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Gearing up for 2017!

2016 has whizzed us by! As we reflect on the past year and look forward to a new year ahead, CEAnergy spoke with six industry professionals on their take on the opportunities that 2017 could hold, and how practitioners can continue to reach for greater heights in the coming months – and beyond.

We thank these industry leaders for sharing their views with us:

  • Goh Kee Nguan, CEO, Huttons Asia
  • Gary Lee, KEO, Alister and Lee Properties
  • Ken Lim, Founder, Real Centre Network
  • Dr Lim Lan Yuan, President (Valuation & General Practice), Singapore Institute of Surveyors and Valuers
  • Wong Cheong Hong, CEO, Singapore Estate Agents Association
  • Harry Yeo, President, Institute of Estate Agents

CEAnergy: How has 2016 been for professionals in the real estate agency industry? Much has been said about it being a challenging year, but were there any bright spots?

Goh Kee Nguan: While 2016 has certainly been a trying year for the industry, the transaction volumes for new developer sales and resale properties are up around 20 per cent for the 10 months of the year, compared to the same period last year. This indicates that demand is slowly coming back to the market.

Gary Lee: 2016 has been a very tough year. The bright spot, if it can indeed be called one, is that home owners are more amenable to accepting lower rentals. Sellers are also adjusting their expectations. On the flipside, tenants are also asking for more, such as a change of furniture or more items in the unit etc.

Having said that, we believe that there will always be property agents who will do well in a slow market and those who may not do so well even in a good market.

Ken Lim: It has been a challenging year for real estate professionals as the real estate climate in Singapore has been uncertain and lethargic. Media reports have said that the real estate industry has taken a hit across residential, retail, and industrial segments.

As challenging as 2016 has been, there have been a few bright spots. Prime residential prices have declined to an attractive level. This has lured potential buyers to jump into the market, increasing transaction volume on year. Office rentals have declined to a level to lure potential tenants to fly to quality. Ample quality office supply has also given more options for tenants to curate their office space usage. In addition, innovation-driven businesses have led to healthy demand for quality data centres.

Dr Lim Lan Yuan: The market in 2016 was down, which affected the general demand for properties, and hence transactions. Estate agency work that depended largely on an active market has been slow.

While it is challenging for the property agencies, the market is not a consistent whole. While values and rentals of many properties might have declined, there are also others that maintain their worth and are in demand.

Wong Cheong Hong: Generally, 2016 has been a challenging year for the industry. However, property agents who have been building and maintaining their network of clients still managed to close deals by value-adding to their clients and helping them make informed decisions for their real estate investment needs.

Experience has shown that property agents who focus on a particular segment of the industry tend to do better as they are better equipped to advise clients.

Harry Yeo: The year 2016 has been a tough year for professionals in the real estate agency industry because of a decline in overall sales volume of new projects and resale properties in the private sector, as well as dipping volumes in the HDB sales and rental market.

This is due to the cooling measures and poor economic climate prevailing today. The impact of the emergence of many “Do-It-Yourself” portals that allow consumers to transact without agents has also been felt.

CEAnergy: Will 2017 be any different? What would be some of the opportunities in the coming year for property agencies and agents?

While the industry could face some head winds in 2017, there are still opportunities for industry professionals to explore.

Goh Kee Nguan: There are signs that market activity could be revving up. As we head into 2017, this demand is expected to hold up, barring unforeseen circumstances. Property agents should continue to explore innovative ways to level up on their professional knowledge and service standards.

With more options available to buyers and sellers to conduct property transactions on their own, agents must be able to provide the “x-factor” so as to create a unique and fruitful experience for their clients.

Gary Lee: It is hard to predict how 2017 will be like. The macro factors are down, as reported in the papers. Property agents may like to explore other segments. For example, if they are accustomed to condo transactions, they might want to explore some small HDB deals. Those doing sales may wish to try their hand at rentals.

But regardless of the market situation, having a good attitude and providing good service to customers is very important. This would mean being prompt and hands-on, like helping owners to source for good contacts to do simple repair jobs, and also actively following up after the deal is done etc. In short, going the extra mile. This will prepare agents well for a good market in future. When going the extra mile becomes a habit, agents will get more referrals and hence business.

Ken Lim: 2016 has been a rough year for property agents and developers as consumers have continued their bargain search and the industry has been clearing global headwinds. Statistics released in the first quarter this year by the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) had also indicated that the Singapore property market was weak and likely to stay as such for the year.

With the cooling measures still in force, the real estate market continues to face disruptive forces on multiple fronts — from weak demand and hefty supply, to manpower constraints and a challenging business environment.

While the 2017 economic environment will remain lethargic and uncertain, the property market might go back to its upswing again. Opportunities in the industry will still be centred on residential, office rentals, and businesses driven by innovation.

Dr Lim Lan Yuan: If there is no change in policies, and with the local and global economy continuing to decline, the year 2017 will be even more challenging for property agents. They will have to seek other opportunities in related areas if they are competent in areas such as the management of clients’ properties, and working with overseas counterparts. They may also take the opportunity to take time off to upgrade themselves in studies or acquire new skill sets, or to improve the agency’s procedures and systems to make it more productive.

Wong Cheong Hong: I envisage that the current sentiments will linger in the coming year. With the emergence of new DIY portals and a target audience that is becoming more IT-savvy, property agencies and agents have to reorganise and reposition themselves to adapt to this changing market behaviour as well as disruptive technology that will alter the landscape of the industry.

In a changing landscape, clients' expectations of real estate agency services will be different. Therefore, property agents have to constantly upgrade, unlearn, and relearn skills and knowledge in order to stay relevant in the market.

Harry Yeo: This current sluggish market is expected to continue and could worsen in 2017 due to declining market confidence and uncertain market sentiments arising from the recent US presidential election results.

CEAnergy: What do you think are the three defining characteristics of an outstanding property agent in today’s evolving environment and how can they continue to achieve success?

Industry leaders say that property agents must continue to upgrade themselves to be able to adapt speedily to changes in today's evolving environment.

Goh Kee Nguan: To continue to do well in today’s environment, property agents must continue to be mindful of the following in order to stay ahead of the race:

  • Keep an open mind and develop an attitude focused on continuous learning and self-improvement.
  • Always maintain your professionalism - be it in the way you conduct yourself when interacting with clients or in terms of the quality of advice you provide. After all, for many people, a property could well be the biggest investment and heaviest financial commitment for them. So you must look at ways to value add for your client – not just meeting their needs, but exceeding their expectations of you.
  • Be nimble and adaptable. Technology has changed the way people think and behave in more ways than we could have imagined. So keep up with technology. Developing a good understanding of how technology will redefine the real estate industry and how it will change the way we run our business will enable us to tap on its potential more effectively. This in turn will allow us to better serve our clients and stay ahead as we become more productive and efficient.

Gary Lee: My personal view of the three defining characteristics of a successful agent would be: providing prompt responses to clients, being updated on knowledge, and showing humility in service.

The property agent as a service provider has to possess many skills. But assessing the nature of the deal and knowing which skills to apply is even more important. For example, first-timers may need more guidance prior to a purchase e.g. information on past transaction data, and details on market trends first, instead of going for multiple viewings at the start. On the other hand, seasoned buyers may need more viewings on top of just desktop data.

To me, showing humility means showing respect for the other person. It could be through the little things – like starting letters with warm greetings and ending them with well wishes.

Ken Lim: An outstanding real estate professional in today's evolving environment is one who has:

  • Integrity and respect, which are the cornerstones of gaining trust from potential clients;
  • Deep empathy of clients’ needs, whether they are buyers or sellers; and
  • An innovative mind set and skill sets, e.g. having omni-channel marketing abilities.

To achieve success, property agents should continue to enhance their skills such as digital marketing, sales techniques, and financial management that will provide them with greater career success in the long-term.

It is also important for real estate professionals to build on their industry knowledge as well as stay abreast of market trends to emerge as a trusted advisor to the property buyers and sellers.

Dr Lim Lan Yuan: Outstanding property agents in today’s environment are knowledgeable and competent. They know their work well and are up-to-date with changing policies and laws, and the market. They embrace technology and use it to their advantage. They constantly improve on their relational skills with their clients and other stakeholders.

To achieve success, outstanding agents should continue to build their profile and reputation as trusted, reliable and competent professionals.

Wong Cheong Hong: Outstanding property agents should:

  • Be able to adapt speedily to changes. This would mean embracing new technology, while at the same time understanding, adapting to, and serving the differing needs of customers, including those who are IT-savvy.
  • Keep themselves abreast of the latest market trends, acquire new knowledge and skills, and be able to analyse data to assist clients make informed decisions.
  • Possess a positive attitude despite challenging market conditions and have a penchant for innovative ideas to enhance their clients’ service experience.

Harry Yeo: An property outstanding agent is one who is

  • Highly-committed with broad-based knowledge and expertise in real estate matters;
  • Service-oriented and goes the extra mile to serve the customer well; and
  • IT-savvy and makes use of IT to serve the customer well.

Agents with these characteristics will continue to achieve success so long as they are honest, ethical, committed, and hardworking, always putting the customer first in all that they do and sharing of information and experiences.