It was an industry he was familiar with and, coupled with a strong interest in marketing — he studied marketing and management at the University of Otago — he joined the real estate game himself 13 years ago.
Just like his own father Jim Columb did back in 1995 when he started Edinburgh Realty with Mike Elford and Peter Wilson, it was time for James Columb and his wife Amy to do their own thing.
The couple were grateful to Edinburgh and its directors for being supportive with their move to going into partnership with the AndCo Realty Group, a nationwide network of real estate agencies of which Columbs and Co was the 20th.
Coincidentally, Mr Columb had known Walker and Co director Hamish Walker, of Queenstown, since their school days. Mr Walker last year sold a 15ha-plus estate for more than $40 million, making it New Zealand’s most expensive house of all time.
Mr Columb said the importance of getting the marketing right was crucial when it came to selling properties and that involved working closely with clients to present their property in the best possible light.
The most important thing about real estate was relationships and people, something he particularly enjoyed, but he also saw an opening in the marketing space for presenting properties “differently to the status quo”.
And that was where Mr Columb had made a name for himself with some of his quirky techniques; whether it was Steve Larkins — who travelled the world performing his comedic Freddie Mercury act on cruise ships — reprising his role of Mercury to create an advertising video to sell sections in Waikouaiti, or The Wizard of Oz’s Dorothy and Toto making an unexpected appearance to sell a 1920s East Taieri home.
Finding a point of difference in a property was something that excited him when it came to its marketing and not taking a “cookie cutter” approach.
The industry was not all glamorous and there was a lot of hard work which went on behind the scenes.
“It’s a people game and that will never change. The more you can build relationships, the more you can make phone calls, that’s a huge part of the business. It’s about being able to create the relationships and building on those — that comes from years of hard work.”
The real estate market ebbed and flowed and agents could not control it, rather they had to “really ride that wave you’re on”.
“I think the thing about us, we’re pretty open and honest around where the market is at. Sometimes it’s great, sometimes you get some rough years,” he said.
But the market was in a much stronger position than this time last year and median sale prices were up from last year. Stock levels had not changed too much; there had not been a big influx of properties on to the market.
When it came to the year ahead, he expected two factors to have a particular impact: the likely drop of the official cash rate and immigration remaining strong. The hospital rebuild in Dunedin would also have a positive impact.
Born and bred in the city, Mr Columb said he enjoyed both the cross-section of people and properties in Dunedin. While it was a big decision to leave Edinburgh, the couple were keen to grow their own business and create their own legacy.