It’s 50 years since ‘we put a man on the moon’; and another bunch of innovators – the team at EVES Realty – are also celebrating their golden anniversary.
WORDS SUE HOFFART
Within weeks of the Apollo 11 moon-landing, two Tauranga men took a giant leap that would span 50 years of real estate.
Anything seemed possible to friends Max Eves and Alwyn Coxhead when they bought a stucco house on Cameron Road and opened their first property sales office in the winter of 1969. Only three weeks earlier, the pair had joined fellow residents to huddle around transistor radios and view a fuzzy black and white Neil Armstrong on 23-inch consolette television sets.
These were the days when a loaf of white bread cost 12 cents, houses were bought on a handshake and a three-bedroom home in a reasonable suburb would set you back $10,000. Few people locked their front door and keys were left dangling from car ignitions.
The new business owners were working for opposing real estate firms when they decided to band together, find a receptionist and take on the competition in an already-crowded market. Half a century later, their legacy is a family-owned company that boasts more than 240 staff working across 14 offices, throughout the Bay, Northland and Waikato.
“Max and Alwyn were ahead of their time in many ways,” says Karen Worley, general manager of EVES Bay of Plenty.
“They definitely established a tradition of innovation. I’ve heard stories about what the industry was like then, with close to 20 small firms in the area and property sold by lots of retired farmers who liked to stand around smoking and talking about rugby. Whereas these two guys were younger, with tons of energy and ideas and they quite quickly surrounded themselves with people who thought the same way. By all accounts it was a pretty heady, exciting time.”
When that first office opened, Sunday trading was illegal and deals were discussed in person or by wall-mounted phone. Radio telephones connected staff with the office and agents spent a huge proportion of their working life cruising the region, hunting for opposing agents’ cars so they could later return to the address and list the house themselves. There were no cell phones, no computers, no front lawn signage, no open homes, no glossy real estate magazines – in fact, no marketing or photographs at all.
“In the early ’70s, EVES started to take out adverts in the local papers each Wednesday,” says Karen. “It ran about a foot deep and listed a few bald details about each house. And, on Saturdays, they’d have a double column. No photos, nothing.
“Back then, success in the industry depended entirely on individual relationships and, I suppose, the funny thing is, even with all our modern tools and technology, that’s still the case.”
Karen says the founders’ work-hard, play-hard philosophy ensured there was plenty of socialising and a well-stocked beer fridge available on a Friday night in the office basement bar. The EVES Christmas party quickly became a major event on the city’s social calendar with invitations a sought-after commodity.
Around 1980, the company was first in town to introduce the sole agency concept. There was plenty of resistance to the idea that a homeowner should list their home with a single firm, rather than every company in town as had always been the case.
“But that’s when you started to see real marketing emerge and EVES was at the forefront. No one had ever thought to take a half-page ad in the back of the paper every Friday, and we were the first to publish our own marketing paper. And we were miles ahead of the pack on auctions – people were saying ‘it’ll never work to auction a house’.”
By this time, in the late ’80s, EVES was easily the region’s largest real estate company and agents were starting to carry the new style of transportable phone that came with its own briefcase to carry the hefty 2kg battery. The all-important property management division was thriving – once again, EVES was at the forefront in establishing this service, which now looks after more than 3800 rental properties across all of EVES offices.
From the start, concerted efforts were made to care for members of staff. Staff retention numbers are still impressive and generations of the same family will often find work at the firm.
“My own granddaughter has just started working at the Mount office on Saturdays, doing administration, while she’s still at school,” says Karen.
“We now have about 90 people who’ve worked with us for a decade or more and several of them have been with us for more than 30 years. That tells you a lot about the culture of this company and how we genuinely care for and look after our own.”
The more outward-facing, community focus has always been there, with company founders helping to fund community causes or sports teams. In the ’90s, EVES took on a major annual fundraising commitment for disability group CCS, establishing an enormously successful annual dinner and charity auction.
Almost every member of staff makes a regular contribution from their pay cheque towards Tauranga’s rescue helicopter service. Then EVES matches the employee tally; last year they donated $18,000.
In the last 50 years, the firm has spent millions of dollars towards helping the community.
“But it’s not just about writing cheques. While we do some giving that’s quite high profile, we do quite a bit that’s under the radar. Like providing clothes and shoes and food to a family with a very sick child or rallying staff to volunteer at the hospice or to make school lunches. Or a working bee at a safe house for abused women, or distributing programmes for Tauranga’s arts and jazz festivals.
“Most of these initiatives come from our people, our administrators or sales people who hear about a need and talk to us about how we might help.”
Following a break-in, Te Puna Quarry Park volunteers were devastated to find thieves had stolen the tools and equipment they use to maintain the public gardens. So EVES opted to take the volunteers morning tea accompanied by an office whip-around which had produced $300 to help buy new tools.
“These people give hundreds of hours of their time and we couldn’t magically solve the problem but we could tell them ‘thank you for the work you do and we feel for your pain.’
Where possible, EVES will offer a hand up rather than a hand out. In practice, this means countless hours of free fundraising and sponsorship application advice from the company’s in-house sponsorship manager. It also means connecting people in need with those who may be able to help.
Karen says there is no doubt EVES operates in an entirely different and more complicated environment, 50 years on from its inception.
“Gone are the days when the contract was signed on the boot of the car and that was that. Now there are huge amounts of paperwork and far more regulations and red tape. On the other hand, the present day real estate industry offers a huge amount of much-needed oversight and protection for our clients.”
When Karen started selling real estate 33 years ago, the industry was strongly male-dominated. Now, more than half of EVES’ salespeople are women and many sit in the top 5% performance group.
“Even in this, EVES is ahead of the game. When I represent the company at national real estate events, you can bet most of my counterparts are male. And you can bet I feel an enormous surge of pride when people ask which company I’m with.”