For those familiar with Melbourne’s commercial property sector, Mark Wizel has become an industry icon. Since his first exposure to an auction at the age of 16, Mark’s penchant for real estate has been sophisticated beyond his years. Renowned widely for being one of the first movers into the Asian capital market, Mark has developed an impressive reputation with his detailed and articulate market knowledge. He has personally transacted a staggering $12 billion worth of commercial properties since 2009.
His current role as National Director at CBRE is a far cry from the family Ugg Boot stand of the Queen Victoria market, but he attests that he wouldn’t be where he is without the experiences and people that befell his journey. Mark is however, never one to sit on his haunches, and during a recent conversation with Development Ready he explained how hard work, momentum and a little fortuitous timing have all played a part on his impressive career. And at only 36-years of age, he’s still got a long way to go.
All it took was just one look
Mark Wizel started earning his keep at just 13 years old, helping his father at the Queen Victoria Market in Melbourne. While he would have preferred to be heading to the footy with friends, or even just to sleep in, the days working at the family sheepskin stand were inadvertently preparing him for the successful career soon to come.
“As I’ve gotten older, I look back upon those experiences with Dad with a great level of fondness. During the seven or so years that I was in the stall, I harnessed a skillset for selling but also became very experienced at dealing with rejection.” Mark said while speaking with Development Ready’s Rob Langton.
His first exposure to real estate arrived with a turn of fate, as one Sunday morning when Mark was walking home from a friend’s house he came across his first residential auction.
“It was sheer luck. The auctioneer was Phillip Kingston of Gary Peer, who is in my opinion the finest residential auctioneer Australia has ever seen. I was impressed. He was making the crowd laugh, was incredibly charismatic and he even had a green Range Rover. That was it – I went home and said to Mum ‘I want to be in real estate’.”
A learned experience
On his father’s direction, Mark decided to work his way into the commercial real estate sector and soon secured a work-experience position through a contact at Colliers International. In these early days, at just 16 years of age, Mark was fortunate to be rubbing shoulders with John Marasco and Martin O’Sullivan, absorbing their expertise and taking every opportunity to educate himself further.
Ever-keen to learn, he began taking all the Information Memorandums he could find home with him to study further. During the campaign for 140 William Street, Mark was almost never seen without the attributing book under his arm. This enthusiasm paid off and five years after he had first walked through the doors at Colliers International, Mark was offered a job.
“I’ll never forget it. I was at the market on a Thursday when the phone call came through – 9629 8888 – I still remember it today. I’d never been so nervous or excited.
“I answered the phone and it was Pat Burke, who’s currently at MP Burke Commercial but was at Colliers International at the time. He was calling to see if I was interested in selling strata offices with him.”
This was a dream come true for the then 21-year old Mark. Now back in the Colliers International offices, he returned to his regular bombardment of questions and did all he could to learn from those around him; many of whom, including Nick Rathgeber and Tony Giuliano, were legends of the industry.
Of particular influence at the time was Martin O’Sullivan, who’s calm and casual demeanour contrasted his $660 million plus in sales. Mark was in awe and desperately sought out his counsel.
“I remember him (Martin) saying to me, one of the first times I approached him, ‘Mark let me teach you something about life. God gave you two ears and one mouth, use them appropriately.’ And that was the only thing he said to me in the first three months.”
Mark and Martin quickly developed a strong friendship and when the latter was offered a job at CBRE, Mark received a proposition to join him.
“He gave me 24 hours to decide so I went home that night and felt incredibly anxious. I didn’t necessarily want to go, because I am a loyal person, but my dad felt it would be a good move. Being so young at the time, I respected my father’s advice and decided to make the leap.”
The idea to change agencies was not an easy one for Mark to make, but ultimately the opportunity to head into the market place was too enticing to pass.
Trading one jersey for another
In 2006, having made the switch from blue to green, Mark began laying the foundations for his future. He saw that CBRE was institutionally focused and primarily attentive to the top end of the market. Mark, however, had developed a strong interest in the private market and believed that in this space, CBRE could have a significant impact. As Mark progressed through the CBD Sales Department, he was able to build the necessary divisions within the company to make it a reality.
As months progressed into years, Mark’s expertise grew and he soon began taking on multiple high-profile listings. After a string of new campaigns, he found himself stretched thin and with little support available. Coinciding with this, a man named Sebastian Drapac, who has since gone on to have an illustrious career, found himself underutilised and on the verge of being let go by the agency.
“I said, ‘Give me a week, because if he’s any good, I’ll need him.’ And it turned out that Sebastian was a gun. Without his efforts, there’s no way that either myself or the current team would have anywhere the platform that we’ve got today.”
Just like a swing – use the momentum
By 2012, CBRE was beginning to perform exceptionally well and the agency was transitioning from an outsider to a number one position. For Mark a lot of the success came from establishing strong infrastructure within the business, but he also believes that it came down to momentum.
“I often say that the most valuable thing in estate agencies, irrespective of what product you’re selling, is momentum. We’re in a perception business, so we don’t necessarily have a product to sell. We’re selling a skill, a feeling, a service.
“We never set out to be number one. We just put one foot in front of the other and put a big focus on possibility mind-set. The other aspect that really helped me, was timing. This was a great time in my life to work hard. I didn’t have to get home to read to my kids, or catch up with my wife. And sometimes I’d catch myself in a daze at 11pm on a Thursday night after uploading a thousand contacts. I think that you can’t underestimate the value in working really hard through your early to late twenties. That’s when you can set up your career.”
It’s all in the timing
Hard work and timing continued to prove paramount to Mark’s success, and after receiving a significant volume of enquiries from non-English speakers, the next step was both obvious and fortuitous.
“One particular call I fielded was when we were based in the Rialto, and I basically walked around the office looking for someone who could potentially speak Mandarin. I came across Lewis Tong in the Valuations Department, I handed him the phone, and he took to it like a duck to water. That was the start of a business relationship, which quickly evolved into a close friendship too. Together, we’ve been all around Asia and have transacted just under $10 billion to Asian capital.”
Where your responsibilities lie
It was through this period that Mark began stepping out of himself and saw his role as a real estate agent beyond the successes of the individual. The idea of the team-unit became of significant importance to him, as too did his client responsibilities. For example, counter-intuitively, the right advice might be to not sell the property.
“That may be an odd concept for a real estate agent who benefits from commissions, but integrity is the backbone of every great operator. If you can read the situation and can see there are pitfalls in selling the property, then perhaps there are alternative avenues that would lead to a better result.”
It was all going so well
CBRE continued to excel and Mark’s team soon grew to 37 members; things were looking good. Chinese investors were pouring into the country, the agency was benefiting from its embracement of the digital world, and the real estate sector in general was enjoying a substantially high volume of transactions.
But as 2018 rolled into 2019, the market had appeared to stall. CBRE faced multiple hurdles that would test the foundations that Mark had been laying.
The looming May federal election had sent an air of unease across the nation as many were anticipating a changing of the guard and a major shake-up. The royal commission into the banking and finance sector also haltered real estate markets, as debt, the lifeblood of real estate, became difficult to attain. And an increase in capital controls in China resulted in Chinese nationals facing difficulty in taking money out of their home country to invest in commercial properties in Australia.
All three of these hurdles came in quick succession at the start of 2019, but it was the latter that had the greatest effect on Mark and his team.
“It was crippling to the business and a stressful time. But thankfully, things really turned around in June/July. In particular if we look at the last 60 days of the year, we transacted 59 properties, which was incredibly encouraging. We’d come full circle.
“I said to the team in the end of last year that we need a strong plan in place for the beginning of 2020, because I think the market is going to come back very strong, early in the year.”
2020 and the vision is clear
With the team now well and truly back in the swing of things after the summer break, Mark’s biggest hope for 2020 is to see the return of the development site sector. After the recent success of CBRE’s Caltex Portfolio, which transacted for $137 million and was the largest development site portfolio of 2019, it has become very apparent to him that development sites are in under-supply.
“We absolutely need a new supply of development sites to hit the market this year.
“There will be flow-on effects that will go on to have dramatic impacts on the everyday Australian. If the government doesn’t back the development sector, which I think it will, but if it doesn’t, we’re going to see an increase in rents, a decrease in lifestyle expenditure and the economy is going to suffer as a result.”
This call for more development sites is placing vendors in a good position as the market starts to regain momentum. And it’s the momentum in the residential sector in particular that has Mark excited for a prosperous year ahead.
“We’ve been experiencing an upswing in commercial development projects and a downswing in residential – but migration to the city is not slowing down. Carrying forward the momentum we had at the end of 2019, I think there’s an incredible amount of opportunity out there for residential developers. And I am strongly advising those around me to secure a site as soon as possible, with the outlook of delivering the project within the next 15 to 30 months.
“The air is electric and the market is looking strong; I think 2020 is going to be memorable year for those to take the opportunities as they present themselves.”