Catherine won’t keep you guessing about where she stands on certain issues. Maybe it’s a family trait or perhaps a product of her former life as a London-based solicitor. She wants to change the perception of the property management industry to better reflect the value it offers to landlords. The new government’s interest in re-regulating the sector makes her cautiously optimistic, though it’s a feeling tempered by the possibly limited effect of legislation in the cut and thrust of a market overpopulated with operators who pay scant regard to tenants – or the law.

Q: In 2008 the Labour Government reformed the Real Estate Agents Act 1976 – a move that removed regulatory functions from the Real Estate Institute of New Zealand (REINZ) – or the requirement for agents to be a member of REINZ – and established an independent Real Estate Agents Authority to oversee licensing, complaints, disciplinary and enforcement processes. At the time, Catherine, you presented to ministers Bradshaw and Cosgrove to explain the folly of this move. How do you think the industry suffered as a result?

A: “I’ll never forget speaking to Sue Bradford who was sitting on the submission panel. Back then Goodwins was operating a relatively small rent roll and yet our trust account was already receipting nigh on $20 million in rent per annum. The government’s focus was to introduce regulation that created a government department to manage real estate salespeople. However, the newly established Real Estate Agents Authority excluded property management services from the definition of real estate. The move effectively abolished practical checks and balances on where rents were paid and how rents were managed. It blew my mind. Over the years I’ve dealt with so many people who have said: ‘Look, we’ve got a problem. We paid a significant bond and now we can’t get hold of the property manager to get it back’. The only recourse for jilted tenants is to go to the police. It simply doesn’t work. Now we have unlicensed property management providers on every street corner. It’s just not sensible.”

Q: Are you confident about the current government’s ability to fix the problem?

A: “Hesitantly, but legislative processes tend to produce an excess of red tape. And it ends up adding costs disproportionate to the problem legislation hoped to solve.”

Q: You’ve talked about changing the perceptions of property management. What is the sector famous for and how would you like to see that change?

A: “There’s a lingering view that property managers are nothing but rent collectors and maintenance go-betweens. We’re so much more than that. When I look at the work our team delivers, particularly to our property investors, you can’t ignore the tremendous value we bring to the relationship – from the very outset of a property’s marketing and tenant selection, shaping positive ongoing tenant relationships, our management of property inspections and long-term maintenance plans, how we enhance renovations and additions to build long term value, our role in educating landlords to help them reach their goals; and the body of knowledge we’ve built over the years. To have that almost dismissed as rent collection is a little galling. And yet that’s how most people view our role.

Q: Goodwins’ strengths in property management I imagine present an opportunity to surprise and delight jaded landlords.

A: “Our relationship with both landlords and tenants is possibly unique to Goodwins. We now have intergenerational landlords on our books – we’re working with the children of parents we helped decades ago, which I think is fantastic recognition of the value we bring to property management. They recognise that New Zealanders’ ingrained DIY mentality isn’t based on sound economics. Rather than power on and do it themselves, they’ve backed a professional property manager to get into a better position. I’ve had clients look me in the eyes and say: “If only I’d come to you sooner – I’d own more properties because it would have given me so much more time’. This is no small thing. Property is the most significant asset in their retirement plan – it’s a legacy. But so often people don’t treat it like that, and it’s something I’d love to change. I also believe tenants benefit from more professionalism in our sector. Tenants should choose a property that’s managed by professionals – because they can bank on  24/7 service for maintenance issues; they can trust where the rent is going and that their bond is safe; and they can be reassured that the inspectors and tradespeople who visit the property have been vetted and approved. And yet unscrupulous operators keep making news headlines, preying on society’s most vulnerable and packing them into slum properties to make a buck. It has a terrible impact on the surrounding community.”

Q: You’ve been quietly growing Goodwins’ sales division. How are things progressing?

A: “We’ve come a full circle, of sorts. Goodwins was a full-service agency from 1991 up until 2011, when we sold our sales agency and worked exclusively in property management. Now, 19 months on since reestablishing our sales division, it’s clear we’ve made the right decision. Remaining solely focused on property management for all those years was instrumental to developing the ethos and processes that underpin our success today. It also took us in new directions, leading Auckland’s market in the management of executive homes, exclusively accommodating syndicates associated with the America’s Cup and working for the film and media industry. All that work and those connections benefit the sales side of our operation. Now we’re ready to grow again, though staying away from the McDonalds mass market model popular in our industry. Size isn’t the point – in fact it can be the kiss of death. We’re limiting growth to the very best people we can hire – think haute cuisine rather than Big Mac. I’ve been blown away by the feedback so far. People are saying: ‘You’re the first agency that’s really dedicated the time, energy and resources we felt were required. We’ve dealt with some agents who made us feel lowly and desperate’. It’s good to know that we’re on the right track.”

Real estate agent all bluster? Try Goodwins for honesty and focus where it really matters. Call Catherine on 021 437710 to see how Goodwins does things differently.