Q & A with Kris Cunningham: ‘It comes back to ethics, and doing the right thing’
One of the top real estate salespeople on the North Shore, Kris Cunningham of Harcourts Cooper and Co has a long list of achievements to his name, but those that give him the most satisfaction are the ones he’s gained for supporting his local community.
What did you do before real estate?
I did marketing and business at uni then went into sales, and from there I went to an ad agency, and somehow ended up in design. I then had my own design and marketing company for five years. I enjoyed it but after a while I was ready for a change.
I was brought in by a boutique agency, Milford Real Estate, to help with a rebrand and marketing, and part of that was a recruitment strategy. I ended up going to work for them – I convinced myself with my own marketing!
They gave me a really cool opportunity that allowed me to continue running my design studio while getting into real estate. I also worked for them as their marketing manager, so I basically had three roles for the first few years. But it was good to be earning some money while starting out in a commissionbased industry because I had a family to support and little mouths to feed.
It comes back to ethics, and always doing the right thing. It’s being honest with people, even if that means missing out on a sale or getting a listing. I have had that ethos throughout my career – I wouldn’t have anyone on the team who wasn’t like that.
Did things take off quickly once you started in real estate?
I started post-GFC, so no, it was slow. I will never forget my first open home. I was doing it with a more experienced agent who was helping me to learn the ropes, and after we got to the house and got everything ready, he said to me, “I hope you’ve got some good games on your phone because there aren’t going to be many people here.”
I don’t think we got anyone, the market was so slow at that point. It’s very different now, when you are rushed off your feet. Eventually things picked up and I wound down my design business to focus fully on real estate.
Milford Real Estate were a great company to start with because they had fantastic leadership and ethos; they were very big on doing the right thing for the client as well as giving back and helping the community, which really aligned with me. But after a few years I wanted to broaden my horizons and experience other things so I moved to Harcourts Cooper and Co, which is an amazing company.
What do you love about real estate?
It sounds cliched but I genuinely enjoy the experience, not just the reward at the end when you sell the property. There’s nothing better than when it all comes together and you are able help someone through what can be a lifechanging moment. We get to be a part of those experiences time after time with different families and it’s very cool.
I also like the flexibility of the job. I don’t think I could do the same thing every day. We get to deal with different people in different situations which keeps it fun and interesting. The other thing I like about real estate is that there is no cap, there is no real limit to what you can achieve.
Has your previous career helped?
Definitely. I always have pretty clean and fresh ideas when it comes to design and marketing. It made it easier in those early days when I could design things myself. The industry has good resources, like templates for how things can look, but with my background, I can be innovative with things like videos and take it to the next level. We have a really good understanding of the audience we’re targeting and customize campaigns to suit.
Are you fussy about that side of things?
I’m a nightmare. I have very high standards. But it works.
What’s the secret of your success, other than great marketing and design?
It comes back to ethics, and always doing the right thing. It’s being honest with people, even if that means missing out on a sale or getting a listing. I have had that ethos throughout my career and that’s the same for everyone on my team – I wouldn’t have anyone on the team who wasn’t like that. It’s so important to build a good reputation.
What have been some of the most memorable moments of your career?
There have been so many. One of the most recent was being with friends who were trying to buy a house they really loved at auction and being able to help them with advice. When the hammer came down and it was theirs, the daughter burst into tears and I nearly cried too. It was a privilege to be a part of that moment.
One really special one was selling a property for a couple who’d built their dream home but unfortunately had to sell because the husband was diagnosed with cancer. He’d put so much into that house, it was his baby, but he’d over-capitalized by a large amount and all the feedback I was getting was a good million below where we needed it to be.
We kept on pushing and found a buyer who really loved it, and when the tender closed we had managed to get them to what the vendor wanted. That was a great feeling, and a special thing to be a part of.
You’re known for your community support – what sort of things do you do?
We’ve done fundraising for organisations like MakeA-Wish and Hospice and supported our local school and East Coast rugby and cricket clubs. We sponsor the cricket club, giving the kids’ teams jackets.
We do a blanket drive and a thing called Two Cans for a Coffee in a cafe´ where you take in two cans of food, which goes to the Auckland City Mission, and get a free coffee.
We don’t buy our clients gifts at Christmas, we buy toys for kids. I started out with my own kids, Jakson and Eva, taking them shopping to buy toys for other kids who wouldn’t get them otherwise. I think it sends a strong message about helping out others who aren’t as fortunate as you are.
Then we opened it up and invited our friends’ kids and now every year we get about 40 of them coming along. We give them a budget, they go out and get stuff, and the toys go to the Auckland City Mission and Foster Hope.
Cooper and Co have an award for commitment to the community that they give out every year and we have won it for the last five years. I’ve also had one from REINZ for the top small team in New Zealand for supporting the community, and was runner-up last year.
It means a lot to me, to be able to be involved in the community, and help out where we can.
What do you do with your time out of work?
Family stuff. We like to go camping, we wake board and mountain bike. My kids are into their sports, and I have always been involved with them. I used to coach Jakson’s rugby and cricket teams, but now I only manage the rugby team because they have far exceeded my coaching abilities. Jakson also plays basketball and Eva plays netball.
I play rugby for a local old boys’ team but I’m pretty broken; I’m recovering from all sorts of injuries, like a broken elbow. We have a guy in our team who is 70 and so inspirational – he’s still chucking a ball around and tackling. I think that’s awesome, but I don’t know if I’ll still be doing that at 70.