June 7, 2020
People & Places

“Real estate has nothing to do with the house – it’s to do with the family and people”

Sally Cameron, one of the state’s most successful real estate agents, has enjoyed a career of twists and turns. Her desire to succeed was first ignited by a headmistress, who noted Sally’s smile would see her working as a receptionist, regardless of her talents and ambitions.

Sally Cameron at her Rose Park home.

Where did you grow up?

I was born in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, but we moved to the northern beaches of Sydney when I was a baby. Then, when I was eight years old, we moved to Melbourne where I did most of my school education at Tintern Grammar. When I was 16 we moved to Adelaide and I spent a year at Scotch College.

In my 20s and 30s I lived in Melbourne for three years and then Sydney for nine years before returning to Adelaide.

Growing up in Sydney’s northern beaches.

You have moved around a lot in life. Why is that?

My dad was in publishing and he was a managing director so we were transferred around a bit when I was growing up. In each state we also moved house all the time and it’s actually made me want to move around a lot in my life. I like the whole process of moving and the idea of “new”. If someone said, “you’re moving to New York tomorrow”, I’d say “okay”! I take it in my stride. I love the prospect of decorating new homes and the livability of new homes and suburbs – that’s how I got into my love of selling real estate.

In my lifetime I have lived in 29 homes and suburbs. I actually had a print made so I wouldn’t forget any of them.

What did you want to be when you grew up?

I really had no idea what I wanted to do when I left school. I was not very studious. I remember my mother going to see the headmistress at Tintern for a meeting as my parents were concerned about my interest level at school and the headmistress said to my mother: “Don’t worry, Sally has a lovely smile she will make a good receptionist.”  I think that comment had a major impact on me throughout my career: it put fire in me to want to succeed and prove myself at whatever I did.

Sally with her mum at Freshwater Beach.

How did you end up working for Mills & Boon?

I ended up getting a Diploma in Teaching from the University of South Australia and getting a placement at Ceduna regional school, which I did not take up in my early 20s.

I didn’t really love the idea of being a teacher but I did early childhood teaching and majored in children’s literature. I am such a people person, so I’m better suited to sales than working with kids.

Around this time I saw a job ad in The Advertiser for a sales representative for a publishing company selling children’s books. I took that job and after a few years driving and selling across South Australia, I was promoted to sales manager for Victoria/Tasmania and eventually promoted to product manager in Sydney and eventually marketing director for Australasia. The company was actually Harlequin Mills & Boon, which is the largest publisher of romance fiction in the world, so the children’s books was the only reason I joined, but it was only a very small percentage of what they did. During my career there I helped manage the romance authors in Australia and I attended international romance writers’ conferences with them. I saw the start of direct marketing as it was a huge percentage of their market and I am sure today it has advanced to an amazing level via a digital platform.

My biggest challenge during my career was trying to get a job as a real estate agent.

As soon as I had my two sons I didn’t want to work at a corporate level, so I decided to start renovating homes and my husband Peter and I were reasonably successful at it.

One of our houses in Unley Park had been extensively renovated, with the help of architect David Burton, and I sold it myself, off-market. It was such a buzz. From then on I thought, this is what I want to do.

What do you love about selling real estate?

I love the fact that it involves people, homes and explaining to people the potential of each home.

Sometimes when you’re selling someone a home, you’re not selling them what’s there, you’re selling them something that could be.

I love that I can combine my sales experience with architecture, homes, renovating, design and furniture. There are so many factors around why real estate works for me. I just wish I had started so much younger because I love it.

I also understand the emotional process of moving house as I have done it so many times myself. Most of the process of selling real estate has nothing to do with the house, it’s to do with the family and people and why they’re moving. It’s about lifestyle and that process I’m really good at – the logistics and legalities of a contract, and dealing with the levels of family and finances and change.

How did you end up working for Toop & Toop?

I was in my early 40s and had set my heart on working at a particular agency in Adelaide and after trying multiple times to get a job there with no success I put the career prospect on hold as I could not see it happening. I was then given an opportunity to speak with Anthony and Genevieve Toop years later and the rest if history. Toop was the only company that would give me a chance, so my loyalty to them is based on that. I am a very loyal person.

Sally with sons Joshua and Charlie.

What are the stresses of your job?

I have lots of things to worry about with my job, I try to compartmentalise work stresses but that’s a work in progress. I find it hard to turn off because this job is 24/7. I sometimes do feel that I have got the world on my shoulders in a sense, because some people have banks breathing down their necks, other people have to sell for security reasons, or because they’re separating. I carry all of that with me and I genuinely care and I make sure they get into a position where they’re free of whatever is putting pressure on them.

It is a full-time job – it is not for someone who wants to work 9-5. You never switch off. I had a holiday in Bali last year and while I was there I sold five houses. I never really take a holiday.

 Tell us about your family.

When I was working in Sydney I met Pete through friends. He originates from a property in Walcha in rural NSW. He had been a boarder at The Kings School in Parramatta from a young age and had settled in Sydney working as an accountant. He had no desire to work on the land.

We moved to Adelaide after a year of marriage to be closer to my family and to take advantage of Adelaide’s affordability. Our first home was in Hyde Park and was a pretty villa which we loved.

Pete and I have two amazing sons: Joshua who is 21 an apprentice mechanic at Solitaire and Charlie who is 18 and studying film at Flinders University. I love everything about being a mum. My boys are very loving, loyal and have big, compassionate hearts which makes me really proud.

The other loves of my life are my dogs Missy, who is 17, and I have a new puppy called Bebe who is adorable.

Pete trades the stock market and manages the house, the family and the dogs.

I couldn’t do what I do if I didn’t have him managing everything.

Sally and Pete’s wedding day.

You are a big dog lover?

I grew up in the ’70s and ’80s with very loving parents and lots of pets, mainly dogs but closest to my heart was the dog my husband and I got just after getting married and buying our first home. Purdy was an Alaskan malamute and Samoyed cross. She was beautiful and loving and part of my boys’ youth – we all adored her.

What brings you joy these days?

My beautiful loyal friends bring me joy and, at this point in my life, I really treasure them.  Some I have known since the ’80s, others I have met through school or sporting activities with my boys.

I play competitive tennis on a Thursday morning with some of my closest friends and we have done it now for more than 12 years.  For me, it is the only non-negotiable time in my diary as I have very little time outside of work.

In the past Celeste Barber has made me laugh out loud which comes from my sister Jenny who recommended I follow her on Instagram.  I am a little over Celeste now but originally she was extremely funny.

Also Absolutely Fabulous is still a favourite – I always laugh out loud at Patsy and Edina’s antics even if I have seen it multiple times.

Sally and her tennis buddies.

What is your outlook on life?

I think I am older and wiser. I also am less concerned about how people think I look – I only really care how I think I look. Over the years I have worried about my skin, my hair, my outfits and of course my weight.  I genuinely want to look great but today it is for me. I strive to impress no-one else.

As for the future, I look forward to travelling overseas more at some point and seeing my boys settled and enjoying their lives and finding careers they are passionate about.

My life philosophy is to look for the positive in every person and every situation. Never be envious about anyone or anything; if you think someone looks fabulous, tell them. If you exude positivity it can only reflect on your life and the people around you.

I also don’t really believe in mistakes in life – the zig and zags are what make you, you. No regrets.

See photos of Sally’s incredible Rose Park renovation in the June issue of SALIFE, on sale at newsagencies and independent supermarkets now. 

Alternatively, to have your own copy delivered to your door, click here.

My South Australian Life is a first-person series, published each Sunday. Read our previous profiles here.

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