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REITM Focus: Gaining momentum to transform

Disruption and the evolution of the real estate industry were key topics that were discussed at two industry events in November 2018.

The first event was a seminar organised by the Singapore Estate Agents Association (SEAA) and KEO Connect, while the other was a PropTech conference organised by the Asia Pacific Real Estate Association (APREA) and Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS).

CEA’s deputy executive director Mr Chan Mun Kit, who was involved in both events, took the opportunity to share with the audience the intentions and initiatives under the Real Estate Industry Transformation Map (ITM).

Key drivers for change

At the APREA-RICS conference, Mr Chan pointed out that the current property transaction process, being fairly manual and unproductive, makes brokerage services vulnerable to technological disruptions. “Instead of waiting to be disrupted, we should seize this opportunity to synergise processes across the value chain and boost the productivity of this sub-sector,” he said.

At the SEAA-KEO Connect seminar, SEAA president Mr Thomas Tan said that Singapore is facing a situation where the labour market will be tighter due to an ageing population. In addition, customers will expect their property agents to be just as technologically-savvy as they are.

Mr Chan explained that this was why the two broad thrusts of the Real Estate ITM – embracing innovation and leveraging technology, and strengthening professionalism and upskilling the workforce – are aimed at helping agents to ride the wave of the disruption and remain relevant in the midst of a changing environment.

Enabling a more seamless, efficient, and secure property transaction process

Mr Chan elaborated that the Real Estate ITM is part of the $4.5 billion industry transformation programme to grow the future economy, develop competitive businesses, and create good jobs for Singapore.

Mr Chan said that technology will play a key role in making the property transaction process more seamless and efficient. He gave the example of Showsuite, an online platform that allows buyers to view show flats digitally using 3D technology and virtual reality tools, as well as book new homes digitally. This saves travelling time for physical viewings and meetings.

He shared that efforts to streamline and digitalise the property transaction process are being driven by the Digitalised Property Transactions Workgroup (DPTWG), which was set up in early 2018 to put in place enablers to help the industry move towards electronic contracts, payments, and document submissions. Chaired by the CEA, the DPTWG comprises government representatives and industry stakeholders from across the real estate value chain.

One of the initiatives the DPTWG is spearheading is the sharing of property-related government data through Application Programming Interfaces (API) to facilitate the automation of due diligence checks.

Using rental transactions as an example, Mr Tan said that the rental process can become more efficient by using APIs to verify property owner details, check employment passes of tenants, auto-fill online forms using MyInfo and e-signatures, and facilitate stamp duty payments to the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore.

To lend a hand to companies that are transforming their business models via IT solutions, Mr Chan shared that the government has rolled out various grants such as the Enterprise Development Grant and Productivity Solutions Grant.

Raising the professionalism of the industry

Mr Chan (second from right) shared about DPTWG’s work in the panel discussion at the SEAA-KEO Connect seminar. (Image: SEAA)

In addition to achieving these initiatives, Mr Chan said “we must not forget that the workforce must first be equipped with the skills needed to handle digital processes”.

“Specifically, CEA has focused our efforts on helping property agents, as we observe technology being increasingly used in the estate agency industry.”

CEA is reviewing its Continuing Professional Development framework, including developing a more structured approach to guide agents in achieving deeper technical knowledge to perform duties in different segments of the property market.

Mr Tan illustrated this with what he calls the “T-shaped agent”: developing “horizontally” by having the breadth of generic skills like problem solving, critical thinking, and empathy; and “vertically” by having the depth of technical skills like knowledge involved in different kinds of property transactions.

Mr Chan also highlighted that CEA had teamed up with NTUC LearningHub to introduce the SkillsFuture for Digital Workplace programme contextualised for property agents. The aim of the programme is to help agents gain digital skills and insights on the use of technology for their work.

“Another way to promote professionalism is by providing consumers with information on the agents’ experience, thereby increasing consumers’ confidence in engaging the agents’ services,” said Mr Chan. From next year onwards, consumers will be able to view property agents’ HDB resale transaction records on CEA’s website. Other residential transaction records will be published at a later phase.

Mr Chan noted, in both his APREA-RICS conference speech and also during the SEAA-KEO Connect seminar panel discussion, that some property agencies such as OrangeTee & Tie and ERA Realty Network have already reflected their agents’ track records on their platforms. However, this practice is not yet pervasive in the industry.

Joint effort by the government, industry, and unions

Mr Chan (front row, third from left) and Mr Tan (front row, fifth from left) shared about the Real Estate ITM with close to 200 industry practitioners at the SEAA-KEO Connect seminar. (Image: SEAA)

Mr Tan said that the tripartite partnership in the Real Estate ITM can be summarised as such: Government agencies providing enablers like grants and APIs, property agencies using technologies to increase productivity, and industry associations rolling out training programmes to upskill agents.

During the panel discussion at the SEAA-KEO seminar, Mr Chan shared that one of the DPTWG’s biggest challenge is reaching out to the industry to raise awareness of the various initiatives and to encourage the industry to adopt them. An event like the SEAA-KEO seminar thus served as a good platform for SEAA to share the DPTWG’s efforts with industry practitioners.

Mr Chan called for the industry to continue to get involved in the Real Estate ITM. “As the implementation of the ITM is an ongoing endeavour, CEA welcomes suggestions on how we can refine and improve the initiatives to prepare the industry to be future-ready,” said Mr Chan.