and Southeast Asia, also opening his eyes for international opportunities. During these travels, he got exposed to Dubai and when a great opportunity there presented itself; he decided to join the Toyota and Lexus group of companies in Dubai as Marketing Manager. After another 10 years, he decided to semi-retire back to South Africa and purchased a guest house in Paarl, which he still owns today.
Whilst operating the guest house, another major automotive group in the Middle East approached him to head up a new company in Abu Dhabi, Premier Motors. Premier Motors is the sole agents for premium brands like Ferrari, Maserati, Jaguar, Land Rover and Ford. James filled this position for 9 years and it grew into one of the largest and most profitable motor companies in the United Arab Emirates. After almost 20 years in Dubai, James decided to return permanently to South Africa at the end of 2014.
James is married to Irina, who is originally from Siberia in Russia, and whom he met in Dubai 9 years ago. Irina is very fond of South Africa, particularly Pretoria, which is where they decided to call home upon their return from Dubai. Irina has a passion for gardening and loves to experiment with various flowers and plants, in addition to her freelance career as a Fashion Designer. They visit France annually, where Irina also sells most of her designs. They love traveling, both local holidays as well as exploring unique places. James has a son of 32 (James Junior) who resides in Namibia, which is also one of their favourite destinations.
As for hobbies and in addition to his passion for the real estate business, James enjoys playing golf and to spend time with his family and friends.
As we have now gathered, James does not let an opportunity pass by, and clearly he is not one to sit and simply enjoy a quiet life. James kept in touch with a friend, Debbie Stevenson, Licence Partner of E&V Broadacres. Not too long into his “retirement”, he phoned her up to gain some insight into the property industry, what E&V was all about and what the business model entailed.
From here on things moved rather quickly. James met with Craig Hutchison, the CEO of Engel & Völkers and as fate would have it, the Pretoria New East territory was available. Within a month the deal was sealed and he took over the Silver Lakes Licence in January 2016. Since then James has acquired 2 further licences for the adjacent areas to have a diverse and large footprint in Pretoria New East, stretching from Moreletta Park down to Silver Lakes.
The property industry seems to run in James’ blood. His Mom (88) and his “best friend" owned real estate company called Gem Properties in partnership with two friends. So it comes as no surprise that when James registered his business, he named it GemProp Real Estate (Pty) Ltd t/a E&V Pretoria New East.
James believes that even with the current economic climate, investing in property often presents unique opportunities for investors and buyers alike, whether residential or commercial. James started investing in property at a young age, with help from his parents. He convinced his parents to purchase a townhouse in Stellenbosch; at that stage it was purchased at R 18,000 and today it is worth R 3 million – proof that there is just no investment that grows as much as property does. Over the years, he has built a diverse property portfolio, reflecting his belief and confidence in property investments.
When asked about his outlook on the real estate industry James says it’s a very exciting industry, challenging but rewarding in the sense that knowing you and your team are fulfilling people’s expectations and dreams. It is very rewarding when you exceed clients expectations in finding their perfect property, whether a rental, a first property or their dream home.
About 7 months ago James' team was joined by Team Leader, Mariëtte Schoeman. James says since Mariëtte joined, a new energy has been evident in the office, professional sales and marketing activities have increased dramatically and there are structured planning processes in place. James’ role is more strategic and supportive by nature and he leaves the day to day operational running of the business in Mariëtte’s capable hands. Mariëtte is also supported by Lyle Landsman, who has been with the operation since inception.
Mariëtte joined the team as she saw the opportunity for growth. Her connection to real estate stems from a historical interest in property as she comes from a commercial property management, residential sales and rental background. She has a keen business sense as she had her own successful landscaping business for 20 years, which she later sold to join the real estate industry.
Within the real estate sector she worked for a renowned estate agency for 8 years and completed her NQF4. Once this was mastered she was ready for a new challenge and she went into Commercial Property Management where she started her studies towards NQF5 & 6 in Commercial Property Management.
Mariëtte joined E&V as Team Leader at the Waterkloof Office where she spent 2 years before joining James’ team as their Team Leader, where she is currently busy with her NQF5 Residential Real Estate.
We asked her why she originally joined E&V and she said “because it’s an international brand and she liked the way the business plan is executed”. As the Pretoria New East office incorporates 3 licence areas, Mariëtte feels the challenge has great development capacity, both from a career as well as an investment perspective. Mariëtte has been given the opportunity and is working towards becoming an equity partner in Gemprop.
Mariëtte states the one thing she has learnt from the industry is that buying and selling property is a very personal and emotional experience and should not just be seen as solely a business transaction.
“The most enjoyable part about the industry is that no two days are the same; however as with anything else in life, it also comes with its challenges as every client is different and presents her and her team with their own unique challenges. Meeting monthly targets and continuously keeping the team motivated under pressure at all times are definitely challenging, but also very rewarding at the same time” she added.
What makes a winning team?
Both James and Mariëtte agree that in order to have the ideal and perfect team, the team must have good core values, which are well defined. These core values are also a critical component in the recruitment process – “A Team goes as the Leaders go”.
This, together with a good team spirit and support culture, forms the basis of their operations in striving for excellence. The management team developed an integrated business plan for the next 5 years, all encompassing, from strategic goals, corporate values and SWOT analysis, to budgeting and detailed action plans to execute the finer details of each business activity. The core values are shared with all the staff regularly to ensure all are aligned and positive in achieving their goals.
When asked what would her advice be to someone who is not in the industry and wants to join Mariëtte says, “Join a company that shares and offers you the required knowledge, tools and support to be able to be successful agent”. With all that in place there is a slim chance that an agent will be unsuccessful and then the potential to earn a very good income becomes a reality.
Tell us about the area
Pretoria New East is a very diverse area ranging from first time homeowners, developments and plots, to exclusive estates (e.g. Woodhill, Mooikloof and Silver Lakes) in both price and lifestyles. The long-term plan is to have the correct outlets, agents and infrastructure to support the activities with satellite shops. The end goal is to dominate the Pretoria New East in terms of sales, awareness and reputation. This will remain the main focus, backed up by a profitable and premium rental division to compliment the core business.
Exciting times lay ahead for the Pretoria New East area in the next 10-15 years. In anticipation of this, investors and developers are buying plots and rezoning them for residential housing. Major metro plans for the east is on the cards including a second highway which will be accessed from the N4 through a new R90 million road - the PWV17 - which will link the N4 and the R21, as well as the planned road upgrade for the N4 to link to Graham road directly.
What does the future hold?
Even although their team has doubled over the last 7 months, the focus and priority for the year ahead remains on recruitment of agents for all 3 of their licence areas, both qualified agents and intern agents.
James is of the opinion the business is still in a growth phase and requires further exposure to dominate their licence areas. To achieve this, they again need to double the current team - property sales and rental agents, as well as support staff. This is an integral part of the business plan to dominate their market.
If you are looking for a new challenge to take on this year, why not call Mariëtte for a confidential interview on 079 874 5572 and explore the options they have available.