tom hirini
Tom Hirini has been working in the industry from a young age. Image supplied.
  • Tom began his career helping his father on construction sites
  • Later began working in project sales, working with off the plan owner-occupiers in particular
  • His advice for those in the industry: network, be resilient and keep going

At The Property Tribune, we like to hear from those with their boots on the ground across the property and construction sector.

Last week, we spoke to Tom Hirini of Next Chapter Projects, who works with developers and buyers to sell new off-the-plan homes across Melbourne’s inner north.

Over the past decade, Tom has been able to effectively bridge the gap between developers and buyers, displaying a strong passion for helping owner-occupiers settle into new homes.

He spoke to us about his career, how he ‘fell’ into project marketing, changes he has seen across the industry, projects he is working on and advice for those wishing to enter the industry.

The early years

Getting involved in the industry began at a young age for Tom, with memories of working on his father’s construction sites.

“For me, property has always been in my blood,” said Tom.

“My father ran a construction firm when I was younger and that was my first job, helping him on building sites.”

“From there I have had an obsession with property in the built form.”

“After graduating from high school I went into property and valuations at RMIT. That was a natural progression for me….at that age you don’t know what you do, but I knew I wanted to be involved with property.”

In his last year at university, he landed a job at HockingStuart, working in project sales.

“In some ways I kind of fell into it,” he said. “I love the process and enjoy being in the people business.”

Based in Carlton, Tom enjoyed working with developers to sell off the plan projects, especially with the owner-occupier market.

tom hirini internal
Tom Hirini. Image supplied.

Industry Changes

Tom noted how the market had changed over the last decade in particular. When he began, there were significant high-density developments fuelled by overseas investment. It was not rare to witness off the plan apartments being sold over a weekend at a convention overseas.

However, he has seen a shift driven by legislative changes – not just here in Australia but also overseas – on capital outflow rules imposed by the Chinese government, for example.

“(Our) banks also started getting nervous about funding projects that were predominantly backed by overseas purchases… they didn’t feel as confident that they could settle on them,” he added.

“When I started, a lot of developers were appealing to those overseas investors, who liked smaller apartments, typically 60-65sqm.

“I know that’s just not liveable… in my time, I have noticed this market has started to wane.”

Other changes in Australia include stamp duty rules for foreign buyers.

Previously, full stamp duty savings could be accessed for off-the-plan purchases – now a standard 5% stamp duty and 7% for foreign buyers duty tax is applicable, meaning $130,000 in stamp duty for a million-dollar apartment.

Tom saw the high-density market as not sustainable, despite high volumes.  He wished to focus on more boutique developments for owner-occupiers, a market he felt he could master.

“Rain, hail or shine all owner-occupiers need shelter, they are not like investors who are prone to the ebbs and flow of the economy.”

Tom took the leap and founded Next Chapter in November 2020, and has employed a strategy of carefully selecting the projects the team works on.

He concedes Next Chapter is not for all projects – especially for institutional developers that wish to build “spreadsheets in the sky” – as they prefer to work on smaller projects that sell to owner-occupiers directly.

“I think for me it’s important getting involved with developments from the start and be seen as a stakeholder in the project.”

“I am an agent, but I don’t like to think of myself as one… we have a no-tie policy at Next Chapter… a genuine down-to-earth approach towards real estate with open communication and transparency.”

“All too often I see agents that come in at the eleventh hour to work on a project and have no idea about the history of the site or how the project came to be or haven’t been involved in the decisions that were set in stone earlier on.

“It’s essential as a selling agent to have a deep understanding of the project.”

florenze terrace
Florenze Terrace. Image supplied.

One project Tom is working is Florenze Terrace located along Lothian Street in North Melbourne.

Originally with a plan for 33 apartments, it was scaled to 18 four-bedroom townhouses, all with private rooftop terraces and private street entrances – designed for local owner-occupiers.

Despite many stakeholders typically dreading the community consultation process,  the feedback was great.

“Everybody was wrapped we were doing less,” he said.

There is also a focus on sustainability credentials among the development the team works on – something Tom is passionate about.

“We are in the middle of a climate crisis, trying to teach net-zero by 2050. We don’t see any chance if we don’t build these initiatives into our built form.”

florenze kitchen

Pandemic drives demand for living spaces

Given Melbourne’s emergence from lockdown, it may not come as a surprise that more buyers are revaluating their living spaces – especially in terms of accommodating their working from home needs.

This factor was taken into account when Florenze Terrace transitioned from apartments to townhouses.

“We have shied away from study nooks in living areas… people find it hard to switch off,” said Tom.

Some of the purchases to date have even seen two of four bedrooms converted to studies.

“The emergence of working from home has been a big factor in how we design out townhouses and developers who don’t address that will be left behind.”

“The way people are living has changed so much that if you don’t have your finger on the pulse, you are going to end up with a project that doesn’t appeal to the market.”

Tom added that although developers attempt to appeal to the majority of the market, in reality, everybody has their own preferences – making it important to interact with clients one-on-one.

“Rather than having a cookie-cutter approach, I think there is a need for developers and architects to adapt to that,” he said.

“People are picky, they have a right to be.”

“I’m more client-focused than project-focused. We like to align ourselves with clients that share similar values to us.”

Network, network, network

When asked what advice he would give to those wishing to enter the industry, he emphasised the importance of networking and establishing strong relationships.

“The first thing I got told in real estate: if you don’t ask the question the answer is always going to be no.”

“I got my first job from the real estate agent that was selling my partner’s parents home, he put my name down for an interview.

“Use your network to get started. Hang in there, the longer you are in the industry the easier it gets… the momentum, word of mouth spreads, referrals and clients…”

Through building relationships with developers he noted that some went to the effort of consulting him before they purchased a site.  However, he added the industry can be a rollercoaster.

“It can be quite a tumultuous industry in the sense that one month you might have a lot of wins, then it might dry out… you have got to keep the motor running.”

”Have some resilience, don’t be afraid to be told ‘no’ and use your network. It is a really rewarding job if you do.”

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