Backed by a deep understanding of the culture, policies and procedures of the esteemed international property group, Fine & Country, as well as the value of the brand, former CEO of Fine & Country Sub-Saharan Africa, Linda Erasmus, perfectly fits the bill as Brand Ambassador for Fine & Country International, her latest role in the world of real estate.
“This entails creating a platform connecting international licensees with different needs. A good example is the outflow of South African buyers to Portugal and Mauritius. I follow trends and ensure that these licensees maximise their businesses as a result of specific trends. Talk-shows are created to educate other members of the team and I have also been pulled in to assist with the growth of the company.
“Over the past 15 years, I was fortunate to build great connections within the international arena of Fine & Country, so I do not need any introduction. This also make connecting and operating via Zoom (courtesy COVID travel restrictions), much easier,” Erasmus adds.
Her incredible journey of 35 years in the real estate business – where she was one of only a handful of women who steadfastly climbed the ladder right to the top – started “many moons ago”, when she, her husband and two daughters relocated from Namibia to Johannesburg.
“Keen to keep myself busy without being too tied up in formal working hours, I took the plunge when a friend suggested that I should consider real estate. It immediately struck a chord with me…” Erasmus,a radiographer by training, explains.
Having shown her mettle as an estate agent, she soon moved into management, later owning no fewer than three Seeff franchises. In the early 2000s Erasmus was nominated as Seeff’s National Franchisee for three consecutive years.
She subsequently successfully launched Fine & Country in South Africa where she rose to the position of CEO in South Africa. Following her retirement in 2020, she stayed on as a director and currently serves on the Board, only to be appointed as the global International Brand Ambassador for the group. Both at Seeff and at Fine & Country, brand building ‘came with the terrority’; a challenge she relishes to the fullest.
Value of a brand
“The importance of a well-established brand in a specific market segment must never be underestimated,” Erasmus stresses. “A trusted brand is valued by customers; they feel safe in the brand’s space, hence the need for brands to build and inspire that trust.
“In short, the basis of a successful brand is found in the very reason why it exists, and what customers can expect and experience when interacting with the brand,” she explains.
“Allow me to take Fine & Country as an example: The brand was established to give the owners of luxury real estate access to a quality marketing strategy with a global reach. Properties in the upper quartile of the market require a unique approach and a different strategy.
“Customers experience a brand in the same way as a personality. They respond to the style, design clean lines of the presentation and other features of the brand. Indeed, design is part and parcel of branding. Brands have different looks and through their communication with consumers, express their ‘DNA’ and brand promise.
“When you have a run-of-the-mill three- or two-bedroom house like anyone else, you will most probably choose a brand that claims to sell more homes than anyone else; however when you have a unique, architect-designed home situated in a sophisticated upmarket estate, you would want your home to be marketed by a company whose marketing has already touched the deeper senses, motivating buyers looking not only for value, but for the excellence and grandeur in lifestyle.”
Building a successful brand
She goes on to provide some guidelines for building a successful brand.
“Behind every successful brand is an inspirational leader. While a brand starts out with someone’s bright idea, this idea needs to inspire both the work force as well as the customers. Leadership and culture can be attractive to both employees and customers. Employees are the ones who give life to the brand; but the vision and purpose of the brand should be ‘spread’ by the executives, middle management as well as the sales force.
“Ultimately, the value of a brand can be found in a number of intangible assets and goodwill, including customer support, history, knowledge and skill, technology, human resources, administration, documentation and systems. Enthusiasm is the fuel behind the idea, and good communication from leaders top-down is the glue keeping the employees engaged and motivated,” Erasmus points out.
It’s a long time since technology started changing our lives as well as the face of the real estate industry, she confirms.
“I fondly remember the pagers that we carried in the early Nineties. My first cell-phone was as heavy as a brick! Around the 2000s the mobile phone was the great innovation. The arrival of the cell-phone enabled estate agents to communicate with clients from places away from the office. Agents were empowered to spend more time ‘in the field’ and away from the office desk. At the same time, the cell-phone enabled buyers and sellers to reach agents while they were travelling during the day. In a way, it brought about a lovely sense of freedom and empowered the independent operator.
“Moreover, the Internet allowed us to transfer data, including images, much faster and much further. It opened borders between countries and, in short, together with cell-phone development, assisted business to be so much faster. Website technology slowly but surely replaced the print media and ultimately the Property Portals emerged as a prime marketing platform for properties,” she recalls.
“The major trend in the wake of the Internet is the formation of tech giants on the one hand and the dependency of the independent operator on those giants on the other. Although the portals currently have the upper hand, the tide may slowly turn as major property groups come up with new innovations in terms of lead generation.
“During the COVID lockdown, a new trend of viewing properties on-line had positive results. Recently, our office in Portugal concluded a sale of €1 000 000 to a South African buyer who had only viewed the property on-line.”
Looking back at the earlier years, she singles our communication as the main element that contributed to her success.
“Communication is the glue that keeps all activities together. As a real estate agent, communication forms part of almost every daily activity. I enjoyed having one-on-one meetings with my clients – before, during and after a deal was clinched. Good communication eliminates a lot of possible misunderstandings. Ultimately, you need to get into your customer’s head, understanding his or her needs. Finally, writing a solid, water-tight contract is the ultimate confirmation of what was communicated and agreed to between the parties,” she muses.
In conclusion, Erasmus singles out three guidelines that she believes can serve as a compass for aspiring business and property entrepreneurs:
“I have always believed that you have to perform at a consistently higher level than others if you want to succeed in your goals. Many people come up with great ideas, but great ideas need landing gear as well as wings. Bringing a great idea to fruition requires a lot of preparation and perspiration. Also, believe in and adhere to the truth. Finally, do not sell your soul for money.”