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From chemical engineering to real estate entrepreneur: Paul Billinghurst’s starring role in Raine & Horne’s expansion in New Zealand

May 13, 2024

Paul Billinghurst, now a Principal at Raine & Horne with offices in Tauranga, Mount Maunganui, Katikati, Waihi Beach, and Waihi, has made significant strides since earning his honours degree in Chemical and Process Engineering from the University of Canterbury. “Back then, I was a greeny at heart and believed that an engineering career was my path to saving the world.”

However, engineering wasn’t for Paul. In 1998, he ventured to Europe for an overseas experience (OE), transitioning from engineering to IT while in London. Returning to New Zealand, he worked in IT and Operations with ANZ Bank for 12 years. This banking experience sharpened his management skills, preparing him for his future role as a principal in a multi-office real estate business.

In 2013, while commuting in South Auckland traffic, Paul, who at that time worked in the Auckland CBD, faced a midlife crisis, questioning if this was his life for the next 25 years. Inspired by a successful real estate salesperson friend who mountain biked with him, Paul was drawn to real estate for its independence and performance-based rewards – this was very different from the structured corporate world. 

He embarked on a real estate career in 2014 with a different group and quickly excelled, earning the Rookie of the Year title in New Zealand. Paul discovered his passion for the industry, saying, “I’m a positive person, and I love being surrounded by people who look on the bright side of life and love being alive! Most successful real estate salespeople are cheerful, resilient, and optimistic.” As my wife Bronwen says, “I found my people”.

Paul reflects that earning the rookie title confirmed that real estate was his future. “I was fortunate to join a high-performing office surrounded by high-performing salespeople. I was hungry to learn and help, and I offered to take on listings, manage open homes, and work with buyers. This exposed me to lots of people and helped me gain skills quickly.”

The generosity of his colleagues also bolstered Paul’s early success. “I offered to take open homes and listings my colleagues didn’t necessarily want. I was 40 and highly motivated. I was also our family’s main income earner so had to make it work.”

Reflecting on early experiences 

Paul, who sold properties in South Auckland, was struck by the stark realities he encountered. “I remember selling an investment property where the lovely tenants kept the place immaculate. They worked very hard, and I think both parents had two jobs each and were still struggling to make ends meet.”

This experience deepened his understanding of the differing perspectives in property transactions. “For landlords, it’s often just an investment they’re selling, but for the tenants, it’s their home,” Paul noted. He made it a priority to treat tenants with respect and to keep them well-informed throughout the selling process.

Transitioning to business ownership

Paul spent a few years in real estate in South Auckland, finding success but struggling with transitioning from a stable banking salary to a fluctuating real estate income. With two young daughters and frequent weekend work, the change was hard on his family, including his wife, Bronwen. They never planned to settle long-term in Auckland, and during a quiet open home, Paul and Bronwen texted each other and decided to move to Tauranga.

“Although I loved real estate, I missed managing teams and fostering others’ career success as I did in banking,” Paul recalled. “When we relocated to Tauranga, I decided not to return to real estate sales but look for a real estate management position.”

While looking for this opportunity Paul took a year-long detour back into IT corporate sales before an opportunity at NRG Realty Ltd caught his attention in 2016. The company, co-owned by Neville and Gill Ruske, needed a new Business Development Manager. Neville Ruske, who would later become Paul’s business partner, was seeking a replacement for his retiring sales manager. Neville advertised the position with the vision that the right candidate could eventually be promoted to sales manager as part of a strategic succession plan to transition himself and his wife, Gill, out of the business.

Paul remembers that from the first interview, Neville outlined the potential opportunities. “I was lucky that in Auckland, I had worked in the same brand as Neville. So, I called on some contacts to ring Neville to suggest that he employ me, which seemed to do the trick.”

Paul and Neville quickly built a strong rapport and trust in each other. By early 2020, they, along with Gill and Bronwen, had crafted a succession plan and signed a partnership agreement during the initial COVID lockdown.

The advantages of aligning with New Zealand’s fastest-growing real estate brand

In August 2023, NRG Realty Ltd aligned itself with the rapidly expanding Raine & Horne network in New Zealand. Paul said his motivations for driving this change were multiple. 

Paul praises Raine & Horne as a blend of tradition and innovation. “We were among the first to join Raine & Horne alongside the three offices in Northland led by Gerard Ponsonby,” he said with pride. “As early adopters, we jumped on after reading their media release[i] announcing ambitious plans for expansion into New Zealand. We realised it was better to join them than to face them as competitors.”

He added, “Then, when we chatted with Executive Chairman Angus Raine, we started to understand how their suite of first-to-market technologies, such as the social media marketing platform Amplify powered by AI and DigiKitPlus, the online appraisal platform, added value to salespeople and vendors.

“Also, having worked for ANZ, I also understood the value of being part of a bigger company, the resources this provided and the people and wider knowledge you could tap into was another advantage.”

Paul continued, “Amplify is a strong selling point for us. Since we started using the platform, we have seen great click-through rates for our listings on social media. We also love ProcessPlus, a sales training system designed as an end-to-end sales workflow for salespeople, principals, assistants, and administrators.”

Paul said, “ProcessPlus is end-to-end real estate. For newcomers, you can start at step one, and by following each step, you’ll be successful.” He also notes that ProcessPlus is also incredibly beneficial for seasoned real estate professionals who may not be as adept with technology.

Further enhancing the partnership are regular sales training webinars led by industry experts such as Tom Panos and Josh Phegan, providing additional learning opportunities. Paul emphasised the value of these resources, noting, “The extra training and resources from Raine & Horne are unmatched.”

Paul also strongly resonates with Raine & Horne’s values of integrity, collaboration, innovation, knowledge, reliability, and professionalism. He is also enthusiastic about Raine & Horne’s rapid growth in New Zealand.

“Having more branches nationwide will mean more people know who we are and recognise the Raine & Horne brand as someone they want to do business with. As the brand expands salespeople will also see it as one that can add value to their business. I’m looking forward seeing the wider brand expand and continuing to grow our own teams across our offices.”

Paul concluded, “We had a few informal Zoom meetings with some of the guys considering joining us from other groups, and my advice is that the support they’ll get from Raine & Horne is like chalk and cheese when compared with other groups. The level of support and products such as ProcessPlus is awesome.”