Twenty-five years ago Tommy Heptinstall and David Platt blazed a new path in Wellington real estate when they lit up the market with an iconic green logo that symbolised their go-getting drive to be the best.

“When Tommy’s Real Estate started we gave our competitors a fright for sure,” David says.

“Our colours and branding were bold and stood out. We had a young sales team and people could see we were having fun doing what we did.

“We were one of the first real estate offices to have a good website and very quickly our competitors were rebranding or tidying up their brands.”

But the cornerstone of their enduring success as Wellington’s most-awarded real estate agency would be a commitment to the community that went much deeper than unprecedented customer service.

“We started to invest heavily in good community causes and this sponsorship drove a lot of goodwill,” Tommy says.

“Our competitors could see the relationships were two-way and supporting community causes made a positive difference to the public perception of our brand.

“We drove an expectation that it was good business to help support worthwhile community events or organisation and it’s good to see most real estate companies now support the communities, which support them in turn.”

Tommy’s has helped thousands of Wellingtonians Tommy’s through its financial and hands-on support of numerous charities and non-profit organisations, including Wellington Free Ambulance, Wellington City Mission, Wellington Children Hospital, Life Education Trust, Given For You, Trees That Count and Everybody Eats. It’s open to assisting any charities or groups that align with its brand mission of supporting those that do good for Wellingtonians — just as Wellingtonians were quick to do good for Tommy’s in 1999.

“We started with an office full of empty desks and no sales staff,” David recalls.

“But within three-to-four months we had enough salespeople to start making an impression in the market.”

“You could argue that our timing was perfect and that we were a couple of smart guys and pulled off a great coup given we were competing head-to-head with big established brands,” Tommy says.

“Given we both had young families and not a lot of money behind us you could also argue that it was a risk we were foolish to take. But timing, hard work and an element of luck got us across the line.”

“Our biggest surprise was the speed at which we developed a recognised brand and a loyal following,” David says.

“Many of our clients were previous clients, some wanted to find out what we were about and many saw us as the underdogs and just wanted to help.

“You cannot put a value on referral business and we were lucky we had made an impression on many people over the years we had sold real estate in Wellington.”

Tommy’s success extends well beyond residential sales. It also has its own commercial and property management divisions for investors and landlords, and at one stage Tommy and David pondered expanding Tommy’s Real Estate beyond Wellington.

“But we knew the risks of over-extending ourselves and taking our eye off the ball,” Tommy says.

“We wanted the best real estate offices in New Zealand to be in Wellington, not the greatest number of offices in New Zealand.

“We also had a good business and were big believers of enough-is-enough. We didn’t need to prove anything more to ourselves than what we had set out to do: create a great and well-recognised business and dominate the Wellington property market.”

One of the agents synonymous with Tommy’s, Nicki Cruickshank, is celebrating her 20th year with the company.

“When I decided I wanted to do real estate, I looked around all of the companies in Wellington,” she says.

“Tommy’s was only new then. It looked fresh and dynamic. But it was the only one that said ‘no’ to me – which created a challenge!  

“Both Tommy and David were very concerned about how hard of a job it is when you have young children. But I managed to convince them to give me a chance. 

“Tommy is a larger-than-life personality and probably the best real estate agent that has ever been in Wellington, so who better to learn off!”

Nicki says the culture of teamwork and focus on staff training and customer service stand Tommy’s in good stead for the next 25 years.

“What I love the most about working and selling real estate in Wellington is the positive attitude of the team,” Nicki says.

“They’re always upbeat even when things are tough, have great senses of humour, which you need in those times, and always have each other’s backs.

“I feel excited for the future of Tommy’s. There are certainly some really young stars coming through and, with the culture of the last 25 years embedded in them, I am sure it will thrive for the next 25!”

Steering Tommy’s into its second generation is CEO Ben Castle. “Tommy’s has always been visionary,” he says. “Preparing for the future means anticipating market shifts, embracing new technologies, and promoting innovation.

“One of the most significant drivers of change in the real estate sector is technology. AI has enormous potential to reshape real estate – the challenge will be how to best apply it.

“The use of technology to provide a more efficient service is great on one hand. However, maintaining the personal touch is what’s important.

“At Tommy’s, we always continue to learn, continue to grow, and will always strive to support our community and deliver success to our customers and clients – that will never change and we are looking to lead the Wellington market for the next 25 years.”

As for the biggest challenges facing real estate agencies and their clients, Ben cites: the unpredictable nature of the economy, especially with interest rates remaining high; the central government’s current spending plans; local government investment requirements; and, of course, offshore tension that can impact on the market generally.

“The ability to understand the impact of these factors and being proactive with planning and communications between agency and clients will be important,” Ben says.

“Affordability has been significantly pressured and the challenge is meeting the market and vendors’ expectations versus buyers’ expectations.

“The market will cycle, as it always has done, so it is about understanding the best strategy when looking to sell your property.

“Tommy’s have a team here that have seen a number of cycles, including the global financial crisis in 2007/2008, as well as the peaks. Having that experience and knowledge is critical for success.”

In the meantime, Tommy’s is inviting customers to win one of 25 birthday gifts by sharing their stories of having bought a house through the agency; the best story, as voted by the community, will win a $2500 contribution to their or a friend’s birthday party.

Says Ben, a born-and-bred Wellingtonian: “We want to celebrate our milestone by sharing the stories that make Wellington such a special place to live.”

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