'Time for a change': Kelvin Collins


One of Queenstown’s best-known real estate personalities retired on Friday after 25 years
in the business.

Kelvin Collins has run and been a major owner of Harcourts Queenstown since ‘95, through Highland Real Estate Group Ltd.

He oversaw its merger with Queenstown Real Estate (QRE) in ‘98 and its expansion throughout Otago — it now has about 130 staff.

Collins spent his first eight years in Queenstown as a valuer for First National, dealing a lot with the aftermath of the ‘87 sharemarket crash.

Getting bored with writing reports, he and the late Ken Greenslade bought the local Harcourts branch off developer Graham Wilkinson, who’d used it to sell down his St Moritz apartments.

He recalls a tough first few years — in ‘98, for example, he says there were only about 10 local property sales a month.

That year’s merger with QRE was logical ‘‘because they had good people but lacked the systems and we had the systems but struggled to employ people’’.

After that, ‘‘all of a sudden the market took off’’.

Collins says the rationale for expanding into Cromwell, Dunedin, Alexandra and Wanaka was to give scope to staff who wanted to move into management, shareholding and other levels of responsibility.

In the past three years, the company has also focused on property management and now manages about 1400 properties.

Collins is proud the company was an early adopter of technology.

‘‘We bought computers for our agents, and even if they only played games on them, at least they got to use them.

‘‘You’ve got to realise when we started there was no internet, no emails, you had a cellphone but you couldn’t afford to use it because it was about $1.30 a minute and you’re only making 10 bucks an hour.’’

He thinks they were also the first New Zealand real estate company to adopt digital marketing.

Under his stewardship, the company has won several awards including an international Harcourts client experience award.

He’s also been the official ‘‘and the unofficial’’ local spokesman for the Real Estate Institute of NZ.

A Harcourts ‘Hall of Famer’, Collins says he didn’t sell himself, apart from the odd commercial deal, as it’s company policy managers don’t compete with agents — ‘‘our philosophy is the more we can make others successful, the more successful we’re going to be’’.

He’s also proud the company has given back about $1 million to the community, and, in particular, sport.

He says the biggest change is consumers are now more demanding.

Now 59, he says he’s exiting, and selling his 33 per cent slice to the other shareholders, as it’s ‘‘time for a change’’.

‘‘I’m going to take the next year to build a house — I’ve bought a digger — and just relax a little bit.

‘‘I just want to learn some new things, and I think, sometimes, one door’s got to close before the next one opens.’’

He originally planned to retire March 31 but, due to Covid-19, waited ‘‘until business got back to semi-normal’’.

Speaking of which, he’s adamant the market won’t be affected too much as Queenstown’s more of a lifestyle than a tourist resort.

‘‘The middle and upper sector will be quite strong in the next three to five years from people who want to live in this region.’’

The only vulnerable sectors were managed apartments, which depend on tourist income, and ‘‘poor-quality rentals’’, he says.

If a landlord hasn’t put in a heat pump or good insulation, ‘‘you’re going to struggle to find a tenant’’.