CIREBA Agent of the Year Good relations are the key to success

Business Editor Lindsey Turnbull chats with Sotheby’s International Realty Sales Partner Heather Carrigan about her recent award as CIREBA Agent of the year 2009, as well as her career and her thoughts on Cayman’s beleaguered real estate market.

How does it feel to be awarded Agent of the Year?

It feels great! Each year around Christmas around 180 agents from some 30 companies vote on their choice for Agent of the Year. This means we have to vote for which agent we most enjoy working with, so to be awarded this accolade by my peers is particularly gratifying.

Why do you think you won?
My background is hotel management both in Canada and here in Cayman. I bring this emphasis on customer service to my job in real estate. I’m a real people person and I place great importance on developing good working relations with both my customers and my fellow real estate agents.

Tell me a little more about your career.
I started in hotel management in my native Canada (I’m from a small town just outside Toronto) working with the Canada Pacific Group across Canada then to the Cayman Islands where I worked for the Westin Casuarina as their director of sales for five years. I moved back to Canada for a couple of years while still owning a condo here. I decided to move back the year after Hurricane Ivan as I could see opportunities for a career in real estate. Sheena Connolly, the owner of Sotheby’s International Realty in the Cayman Islands had originally sold me my condo and we clicked straight away. Then an opening became available at her company. So everything fell into place.

How does real estate differ from hotel management?
It is actually very similar: in the former I am showing houses for people to buy; in the latter I was showing rooms for people to rent. It’s all about putting the client first and finding out what they are really looking for. I was working very long hours in hotel management however that has actually not changed very much now that I’m working in real estate!

Why do you feel you have succeeded so well at Sotheby’s?

We operate quite differently at Sotheby’s as compared to other real estate companies in Cayman. Although we are all individual agents we also work as a team, not against each other. This means that if I am particularly busy I can ask one of the team to show a property for me.  We can therefore provide a seamless service for our clients, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. We are able to cover more ground that way.

Describe your work ethic when it comes to dealing with clients.

Many people believe that real estate agents are akin to used car salesmen in terms of their aggressive sales pitch, but that could not be further from where we stand at Sotheby’s. My goal is to find a property that my clients love; likewise my aim is to find the right fit for my sellers as well. This is in complete contrast to selling just for the sake of selling. There is nothing better than handing over the keys to a buyer who just cannot wait to get into their new home. It makes all the hard work worthwhile.

Where do you see Cayman’s property market now and in the next year or two?
I think in this current depressed market there are still some positives. For buyers in particular some of the price points are fantastic opportunities for investment. Also, interest rates are currently low which means buyers can really get some fantastic deals right now.
Cayman’s real estate market has undergone a price correction but we haven’t seen the bottom fall out of the market as it has done in the States, which is another positive sign.
As far as where buyers are coming from we have seen a slowdown in the local market but interest from overseas buyers is picking up. We are seeing more second or third home buyers eager to invest offshore to get the most out of their investment.

Do you think that the current proposals being considered by government with regard to amending the rollover term limit from seven to just under ten years and reducing the time spent off island from one year to six months will make any difference to the local real estate market?

I think this can only be a positive move for the real estate market and Cayman as a whole. If these moves come into effect they will bring huge rewards not only to the industry but to the government as well, in terms of stamp duty revenues. Many people are sitting on the fence right now, particularly those in middle and upper management positions, not keen to make the commitment to purchase even though they may want to.  If the new moves come into place, coupled with a clear idea of what positions within a firm can be considered key (and therefore permit the employee to stay to apply for permanent residency) this will only strengthen the real estate market. In particular, the residential inland market of homes in the CI$500,000 to CI$800,000 range has been extremely slow. These moves should speed up this sector in particular.


Sotheby’s International Realty Sales Partner Heather Carrigan