Fresh from picking up the Wizard Home Loans business for a bargain-basement price, Aussie Home Loans founder John Symond has his eyes set on another cheap buy – the iconic real estate brand LJ Hooker.
LJ Hooker, which has more than 700 franchises in Australia and the Asia-Pacific region, is owned by Queensland banking and insurance group Suncorp.
But Suncorp is struggling, and speculation is rife that it could be about to flog LJ Hooker. The sudden departure of the LJ Hooker chief executive and his deputy have only added to the rumours.
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Enter Aussie John, who told The Australian Financial Review that the business would be “worth a look at”.
“We have never had any discussion or formal discussions [with Suncorp], and we have got our hands full at the moment with the integration of Wizard,” he says.
“It caught my attention because it’s a great franchise brand and has a great distribution potential.”
Aussie John apparently shared these thoughts with Sydney real estate agent John McGrath over a cup of coffee. McGrath also reckons the business would be worth a close look.
You’ve got to admire Aussie John for his ability to position his business to get through the downturn.
Before credit markets got really nasty, he sold a chunk of Aussie Home Loans to Commonwealth Bank in the middle of last year, thereby shoring up the brand very quickly. He then swooped on the wreck of Wizard Home Loans for $26 million – a great bargain, given GE paid around $400 million for Wizard in 2004.
Buying LJ Hooker would further extend Aussie’s brand presence in the mortgage market and add to its market share – an impressive effort given the state of the economy.