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Salopek: My New Lease on Life

Steven Salopek played 121 games in 10 seasons for Port Adelaide before retiring at the age of 27. Almost two years on, he reflects on his time in the game, his transition out of it and his new career in commercial real estate.

As a kid, all I thought about was footy and how I’d make it into the AFL.

Once I got to Port Adelaide, I’ll admit I didn’t spend a whole lot of time thinking about how I’d make it out of the AFL.

It wasn’t as though I did nothing to prepare for life after footy during my time in the game – I dabbled in coaching, media training and real estate throughout my career – but, like many players, I couldn’t help feeling like footy was going to last forever.

‘It might sound dramatic, but at the age of 27 I was left unemployed with no income, and with a wife and two kids to provide for’

In the space of two years, it all ended very quickly.

Injuries took a toll on my body and – after acknowledging that things weren’t really working out midway through 2012 – my wife and I decided we’d be better suited living in Melbourne, where both our families called home.

After moving back to Victoria in October, I trained with Richmond and had an interview with Melbourne. But when the various drafts rolled around and my name wasn’t called out, I knew I had to reassess where I was in life.

It might sound dramatic, but at the age of 27 I was left unemployed with no income, and with a wife and two kids to provide for while we relocated back to Melbourne. I knew at that point that I wanted to move away from footy and pursue a different career, but wasn’t entirely sure where to go next.

It wasn’t an easy time for me or my family, but it was a time in which I learnt a lot. I began to think about the skills I’d picked up away from the field during my time in footy, and some of the strengths I’d developed.

Through networking at corporate functions and sponsorship dinners throughout my time in footy, I’d become pretty good at talking, presenting and interacting with people. The idea of real estate struck me, and I began thinking about the commercial side of real estate – dealing with properties such as factories, warehouses and offices, rather than residential housing.

I was playing footy alongside my brother for St Kevin’s Old Boys at the time and, with the help of some people there, was able to line up a few job interviews. From there I landed a job at Crabtrees Real Estate, where I started out as an assistant and slowly worked my way up to a role as a Sales and Leasing Consultant.

Commercial real estate is an area of the industry many people aren’t aware of; you won’t find too many nice photos or big, glossy billboards of factories and warehouses.

There are a handful of key differences when comparing commercial real estate to residential real estate but, as is the case with the entire industry, the most significant difference is the return on investment.

‘Commercial real estate is an area of the industry many people aren’t aware of; you won’t find too many nice photos or big, glossy billboards of factories and warehouses.’

The average rate of return for residential property is likely to be three or four percent, but in the commercial field if you’re buying a factory you’re looking at around six, seven or even eight percent depending on the property.

On top of that, tenants of commercial properties generally pay all associated costs with the building, such as the insurance, rates and other running expenses, which means you’re unlikely to get stuck with a tenant who doesn’t want to pay for things like water or electricity.

Another difference is the length of lease. In commercial real estate, leases tend to be often two to five years; In residential real estate, you’re lucky to get a tenant to sign a one-year lease.

While all this means it’s an area with lots of potential for growth from an investor’s perspective, for me it means a job where the keys to success are honesty, integrity and building ongoing relationships.

For those that work in the residential sector of the real estate industry, the key clients are often those selling the property. On the commercial side, it’s just as important to service the needs of the buyer.

We mix and match the needs of our clients – those looking to lease or buy warehouses, offices, factories, etc. – with the properties available. Most of the time, we’re dealing with clients we already know. With that in mind, we treat everybody the same way – regardless of whether they’re enquiring about an investment worth $150,000 or a million. You never know who people know, or what they might be interested in buying in the future, so this approach is good for business.

The common caricature of real estate agents mightn’t be all that flattering, but at Crabtrees we’ve got a pretty simple philosophy: treat people the way you’d like to be treated.

For some AFL players, real estate mightn’t seem particularly interesting. But for me, it’s proven to be a very rewarding industry to work in. If I had my time again, I would have made more of an effort to plan for my career post-footy while I was still playing at Port.

Having said that, I only need to think back to what life was like when I was in the midst of my playing career to recall how difficult it was to find time to pursue interests outside of footy. It’s easy to say ‘I should have done things differently’, but at the time all I wanted to do on my days off was have a break and recover.

It’s fair to say I didn’t value the weekly day off we got during the footy seasons until I didn’t have it any more – it’s only in the last year or so that I’ve begun to appreciate public holidays!

‘Retirement’ can seem like a dirty word for those in the early stages of an AFL career, but I’ve enjoyed the post-footy phase of my life. It’s been challenging, has taken me outside my comfort zone and has helped me realise what’s most important to me.

Having moved around a lot, both figuratively and literally, since my days at Port, there’s an irony in the fact I’m working in real estate. It’s taken some time, but after almost two years out of the game, I’m feeling quite at home.

If you are interested in finding out more about commercial real estate, you can contact Steven at Crabtrees Real Estate on 0400 341 226, or by email via The Crabtrees website can be accessed here.