Real estate 'where the mountains meet the sea' – Melissa Carson in Kaikoura

18 Apr 2024

It was a busy April 11th work day lined up for Arizto's agent on the beautiful South Island's eastern coastline, up State Highway 1.

Kaikoura's Melissa Carson had a phone interview to give, a house visit to host, and a couple of offers for another vendor to consider as countdown had arrived for a Deadline sale.

All this while juggling three children, aged nine through to 16, who with the approaching school holidays would soon be back underfoot for her and her husband, a landscaper by trade.

But for Carson, it's just another day in paradise, having arrived in Kaikoura just over six and a half years ago to build her latest family home.

Whakatāne born, 24 years ago Carson moved from the North Island to Queenstown when she was 19, meeting her husband, with the couple later shifting just over an hour north to the likewise picturesque Wanāka.

Having developed a keen interest in property initially from working for GJ Gardner Homes, where she developed an eye for detail on house design and interior decorating, Carson stepped away from 9-to-5 work to focus on raising her three then-young children.

Wanāka – like the tourist playground that is Queenstown before it – has had quite the population explosion in the past decade, the township and its surrounds averaged growth of 4.5% per annum over the five years to 2023 compared with 1.3% per annum overall in New Zealand.

So it was time for the family to move to the next up-and-coming South Island locale, and Carson found a lot more things worth watching in Kaikoura than just the majestic Sperm Whales and Fur Seals.

"It was spontaneous – where can we go next with three small kids? We love the small town thing.

"Where else do you live [in comparison] when you've lived in Wanaka and Queenstown?

"Kaikoura is just as beautiful, because you've got the mountains and the sea."

An outdoor Mecca situated two and a half hours from Christchurch to the south and just over 90 minutes from Blenheim in the north – making it a popular stopover for travellers driving off the Cook Strait ferry – Kaikoura has an urban population of just under 2500 and showcases nature in all its splendour.

Watch the whales and the seals, swim with the dolphins, sample the tasty crayfish, and peddle or paddle around the tranquil peninsula.

The locals are a hardy bunch, they overcame the setbacks of the 2016 earthquake with resiliency and determination – rebuilding infrastructure which is now the envy of other small district governing bodies - and culminating in 2023 by being named "one of the most beautiful small towns in the world" by luxury travel bible Conde Nast Traveler.

"The [real estate] videos are big on [showcasing] the area – they all have views, all close to the ocean. The drone covers it," Carson explained.

"Real estate just fell into my lap really."

After she and her husband had completed work on their home, Carson was approached by the local Harcourts representative to enter the industry.

Limitation invites adaptation and in their somewhat isolated area, Carson found there were a lot of overheads involved in selling properties – especially the higher value homes as it was inevitable you were trying to attract out-of-town buyers, which might take six to eight months of patient work.

Cue a chat with Nelson-based Arizto business development manager Oliver Conway, who impressed upon Carson that a digital platform which works as a virtual assistant from any location might just be perfect.

Having often paid for extra marketing out of her own pocket to assist her vendors, while always looking to increase her social media imprint in places like Facebook's Kaikoura Notice Board (‘everyone goes there', she says), Carson felt like Conway was showing her the better path.

"I loved the system, just looking at what he sent me.

"I hate traditional [real estate], and I'm always looking outside the square."

In a decision that got her small town talking, Carson moved brands in January, initially leaving seven listings on the table at her old office – but within a month five of them returned to her at the expiry of their agency agreements, while picking up a couple of fresh ones.

"I was really thankful for [the returns], because I had already done all the work.

"It's helped those vendors get back to the top with fresh marketing.

"They pick on commission and personality. That got Arizto's name out there really fast."

She has had her first sale under the brand and it was a doozy at nearly $1.3 million.

"I switched and never looked back. Amazing, love the system - it was everything I ever wanted.

"I don't have to say, ‘I'll do it tomorrow', I can do it now – you strike while the iron is hot."

With an eye to expanding into the nearby Marlborough region, Carson is just like the town she proudly represents – moving forward with attractive offerings.

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