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Australia’s Top 10 Commercial Mortgage Brokers 2015 - 1 George Karam

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#1 GEORGE KARAM
BYBLOS FINANCE, SYDNEY


Australia’s top commercial broker for 2015 hasn’t appeared from nowhere. You might recall George Karam from last year’s list, where he reached fifth place in what itself was a competitive year. The intervening 12 months have not only seen Karam move up four places, but he’s almost doubled his annual settlement total, from $83m to a stunning $169m. So what has changed?

Byblos Finance is a different brokerage than it was last year, but Karam is arguably still the same broker. He’s still insistent about his value proposition: “We’re a property broker – we don’t do local business banking; we don’t do cars or leases, or that sort of thing.” And he’s still based in Parramatta in Sydney’s flourishing west; most of his developer clients come from the surrounding area.

Karam wasn’t responsible for the area’s property boom – and doesn’t claim to be – but he did plan for it. “We are in the right place in the right time, but having said that, we were kind of preparing from 24–36 months out for an improvement in the market conditions,” he says. Preparation has meant taking on four extra staff including administrative staff and ex-business banker Matthew Patterson, taking the total team to seven.

Understanding Byblos Finance means understanding its clients. “Our service and our offering are aimed at high-net-worth groups, individuals, families and established people who are looking for a better way to conduct their loan banking than they would be able to do themselves,” Karam explains. “They’re the type of guys who don’t really need an introduction to the bank, but what we try to do is add value to the way they’re used to dealing with the financier.”

For Karam, adding value means involvement across the entire development process. Karam described himself as a ‘private property banker’ in last year’s survey and has adopted an account-management structure for dealing with clients. Right from the start, he advises on project feasibility, equity return and how much cash a client will need, in order to “show them what the loan is likely to be like before they’ve even acquired the site”.

In essence, Karam adds the financial perspective to the team of advisors required by any large-scale property developer. Karam maintains relationships with professional solicitor, quantity surveyor and valuer associations, and is himself one of the founding members of the Western Sydney Developers Forum. His contacts in the construction industry provide a steady stream of referrals without the need for fees. “Our referrers refer to us because they know their client is going to be looked after; they’re going to get a value-added service no matter what,” he says.

Byblos’ success owes much to Karam’s relationship with banks, and again, it comes down to a ‘value-add’ approach. “Using our own expertise, we’ll do as much of the credit preparation work for a lender – not just do the introduction and wait for them, but actually execute the deal,” Karam explains. “The way I run the business is we see ourselves as an extension of our preferred lenders, and we try to integrate as much of their supply chain as we can.”

Looking forward, Karam is positive about western Sydney’s property market and believes the number of returning clients shows his time spent working on the business is paying off allowing him to resume a full client-facing role. Nevertheless, preparation remains at the core of his strategy: “As our business is growing, we’re again investing for the next 12–24 months out. We think there’s going to be a further increase, and that’s what I’m preparing for.”