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When the going gets tough, Harcourts gets going

Sep 28, 2021 10:54:44 PM

These two offices prove that overcoming difficult times can bring out the best in us. 


State lockdowns threatened to derail the hard work of Harcourts Smith. Until Kate Smith made a record-breaking 11th-hour strategy change. 

With less than 24 hours notice that a 7-day lockdown was taking place in South Australia, Harcourts Smith had no choice but to act quickly. With six auctions booked for that weekend, along with motivated buyers and anxious sellers, owner Kate made an 11th-hour decision to pull out all the stops and move the auctions forward. 

“I had less than 24 hours to reschedule all the auctions by bringing them forward to hours before the lockdown kicked in at 6.00pm,” Kate said. 

The result was a huge success for the Harcourts Smith team and they even set a street record for one of the sales! 

“I was thrilled for my vendors but also for the buyers as they came along for the journey and helped make them the success that they were,” Kate said. 

Having already experienced one lockdown before, where open houses and auctions weren’t possible, Kate worked with in-house auctioneer Anthony DeMarco to set up an online auction platform. While it wasn’t an initial success, the team persevered and have recorded remarkable results. 

“The first lockdown brought a period of uncertainty but by the second the market conditions were strong and the buyers were there,” Kate said. “I knew moving the auctions forward was the best service and outcome for my vendors, I had to manage their stress and anxiety! I would never do anything to jeopardise my vendor's results and had full confidence that this was the right decision.

“By our third round of recent lockdowns we had the process in place with interstate bidders regularly bidding digitally so we had Anthony carry out four auctions from his living room with outstanding results.”

As a business leader Kate believes that to adapt she has to lead the way. “I have always modelled my business and decisions on acting quickly and pushing change as soon as it is needed. I think as a leader that has helped my team feel confident through the uncertainty of Covid-19.

“As simple as it sounds you have to remain positive and keep doing the basics like great service, client engagement. It shows the clients that you are achieving success even in times of uncertainty. People like doing business with positive people. Winners never quit.”  


Sarah and Mark Sheppard pivoted after a devastating fire at their office by opening up their home - and recording their best month in business.  

When a fire broke out at Harcourts Sheppard, owners Mark and Sarah watched in horror over FaceTime as their office went up in flames. 

They pivoted, opened up their home to their colleagues and in turn, recorded their best month ever. 

“We found resilience and patience that we didn't know we had,” said Sarah Shappard. “It will take more than a fire to wipe us out.” 

Recalling the shocking weekend, Sarah explained that her and husband Mark and their two boys were enjoying Easter long weekend 400km away when they got a flurry of calls from concerned staff and clients warning them that their office was on fire. 

“After the initial shock of the event we were quite numb and felt rather helpless,” Sarah Sheppard said. 

The next day, the family packed up their belongings and cut their holiday short to return to the wreckage. 

The business, which has over 600 properties under management and a team of 20 people, had the challenge of finding a new place of work, and were generously offered a number of work spaces. Unfortunately, most were not suitable for the scale of their operation. 

“We really wanted to stay together during a time of uncertainty,” Kate said. While they eventually accepted a temporary office, there was a two-week period where Kate and Mark had to open up their own home to staff. 

“Those who could work from home did so during this time so it ended up only being five to eight of us at our place,” Kate said. “Initially it was a bit fun but ensuring my home was clean and tidy before 8.30am between getting kids off to school, printing issues, plumbing issues and other random challenges was wearing thin. It was a long 2 weeks but we got through each day - often with the assistance of wine!” 

Despite a long insurance battle on their hands, the team are now back in part of the building.

Mark and Sarah have dealt with a range of diverse challenges in their 17 years as business owners. Sarah believes that communicating clearly is incredibly important in overcoming difficult times.  

“Reach out and accept offers of assistance. It doesn't make you weak, it’s better and everyone is stronger together,” she said. “Share and be open with your team. They'll appreciate it over being left in the dark and they won’t be left to assume what is going on. Great things grow from being vulnerable and it is ok to not be ok- we are all human.”