At Dowling Neylan in the tourist destination of Noosa there is a series of handwritten books dating back more than 45 years.
Each book chronicles the agency’s monthly sales and captures the region’s evolution from surfside town to real estate hotspot that boasts some of Queensland’s most expensive real estate today.
Director Dan Neylan explains that ledger entries are made in keeping with tradition these days, but if you turn the pages you can see how a region is developing.
At one point, properties lining beachfront walkways sold for $18,000. Now they are demanding price tags in the tens of millions.
As one of the few real estate agencies in the area, dating back to the 1970’s, Dowling Neylan was key to this transformation.
A prominent agency
Founded in 1976 by Peter Dowling, the agency has always been one of Noosa’s best known property companies.
Originally known simply as Dowling and Co, it has changed and evolved over time.
In doing so, Dowling Neylan was involved in some of the most important developments in Noosa, including the subdivision of Sunshine Beach, the advancement of Hastings Street and the land clearance at Noosa Sound.
From actor to director
Dan came to Noosa from Victoria during the recession that Australia was bound to have.
It was the early 90s, he was 23 and came from the construction industry.
An avid surfer, Dan says, Noosa offered the allure of great beaches, great breaks and an endless summer.
As an added bonus, construction jobs were readily available.
That’s how Dan met Peter Dowling, and when a sales representative position opened up, he embarked on a new career.
Little did Dan know that within 20 years he would be the owner of the entire agency.
Sand shoes, shorts and Hawaiian shirts
Younger than most agents in Noosa at the time, Dan knew he needed to be different, he says.
“When I started out in real estate in Noosa, there were guys walking around in sand shoes, long white socks, shorts and Hawaiian shirts,” he recalls.
“I felt I had to dress smarter and know more than everyone else to be accepted and respected.”
Dan devoted himself to education. He undertook training, had multiple mentors, and studied what successful agents did. This approach gave him instant appeal.
A highly successful agent in his own right, he was a partner in the renamed Dowling Neylan in 2015. Two years later he was the sole owner.
A completely different industry
Dan explains that Noosa’s real estate landscape was different when he started. Cooperation between agents was a mainstay.
Interstate buyers contacted an agent who then worked with others to present a range of properties available.
“Everyone worked together because you needed each other to find enough buyers for properties,” Dan recalls.
The market was different too.
Prices have risen more than 30 percent in the past year alone, and Sunshine Beach is now Queensland’s most expensive suburb.
Dan notes that he’s seen the demographics increasingly shift, with Noosa becoming increasingly gentrified.
The global financial crisis spawned the term “seachange” and a crowd of retirees. The recent boom brought a new type of buyer.
Dan explains that while the baby boomers of the last decade came with a set budget, Covid saw business owners and professionals arrive in droves.
“Their mentality is, ‘Well, if I’m going to move to this place, I want the lifestyle property. I want my expectations to be met and they are willing to pay the money because they are still making good money.”
High profile customers
Shoppers may have changed, but Noosa has long had a reputation as the playground of Australia’s rich and famous.
Kevin Rudd and Thérèse Rein, Patrick Rafter, Karl Stefanovic and Gina Rinehart are just a few of the celebrities who have helped make the township an exclusive real estate destination.
Many of these names are no doubt on Dan’s client list, but when they do, he’s not one to do business and tell them.
Dan says Dowling Neylan prides itself on confidentiality and that it’s a commitment that has built trust and secured deals.
Whether dealing with high-end properties and buyers requires different skills, Dan concedes.
“You have to be very organized and concise when dealing with high-end customers,” he says.
“You have to anticipate what they need from you and you have to be ready to deliver.”
It comes back to trust
Trust is a word Dan often uses when referring to his agency’s longevity, but it’s not used as an empty real estate term.
He notes that customer relationships are built by listening to people’s needs, asking questions, imparting knowledge and helping them along their journey.
“I talk about where they’re going and what the next plan is,” he says.
“I don’t like leading people down a path that doesn’t get them where they want to go.”
Key to this relationship is a commitment to working with buyers.
Dan explains that the city, which draws crowds from the freeway, has often spent little time in the area.
His job is to provide market insights that give them the confidence to make an offer.
This helps his sellers, he concedes, but also recognizes that buyers later become sellers.
“Often when you give buyers that trust, that care, and that interest in what they’re doing, they leave behind a good experience and there’s the next listing,” he says.
Dowling Neylan currently holds the record for the highest price realized at auction in Queensland after selling a home at 39 Picture Point Cres, Noosa Heads for $16.45 million.
Dan explains that the owners were in their 70s and their parents bought the land through the agency and built a house there in the late 1970s.
The decisive factor behind the record transaction was the long-term relationship that Dowling Neylan has actively built up over decades.
“You speak of a very long-standing relationship with this family,” Dan muses.
And these relationships are central to the business. They are also considered Dan’s favorite part of the job.
His standout memories are not the record-breaking sales, but the opportunities to make a difference.
Dan gives the example of a client who bought a $2.4 million property before the GFC.
When the economy faltered, the house was sold at a loss of $800,000.
“I almost begged him to buy a smaller house, still in the same area, for $1 million and promised him that when the market turned around, that’s where he’d pick it up,” says Dan.
“He took that advice, bought that property and lived there, and then I sold that property for $2.2 million and he took $1.2 million, which was way more than he lost.”
Along the road
Between sales, property management and administration, Dowling Neylan now has a team of 14 people.
Over the years they have been larger at some stages and smaller at others, having gone through periods of expansion and rationalization.
They have also evolved with technology, the market and the economy, responding to the usual ups and downs of the industry.
Dan notes that they hope to expand again in the coming period, but that’s the thing about the business – it’s always evolving and changing.
“A company has a lifespan and a landscape,” he says.
“If you adopt the mentality that sometimes you’re at the top and sometimes you’re not, and that’s going to change, then you can be prepared for those changes.”
As for Dan, he’s enjoyed a career that came about almost by accident.
“I went from being a long-haired trader-surfer to a businessman. Real estate gave me that and I don’t think every industry has that potential.”