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REITM Focus: Revving up for transformation

Since the launch of the Real Estate Industry Transformation Map (ITM), several property agencies have pledged their commitment to embrace the ITM’s strategies of tapping technology, raising professionalism, and improving client centricity for a future-ready industry.

In February 2018, ERA Realty unveiled its revamped FindPropertyAgent.sg platform during its Asia Pacific Conference. Shortly after, PropNex Realty, during its Annual Convention, attributed its record success in earnings to the impactful training and development programmes conducted for all its agents to ensure that they are equipped with deep knowledge of the market and proper skills to address their clients’ needs.

A month later in March 2018, three property agencies – ERA Realty, PropNex Realty, and Huttons Asia – came together to launch SoReal, an online platform for agents to provide the latest information to consumers for their real estate needs. In the same month, OrangeTee & Tie, during its Business Conference, announced that it would integrate verified reviews of its agents from its Property Agents Review portal with Carousell’s existing user feedback system to give property seekers in the marketplace greater peace of mind when searching for property on Carousell.

CEAnergy walks you through how the industry is gearing up for an exciting transformation journey ahead.

#1: Tapping on technology to take the industry further

Speaker of Parliament Mr Tan Chuan-Jin, at the 2018 ERA Asia Pacific Business Conference on 8 February, noted that there are increasingly more consumers who prefer to conduct transactions on their own via property portals.

Mr Tan said that technology is here to stay, and pretending it does not exist or requesting for regulations to prevent its impact on particular interest groups would not be constructive.

He emphasised that the objective of the Real Estate ITM is to improve the efficiency of property transactions, and not to replace jobs. Technology, while presenting challenges for property agents, also offers opportunities to provide new services. With more tools, agents will have access to more information and capabilities, and this is where the industry can evolve.

During the event, ERA unveiled its newly revamped review platform, FindPropertyAgent.sg (FPA). This is a dedicated website for consumers to customise their search experiences for the right property agent. Smart algorithms that use multiple data points, such as agents’ past transaction statistics, customer ratings and reviews, and online presence, will enable consumers to find the most suitable property agents who can cater to their needs.

But it is not only consumers who will benefit from this technological innovation.

ERA Realty’s Chief Operating Officer Marcus Chu said, “With the launch of FPA and continuous effort in IT innovations, we hope to aid agents who have been facing increasing marketing cost to generate leads. The future evolvement of FPA and our other technological solutions specially developed to increase agents’ productivity…such as (our) mobile applications, website, customer relationship management system, and an internal portal… will play an important role in the digital transformation progress for the industry.”

#2: Exploring new partnerships that will benefit both the industry and consumers

Minister for Social and Family Development and Second Minister for National Development Mr Desmond Lee (second from right) launching SoReal with (from left to right) Mr Jack Chua (CEO of ERA Realty), Mr Jeremiah Ng (CTO of SoReal), Mr Ismail Gafoor (CEO of PropNex Realty), and Mr Goh Kee Nguan (CEO of Huttons Asia). (Image: Ministry of National Development)

On 12 March, three of the industry’s biggest agencies came together to launch the SoReal Prop portal, RealAgent app, and RealHome app. ERA Realty, Huttons Asia, and PropNex Realty, under the SoReal umbrella, will govern the data on the SoReal platform comprising information and listings from 16,000 agents from across the agencies.

Said CEO of ERA Realty Mr Jack Chua, “In times of digital disruptions, the three of us knew that the time is right to work together, embrace innovation and technology, and add value to industry stakeholders. We wanted to create an effective platform that can provide transparent and fast information that would be beneficial for consumers, (agents), and even property developers.”

Several real estate agencies and associations are supportive of this initiative. The Singapore Estate Agents Association, Institute of Estate Agents, and KEO Connect, together with seven other property agencies signed a partnership agreement with SoReal Prop to join the platform.

Through SoReal, property agents can consolidate their apps in a single platform. They will be able to retrieve real-time information, generate detailed property reports, manage client requests, and schedule appointments. In addition, the sharing of property information, listings, and documents can be done seamlessly through the portal.

For property buyers and sellers in Singapore, the beta version of the RealHome app will allow them to search from the listings available on the portal and connect with the respective agents handling the units. Consumers can also rate and review their agents after a successful transaction. In order to be certain that the reviews are legitimate, each review will include a transaction ID, a brief property address, and the type of transaction.

Mr Goh Kee Nguan, CEO of Huttons Asia, said, “The online ratings and testimonials ‘reward’ well-deserving (agents) who performed to the best of their abilities. Through this transparent sharing, it will… raise the level of professionalism amongst (agents) who will strive for better reviews from their clients on the portal.”

Speaking at the launch of SoReal, Minister for Social and Family Development and Second Minister for National Development Mr Desmond Lee said that the coming together of three property agencies in Singapore to collaborate on a property portal to boost productivity, maintain and enhance competitiveness, and offer better value to customers, is a positive move. This is especially so amidst the emergence of property-related online portals and services that are disrupting traditional players in the real estate transaction services sector.

“The app is a fine and timely addition to the online property portal space in Singapore, enhancing competitiveness, enhancing transparency, and making value ‘so real’ for your customers. It is also a good indication of the kind of healthy ground-up initiatives that are taking place. (It) shows that our firms recognise the challenge and want to stay ahead of the game, and shows the strong desire of players from within the industry to ride well the transformation wave,” said Mr Lee.

#3: Adopting a “dare to innovate” mindset in the face of transformation

Minister Desmond Lee (centre) with representatives from OrangeTee & Tie at the OrangeTee & Tie Business Conference 2018. (Image: Ministry of National Development)

In the spirit of innovation and collaboration to catalyse industry transformation, another property agency, OrangeTee & Tie, forged a new partnership and tapped on synergies beyond the industry.

During its Business Conference on 23 March 2018, the agency announced that it is collaborating with one of Asia’s largest and fastest growing mobile classifieds, Carousell, to make real estate even more accessible to Singaporeans.

As part of efforts to reach out to a new generation of mobile-first consumers and property seekers, all verified reviews of OrangeTee & Tie agents from its Property Agents Review portal will be made available on Carousell. This will be integrated with Carousell’s existing user feedback system so that Carousell users can browse property listings with confidence.

The additional database of reviews will also allow property buyers, sellers, tenants, and landlords on Carousell to get a full view of a potential property transaction, just as they would with regular listings on the marketplace.

Mr Steven Tan, Managing Director, OrangeTee & Tie said that entering into this strategic partnership with Carousell is aligned with the Real Estate ITM in embracing innovation and strengthening professionalism.

“…OrangeTee & Tie agents need to have a customer-centric mindset and adopt multiple digital touchpoints as part of their strategies to connect more effectively with consumers. This partnership with Carousell helps our agents to bring about more value to consumers as they have information such as past reviews to help them make the right decisions, and our agents can be ‘friendly advisors’ to Carousell users rather than the usual transactional way.”

Minister Desmond Lee, who graced the Business Conference, affirmed OrangeTee & Tie for being “a first mover in engaging customers digitally and taking a customer-centric approach in the estate agency business.”

Noting that the Property Agents Review platform is the first and largest agent review platform today that provides customer ratings and reviews, he commended the agency for opening itself up to scrutiny. He added that such transparency builds trust and confidence amongst consumers.

On the agency’s new collaboration, Mr Lee said, “Today, you are in fact taking this further by collaborating beyond the traditional realm of the property agents’ industry, working with new age tech companies in Singapore, Carousell, to bring your agent reviews and listings to their marketplace.”

“As it has become commonplace for consumers to verify other customers’ experiences online, such ratings and reviews are absolutely crucial to engaging customers online, because they want to feel that they can trust you and that you can work for them, and it helps to facilitate their decision making process,” he added.

#4: Embarking on lifelong learning and striving for greater professionalism to enhance agents’ ability to value-add to their clients’ experiences

Minister for Education (Higher Education and Skills) Mr Ong Ye Kung, at the PropNex Annual Convention on 13 March 2018, stressed that the industry has to keep learning, and learn the latest skills and knowledge. This will enable agents to better move with the times and not get replaced by technology.

Mr Ong said that it is very unlikely that an industry will be completely replaced by technology, and in fact new jobs are often created in the process. He suggested that beyond helping to buy and sell property, agents can assist their customers to plan their financial portfolio, optimise their return, or make sure they manage risks better – these are things their customers cannot get from a portal.

These views echoed those of Mr Tan Chuan-Jin when he spoke at the ERA event. He urged property agents to focus on adding value to the property transaction process through expertise, professionalism, and competencies. Even though new portals are able to facilitate direct transactions between property buyers and sellers, he maintained that only agents, and not artificial intelligence, can provide a value judgement on property.

Mr Ismail Gafoor, CEO of PropNex Realty, also held a similar perspective on the importance for agents to perform a more advisory role and be endowed with in-depth knowledge of the market.

Following the launch of the SoReal platform, Mr Ismail shared that a professional agent has to be “equipped with strong product knowledge and a customer-centric approach instead of a ‘quick-sale’ mentality. He should also be familiar with online and social media tools available, utilising them to establish a solid branding for themselves in the industry, while at the same time, continuously improving himself with knowledge and updates of the real estate market.”