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Tech innovations – why they matter

Vinyl records to digital music downloads. Fixed lines to smartphones. Typewriters to laptops. Newspaper ads to online ads. Social media networks. Online shopping. Driverless cars.

Disruptive technologies or digital innovations are not new phenomena.

Over the years, advancements in technology have overhauled established industries and transformed lifestyles. Digital breakthroughs have offered organisations new ways to improve productivity, efficiency, and service delivery. Similarly, novel technological solutions have revitalised consumers’ experiences.

Remodelling businesses, empowering consumers

The real estate agency industry in Singapore is witnessing changes brought about by digital advances. And these are set to make a greater impact sooner than one might expect.

Mr Lim Yong Hock, Key Executive Officer of Propnex Realty, pointed out that the way estate agency marketing is being carried out has already been evolving over the past few years.

“Today, we can promote property listings and do personal branding online through social media and internet marketing, and this definitely allows for greater savings as compared to traditional methods like mass printing of flyers or newspaper advertisements,” said Mr Lim.

Some technologists are taking this a step further in this aspect to aid agents.

Property portal DREA, for instance, offers a tool known as PushAds. Its founder and chief executive officer Ms Yuet Whey Siah explained that this allows agents to create highly optimised digital ads and have maximum exposure online by having their listings seen across social media, Google, and more than 200 websites.

“On top of that, we built in lead verification capabilities to help property agents filter out fake leads. This way, they can focus their time and resources on genuine buyers and tenants,” she added.

On the other side of the coin, technology has empowered consumers who now have information and tools literally at their fingertips.

An example is an analytical tool that created to enable buyers and renters to filter locations based on travel time. Founder of the company Mr Darius Cheung recognised that such consumers are always concerned about accessibility when deciding on their next home.

“It helps consumers find out where is a good place to live. For example, if I work at Suntec City and my wife works at one-north and we take public transport. It might surprise many that the location that can get to both places in the shortest time is Lorong Chuan because of the Circle Line,” he said.

The advancement of technology has allowed market players like and DREA to pull together information from multiple sources, aggregate and analyse it real time, and then offer location-based insights about a certain property.

“A buyer can walk into a showflat, flip out his phone… and get a full sense of supply, demand, amenities and comparable properties… Technology has allowed for better access and insights, allowing consumers to focus on asking the right questions, understanding the market and making well-informed decisions before buying or renting a property,” said Ms Siah.

Propnex’s Mr Lim shares this view and said consumers are now more informed when they go for property viewings as they would have already done their own comparisons on prices and different types of properties. They no longer have to rely on their agents for that information.

New possibilities

Technology has also provided a fertile ground for the emergence of platforms that enable consumers to connect directly with one another, instead of through property agents. Both at home and abroad, there are increasingly more options available for consumers to enjoy greater time and cost savings.

Mr Kiegan Chia is the founder of DirectHome, a local online portal that facilitates do-it-yourself (DIY) property transactions by connecting home owners to home seekers directly.

“Technology can streamline a set of processes in a very efficient and clear way. Because of this, processes and paperwork can be easily done by consumers themselves,” he said.

In the DirectHome model, users pay a flat fee to use the portal’s features to complete the DIY property transaction. Among them is an e-Transaction wizard, which electronically generates key transaction document templates such as the Tenancy Agreement and Option to Purchase, and users can complete them by filling in the variable fields. This arrangement challenges the traditional business model in which consumers pay their agents a commission.

Going forward, industry experts believe that technology will create a more seamless transaction process and enrich consumers’ experiences.

“The technologies that will gain traction will be those that innovate and meet consumer needs at affordable prices. Innovative platforms that bridge consumers to banks, credit agencies, and even government agencies would be the way to go,” said Professor Ong Seow Eng from the School of Design and Environment at the National University of Singapore.

Ms Siah of DREA believes that virtual reality (VR) services would augment consumers’ home hunting experiences.

“Today, photospheres such as v360 already offer an enhanced experience, allowing consumers to explore a house right from their phone. When 5G is rolled out, there will be a new age of truly interactive VR services that consumers can benefit from when exploring potential homes,” she said.

Looking further ahead on the possibilities,’s Mr Cheung said, “There is currently no way for a homebuyer to know if a specific unit is going to be noisy during the evening or if it would get too warm in the late mornings. But sensor networks in the future will be able to provide a lot more data about actual living conditions, and whether that is suitable for the consumer.”

Embracing change

As a catalyst effecting changes in consumer preferences and expectations, technology will certainly continue to bring about exponential changes in the real estate agency sector. To stay relevant, incumbents are responding swiftly to the evolving landscape.

Mr Steven Tan, chief executive officer of said that “disruptive technology can be a threat to the industry, but it also provides tremendous new opportunities if the industry is able to transform the traditional business model into a tech-savvy one in today’s digital world.”

Mr Tan believes in combining modern technology with offline services to provide better value for customers. In 2016, the company introduced the Property Agents Bank, the first property agent review portal of its kind by a property agency in Singapore that allows customers to review and rate its property agents.

Today, the platform has seen more than 3,200 reviews with an overall rating of 4.75 out of 5 stars for its agents. According to Mr Tan, agents’ service mindsets have changed significantly since the portal was launched, and it has in turn generated consistent leads for the agents.

The company is cognisant of the need to instil a mindset of embracing innovation in its agents. In February this year, it organised a business conference for its agents and employees to highlight and discuss how the agency could leverage innovative solutions and technology to improve its customer experience, service quality, and business in this new operating environment.

Reflecting on his greatest takeaway from the session, Mr Tan said, “We should not fear disruptive technology. Rather, we should think big, focus on small steps, and move faster than the rest.”

Over at Propnex, Mr Lim said that the company has invested heavily in developing its own systems to not only improve the productivity in running the agency, but also to raise the professionalism and service standards of its agents.

The company’s Real Estate Management System covers all aspects in managing its agents - from their daily transactions, commission earned, to matters related to training, marketing, and branding. “It is a one-stop platform for us to ensure that each of our agents are well taken care of, so that they can increase productivity and focus on their sales,” said Mr Lim.

In addition, the company has developed various mobile apps like the PropNex Virtual Office app, PropNex Co Broker app, PropNex Property Net app, and games app to increase the productivity of its agents and raise consumer awareness of its services.

Changing mindsets

Amidst new digital breakthroughs, the industry professionals CEAnergy spoke with all agreed that there is still a place for property agents.

“I believe technology will change the roles of property agents but will not replace their jobs. The reality is that human interaction is still a key component of many successful transactions and technology cannot replace the human touch,” said OrangeTee’s Mr Tan.

Mr Tan advised agents to relook at their roles and be more innovative to differentiate themselves. They can do so by aiming to be a trusted advisor to their clients by offering meaningful insights and creating a personalised experience.

For Prof Ong, the key word is ‘adapt’. “Property agents have to adapt to the new landscape. This can be done in two ways. First, they should take full advantage of technological platforms. Second, they should focus on their strengths and competitive advantage such as quality of service, market knowledge, and experience,” he said.

Building new skill sets is also critical. Propnex’s Mr Lim said, “We used to be the information provider and administrator for our client’s transactions. Today we must do beyond that to remain competitive in the market. A good agent must possess the ability to analyse information and play a more advisory role to help their clients make sound decisions for their property portfolios.”

Mr Cheung of also stressed that sound advice from agents drawn from their experience complemented with technology are important contributing factors in a well-executed transaction.

“A consumer who is buying an apartment once every 10 years will never be as in-tune with all of the cutting-edge tools and data to assist him in the decisions, and will need great advisors to help him navigate this process…The great agents of tomorrow would be the ones who are able to use the latest tools to help his clients make the best decisions in buying, selling, and renting properties,” he said.

Indeed, the industry must ultimately place client-centricity at the top of the agenda and leverage technology as an enabler to deliver the best experience for consumers.

Selected graphics created by Freepik