Carl Madsen describes himself as an accidental real estate agent. He decided to give the industry a try because he wanted a job that gave him the flexibility to travel overseas with his flight attendant wife Rosanne. Thirty four years later Rosanne now works with Carl, who is regularly the top salesperson in Barfoot & Thompson’s Ponsonby office and has been involved in 1109 sales, totalling over a billion dollars.

Q: What did you do before real estate?

Carl: I got a degree in engineering and by my late 20s, I was working as a sales engineer. My life was kind of mapped out for me. Rosanne was cabin crew for Air New Zealand and when she got into international, I thought it would be good to have a job where I could be my own boss and have the freedom to go away on trips with her at the drop of a hat.

Rosanne: Back then the trips were 14 or 17 days so I could be away for quite a while.

Carl: A friend was in real estate and suggested I try it. I thought I’d give it six months or so and see what happened. When I told people what I was doing they rolled their eyes. They thought I was wasting my university degree, and it wouldn’t last.

Q: Did you have any idea what you were getting into?

Carl: I didn’t have a clue. I did my real estate papers and then one day I walked down the road from our house in Mt Albert, where we were living at the time, and went into the first real estate agency I saw. I said I wanted to be an agent and they said, “You can sit over there”. It was 1989, a hideous time to be in real estate, although I didn’t realise what a hard market it was back then. Nothing was selling. It hasn’t been that bad again until this year. But after two months, I sold a house. Actually, it was a unit, and it was bought by 86-year-old twins. It had been on the market for a long time and it was incredible seeing how absolutely delighted the owners were. That feeling of being able to make someone so happy by selling their house for them gave me goosebumps, and still does. It’s like a drug for me; it’s what drives me.

After that first one I got such a buzz I had to keep going. The next month I sold four houses. It wasn’t about the commission or being seen as a success, it was about the kick I get out of the feedback, and other people’s happiness.

Q: Have you seen a lot of changes in the real estate industry since then?

Carl: It was very different back then. There were no mobile phones, no computers, no auctions, no open homes, no sole agencies. The listings were run-on advertising in the newspaper. You drove buyers around to look at houses.

A lot of agents were older; it was unusual to see someone in their twenties. I watched what the experienced agents did but I also had my own way of working. I would go to see people whose houses were listed and say, “There are 350 listings in this area, we need to make your house stand out so everyone will see it.”

I started selling lots of houses but I didn’t feel like a real estate agent, in fact I still don’t. I prefer to listen rather than talk, particularly about myself, and when I look at these top agents, they are highly charismatic with big personalities and confidence. I’ve never been the sort of person to boast about my achievements – it’s unusual for me to be talking about them in this interview, to be honest. I like to fly under the radar. I felt like I didn’t fit in, and I still don’t.

Rosanne: Carl is extremely confident and trusts his own way of doing things, and it works.

Carl: These days when you go to the training seminars a real estate guru tells you if you want to be a successful agent you’ve got to spend 80% of your time relentlessly prospecting for work. I don’t believe that because it means you’re only spending 20% doing the job you should be doing, which is selling the houses of the clients you’ve already got. You need to put your effort into doing the best you can for them. If you do a good job, then people will recommend you.

Q: What do you think is the secret of your success?

Carl: I think it’s because I’m enthusiastic and I really want to do the best for our sellers. I have a fear of letting people down. And it is also perseverance. I hang in there; I never, ever give up. One property took me two and a half years to sell. It was a peninsula in Torbay that had a lighthouse that a family had built for their mother. It was just one big room, it didn’t even have a bedroom. It was very unique. It took a long time, but I got a buyer in the end.

I also think my engineering background affects the way I work. I think things through very carefully and in my mind I’m always about three or four steps ahead of where we’re at. Real estate is quite a random industry, a lot of things happen by chance, but I try to eliminate as much of the randomness as I can. I try to pull all the pieces together and get things done with as little stress to the vendors as possible.



Rosanne Madsen on her husband's talents: "The thing with Carl is that he goes way beyond what other agents will do. Once the deal is done, that’s not the end of his involvement." Photo / Fiona Goodall

Rosanne: The thing with Carl is that he goes way beyond what other agents will do. Once the deal is done, that’s not the end of his involvement. We recently sold a house for someone who had amassed a lifetime of memories and collectables; the whole house was full to the gunnels. Trying to get it cleared in time for settlement was a big job so Carl was there for two days before the movers arrived, clearing masses of stuff out. It was a gigantic task, but it meant the purchasers had a lovely clean house to move into.

Q: How long have you been working together?

Rosanne: About 10 years, since I retired from flying. I started doing my papers while I was flying then flew part time for the last five years so I could help Carl. We get on really well… most of the time!

Carl: It can be hard working together but we are best friends. Rosanne’s great at dealing with people. It’s just the two of us, we don’t have a team or PAs, we don’t delegate. It’s not because I’m a control freak.

Rosanne: He is a control freak.

Carl: If people come to us to sell their house, they want us, not someone else on the team.

Rosanne: Most of Carl’s business is referrals. People keep coming back.

Carl: Everyone gets the same service, whether we are selling a home worth many millions, or a unit. And I get the same buzz out of every property I sell.

Q: Have you had any particularly memorable reactions from clients?

Carl: One that springs to mind is a lovely gentleman who is the father of a client I have sold quite a few houses for. He’s a Yorkshireman and very forthright. She asked if I could help him but I don’t think he thought I could sell his property. He arrived for the auction in his best three-piece suit and was really nervous. It sold under the hammer for a lot more than we were expecting and he went from sitting there quietly to dancing in the auction room in front of everyone. He was so happy and it was so good to see.

Q: Do you get time to do anything out of real estate?

Rosanne: We have a yacht at Westhaven Marina that we restored and if we finish an open home at 4pm we’ll whip down there and go out for a sail. It leaves you feeling really refreshed. We also like to travel when we can.

Carl: It’s hard to take time out because we’ve got a lot going on but we really enjoy being on the water sailing. But we still take our laptops and phones, and we keep doing business.