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Winning Women: Online property is the way to go

Oct 16 2016 07:27
Sue Grant-Marshall

It’s hard to believe that the assiduous Karen Miller, a former Cape Town corporate travel agent, now deals in industrial and commercial property sales worth millions.

Indeed, the monetary value of the properties she has sold since 2014 is in excess of R500 million.

The idea seems simple. You bank and make travel plans online, so why not buy, sell, rent or let property in the same way?

“We’re not selling residential properties because that is a complex and emotional process,” emphasises Miller.

“I saw a gap in the commercial property space – businesses that buy property – and went for it.”

She had started off in residential property, her first sale being a penthouse for R27 million at the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town.

“It’s the most exclusive real estate in the industry. At Seeff, we managed to secure a mandate for the sale of all 30 luxury apartments in the last block available.

“However, it was in 2008 during the global financial meltdown. Everyone was struggling.”

Miller refused to despair, searching until she found an offshore investor, Dubai World, who bought the whole block, planning to turn the apartments into serviced five-star properties.

“When they wanted to expand their commercial property portfolio, I joined them.”

It was 2010 and Miller had just had her second baby, but she didn’t hesitate, moving on to buy commercial property for them for the next four years.

She soon realised that there was a lack of the information that a buyer needed to know upfront about a property, “such as the tenants occupying it, as well as financial information underpinning the investment”, she explains.

Traditionally, a buyer submits an offer, the seller accepts it, then there’s about a two-month period during which the purchaser conducts due diligence, and sometimes pulls out or reduces his price.

“It can mean that the seller has had his property off the market for a while and consequently feels pressured to take the lower price.”

When Miller saw her husband was using a transparent online process for used-car sales, she suggested to her partner, Wayne van der Vent, that they do the same in commercial property.

They got conveyancers, online attorneys and a website developer around a table to ensure the legal requirements were met.

It also took months of software development before they were able to launch.

The result is Quoin Online. You register “and, if you’re a buyer, we ask for your Fica information. Brokers have to be qualified estate agents. Information around these commercial, retail and industrial properties is highly confidential.”

She elaborates on the transparent nature of selling property online. “We can see how many times a property is viewed. It’s also auditable. Sellers love it because brokers [agents] can’t fight over who introduced a buyer.”

LITTLE BLACK BOOK

Business tip: Never ever give up on your goals even when people doubt you.

Mentor: My mother who filled both parental roles.

Books: Lean In, about women, work and the will to lead, by Facebook CEO Sheryl Sandberg. 

Inspiration: Women who have achieved in a male-dominated industry.

Wow! Moment: Defying the odds of having a spinal fusion operation.

Life lesson: What Steve Jobs said, ‘Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice.’

Quoin handles the entire process, but splits the commission 50/50. Another advantage of the site is that if buyers have all the information they need upfront, “it speeds up the entire process”.

Miller was halfway through a BCom at the University of Cape Town and says she was upset when she dropped out. She worked in the travel and tourism industry for nine years, setting up in-house travel agencies whose clients included Parliament and Media24, before a friend enticed her into property.

“I used to work over weekends, but now devote that time to my children, family and friends. We love the mountains, beach and wilderness.”

Miller was diagnosed with severe scoliosis at the age of 12.

After the birth of her second daughter, it had worsened and she had three fractured vertebrae.

Determined not to have her vertebrae fused, she worked hard on her mind and body.

A year later, her curvature had improved to a degree that her doctor said was unheard of.

Now her daughter (10) has scoliosis too and Miller has started a screening programme at her school “with the goal of rolling it out at more schools”.

The gutsy woman, who lost her father when she was just 15, attributes her values and passion for believing in herself to her mother.

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