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PHOTO: Queensland is the number one destination for interstate migration in Australia but as is often the case, popularity can mask some serious issues, providing REIQ’s CEO, Antonia Mercorella with a very full schedule. FILE


In an exclusive interview with API Magazine, REIQ’s youngest and first female CEO, Antonia Mercorella, discusses how she has drawn upon her extensive legal, and some theatrical, experience to tackle some of the defining issues confronting Queensland’s property sector.

A background in theatre was a fitting start to a career that now sees Antonia Mercorella holding down more roles than a Broadway star.

Most widely recognised in Australian real estate circles as the CEO of the Real Estate Institute of Queensland (REIQ) – its youngest and first female one for that matter – Ms Mercorella also juggles her involvement as a council member on PropTech BNE (which supports the property technology sector), REACH Australia as a mentor, and sits on the Housing Supply Expert Panel. A former four-year director on the board of the Sycamore School, she is currently a director on the board of Carter Newell Lawyers.

Allusions to star status are not entirely metaphorical either, with the proud daughter of Italian migrants having been honoured with the title of Knight of the Order of the Star of Italy (Cavaliere dell’Ordine della Stella d’Italia).

Then there’s the lead role as mother to two sons, aged 16 and 19.

“It can be challenging to find time for it all, but I believe it’s important and beneficial to be involved in diverse activities that are sometimes outside the strict scope of my work – there’s value in varied experience and it makes me a better CEO.

“Achieving work-life balance is never easy and is constantly a juggling act, as any leader will tell you.”

Growing up in Adelaide and completing a Bachelor of Educational Theatre degree hardly seems the pedigree of a Queensland-based real estate institute CEO but that qualification proved to be the launch pad for the studies that would shape her career, and to some degree the Queensland real estate landscape.

Ms Mercorella went on to complete a Bachelor of Laws with Honours, also from the University of Adelaide, and a subsequent Graduate Diploma in Legal Practice.

It’s time to reimagine stamp duty in Queensland.

– Antonia Mercorella, CEO, REIQ

She got her start in the real estate sector when appointed Legal Counsel for the Real Estate Institute of South Australia.

“I have been involved in the real estate sector now for more than 20 years, including heading up Legal Counsel for the industry’s peak bodies in South Australia and Queensland, running my own law firm servicing a number of real estate brands and clients, and finally becoming Chief Executive Officer for the REIQ almost nine years ago,” Ms Mercorella said.

“While I had no background or specialty in real estate prior to this, I quickly immersed myself in the sector, talking to the members and devouring every piece of relevant information and legislation in South Australia at the time.

Despite that early theatrical training, it’s less the glamour of real estate reality television and more the legal nuances of the industry that appeal.

“We all know Australians are obsessed with real estate, that market performance is a popular topic at BBQs and home improvements and renovations have made for ever-popular television shows, however, what most people don’t have an appreciation of are the policy, legislative and regulatory settings that keep real estate ticking and can potentially have make-or-break consequences.

“Real estate is shelter and that’s arguably the most important thing to all of us, and so playing a role in ensuring a healthy and sustainable real estate sector is highly rewarding work.”

A challenging time to lead in real estate

Most would agree that it feels like a critical juncture in the building and property sectors at the moment.

Myriad issues confront the property sector, and Queensland with its high migration levels, housing supply issues, rising prices, rental crisis and homelessness is on the front line.

Newly appointed president of the Housing Industry Association (HIA) Debbie Johnson spoke exclusively to API Magazine about the challenges facing the building sector and housing industry, and her own unique career path.

Addressing housing supply is seen as the key issue in Australia but doing so in an environmentally sustainable way is also a delicate balancing act.

“We want a healthy market that offers affordability and accessibility and meets our growing population needs into the future.

“Queensland sustains a rental population that is higher than the national average at 36 per cent.

“On top of that, the state has experienced a series of events creating the perfect storm – investor levels that have been depleting for some time, higher numbers of sales due to buoyant market conditions, significant additional pressure from interstate migration, fewer people per household, and, frankly, governments not doing enough to encourage new supply.”

Increasing urban and suburban density was at the heart of the solution, she said.

“When considering how we’re going to cater to our growing population and build the necessary supply, environmental concerns are increasingly on the community’s minds,” Ms Mercorella said.

“We’re lucky enough to live in Queensland and we want to retain our backyards, green spaces and great quality of life but that’s got to be balanced with the needs of our growing population and being able to put a roof over the head of our community.

“We need to accept and embrace that building up instead of out is part of the solution, allowing more supply with less impact to the environment through efficient land and resources use.”

Queensland’s population pressures

Queensland is the number one destination for interstate migration in Australia but as is often the case, popularity can mask some serious issues.

The REIQ CEO said the state and economy stood to benefit from this migration and there was a willingness and desire to throw open the doors to people from all over Australia and the world.

Antonia Mercorella, CEO, REIQ

Ms Mercorella has more than 20 years experience in the real estate sector.

“But the reality is we’ve got to make sure we have the housing and the infrastructure that supports it.

“We know that we’re already feeling the strain of unmet housing demand and the community is therefore concerned about Queensland’s ability to cope with further migration – whether it be from interstate or overseas.

“It’s an issue that needs to be front and centre for the government.

“It’s a really challenging balancing act because we know there are a lot of economic benefits that come with welcoming others into our state but at the moment, when we’re hearing of stories of Queenslanders sleeping in cars, you can imagine that talk of a migration influx creates a level of concern and fear in the community.”

Ms Mercorella said stamp duty reform was another key component of the housing affordability puzzle.

“It is a significant financial impost adding tens of thousands of dollars to the cost of moving house and there is evidence that it stifles housing mobility.

“Empty nesters wait longer to downsize and young families wait longer to upsize and this creates inefficiencies in the housing market that are undesirable, so it’s time to reimagine stamp duty in Queensland and remove this significant financial obstacle.”

There was also scope for support for first home buyers to be expanded, she said.

“We’ve seen in recent times, especially in response to Covid, an array of new grants at both federal and state level to help people and first home buyers onto the property ladder.

“While we welcome support and incentives that drive new construction and assist people to transition to home ownership, it’s disappointing that the government has decided to limit that support to new construction – support for first home owners should be available whether they are buying new or established housing.”

Investor potential undiminished

Queensland still represented a sound prospect for property investors, she insisted, with Brisbane’s property price increases suggesting that remained the case.

“I’m always very cautious about trying to predict the future or pinpoint potential growth hotspots but I think it’s safe to say that we have a lot to be optimistic about in Queensland.

“In just under a decade we’re hosting the Olympics and will benefit from the major infrastructure projects and facilitates and international attention that will bring.

“Our capital city has seen some game changer projects with Queens Wharf, Howard Smith Wharves and international brands adding to Brisbane’s vibrancy.

“When you bundle it all up collectively, it gives you plenty of reasons to be confident about what’s happening in our city and state.

“More than ever, investing here feels like the right thing to do.”

Negotiating, dispute resolution and that REIA issue

In her role as an advocate for the Queensland real estate sector, Ms Mercorella’s legal background has proved invaluable.

Having completed a portion of her law degree at the University of Oregon in the United States, she completed a course in negotiation and alternative dispute resolution.

This led me to a role as a court-appointed mediator dealing with minor claims and an insightful internship at a law firm under the supervision of Sid Lezak, former US Attorney for Oregon appointed by JF Kennedy.

“Sid was regarded as the father of mediation in the US and was a fascinating man who taught me a lot about negotiation and how to help people meet in the middle when they reach an impasse.”

One dispute that has simmered for some years is one between the REIQ and the national Real Estate Institute of Australia (REIA).

Asked if she envisaged a time when the REIQ would rejoin the national body, Ms Mercorella was cautiously optimistic.

“The reality is that the majority of real estate issues are local issues, as real estate is governed by state legislation.

“Having said that, there are important federal issues that do emerge from time to time around taxation, superannuation and other national matters, for example, a key national issue at the moment is anti-money laundering proposed reforms.

“While we’re not current members of the national body, we continue to work in a co-operative in a fashion with other REIs and remain committed to doing so.

“We’ve always said that we have an open mind to returning to a national body and have kept the lines of communication open with REIA to look for ways that we can maintain a positive working relationship.”