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REITM Focus: Thriving amidst transformation

While the past year presented challenges for the real estate agency industry, it also created opportunities for practitioners to explore new frontiers.

As we prepare to welcome 2019, CEAnergy spoke with the leaders of four industry associations representing property agencies and agents:

  • Dr Lim Lan Yuan, President (Valuation and General Practice), Singapore Institute of Surveyors and Valuers (SISV)
  • Mr Thomas Tan, President, Singapore Estate Agents Association (SEAA)
  • Mr Adam Wang, President, KEO Connect
  • Mr Herman Yeo, President, Institute of Estate Agents (IEA)

The four presidents shared how the industry has risen to challenges in 2018 and the increasingly significant role industry associations can play as the industry transforms. They also provided some words of encouragement to property agents for 2019, and beyond.

2018 – a year of opportunity in spite of continuing change and uncertainty

The past year presented challenges for the real estate industry. It also created opportunities for the industry and practitioners to explore new frontiers.

Dr Lim Lan Yuan of SISV and IEA’s Mr Herman Yeo said that the past year saw disruption and uncertainty. At home, the industry experienced continued changes brought about by technological disruption, industry transformation, as well as policy changes such as the property cooling measures, which came as a surprise to property market players.

At the same time, changes in the external political climate such as trade wars would invariably have an impact. Mr Yeo expressed concern that should the trade wars escalate, a worldwide recession may occur, and this could in turn affect the Singapore property market.

Dr Lim pointed out that the forces of disruption and uncertainty provided an impetus for the industry to develop coping strategies, including nudging professionals to embrace and leverage technology, and explore new opportunities overseas.

As for Mr Thomas Tan of SEAA, he noted that 2018 was characterised by change. “Change is the only constant in our fast-evolving real estate industry. Consumer behaviours are changing, agencies are evolving, even government agencies are adopting new ways of doing things… so agents must also adapt and change, in order to remain relevant.”

Consumers are now more tech-savvy and the Internet has become a pivotal information source and complementary tool in property transactions, added Mr Tan. This change in consumer behaviour has also encouraged agents to find their footing in what he termed as the ‘new-norm’, i.e. to devise new and innovative ways to engage these consumers.

Mr Adam Wang of KEO Connect held similar views. He said that because of the ever-evolving business environment and widespread use of technology, many agents have realised the need to be more open-minded to new ideas. They now feel motivated to learn new skills and put into practice new ideas and use technology to work better.

Strong partnerships at work

The industry associations representing the interests of property agencies and agents have been working closely with the government to progressively implement the initiatives under the Real Estate ITM. (Image: Ministry of National Development)

Following the launch of the Real Estate Industry Transformation Map (ITM) in February 2018, the Council for Estate Agencies (CEA) has been working closely with various government agencies and relevant industry associations that are involved in or support property transactions, to implement several initiatives under the ITM. This partnership remains vital as the industry moves ahead on its transformation journey.

Reflecting on how the Real Estate ITM has provided a platform for synergies to be sharpened, SISV’s Dr Lim Lan Yuan said, “The efforts in digitalisation have gathered all parties involved in the whole transactional process to work together, giving an opportunity to revisit the individual roles of parties in the transaction chain, and learning from the current shortcomings and making improvements by way of cutting redundancies and adopting new technologies.”

Sharing his take on the development of the Real Estate ITM and the rollout of its initiatives, Mr Thomas Tan of SEAA said, “…I can see the resolve from various government agencies in embracing transformation. These agencies have been assisting companies and Singaporeans alike, to remain relevant with skills and a global mindset.”

For Mr Herman Yeo of the IEA, working together with government agencies on the Real Estate ITM initiatives has been both challenging and exciting. He said that there have been hurdles to overcome as the industry studies new methods to cover new areas of knowledge and practices in a fast-changing technology-based environment. But he added, “It is exciting because we are exploring and pioneering…initiatives to transform the real estate industry… to make [the property transaction process] seamless, efficient and more productive.”

Mr Adam Wang of KEO Connect appreciated that CEA has been closely engaging with industry stakeholders and other government agencies in the real estate transaction chain on the development of the Real Estate ITM. He said that the associations can also help “advocate the intentions of the Real Estate ITM and keep their members updated on the ITM’s developments…allowing members to stay updated [on its progress]”.

A united vision for transformation

Industry associations will continue to be key links to policy makers by providing feedback on ground issues and sharing ideas from a practitioner’s perspective.

The industry leaders all agreed that the industry associations will continue to be key links between practitioners and policy makers going forward, by conveying the ideas of the Real Estate ITM to the industry, updating their members on the latest developments, and providing a platform for practitioners to offer feedback on the ITM initiatives.

They are also committed to supporting the initiatives, such as through organising seminars and training, to help property agents better appreciate the importance of industry transformation and perform more effectively in the new digital environment.

KEO Connect’s Mr Adam Wang said that moving forward, industry associations can proactively undertake efforts to equip agents with both digital literacy skills and other broad-based skillsets.

A main focus for Dr Lim’s team at SISV in the coming year will be on promoting digital literacy and skills, and adopting various digital marketing tools to take advantage of technology. SISV will be launching new digital courses on its e-learning platform, and explore new industry collaborations in providing continuing education and training in real estate.

Mr Thomas Tan similarly said that SEAA intends to continue offering programmes to upskill agents in areas such as data analytics, as well as and in leadership and communications skills. In addition, it will continue to provide agents with tools and services that incorporate enablers such as APIs provided by government agencies, to enable agents to become more productive. This will in turn allow them to spend more time building relationships with their clients and honing their professional knowledge and skills.

For the IEA, it will be looking at developing and running new courses, using new teaching methods powered by information technology, and introducing experiential learning workshop training, said Mr Herman Yeo.

The industry associations committed to stepping up efforts to equip their members with both digital literacy and other broad-based skills in the coming year.

Thriving in the new year – and beyond

The association leaders were unanimous in their views of how agents can gear up for the year ahead and succeed. They stressed the need for adaptability, a thirst for new knowledge, and a desire to place clients’ interests first.

Being able to adjust and adapt to fit in a new work environment powered by information technology will be necessary for agents in the new year and beyond, according to IEA’s Mr Herman Yeo. He was of the view that holding a “learn, unlearn, and relearn” philosophy will be a critical success factor for agents going forward.

KEO Connect’s Mr Adam Wang said that it will become increasingly important for agents to adopt new technology and working patterns as they enter another era of real estate marketing. Today, agents are expected to have a good understanding of their clients’ unique situations and provide advice that would yield the best possible outcomes for their clients. They are thus required to equip themselves with new skills and take on new roles, apart from closing deals.

To continue to succeed, property agents must continue to adapt to the new digital environment, develop a thirst for new knowledge, and have a desire to place clients’ interests first.

Ensuring client-centricity in all transactions will indeed be something that agents must be mindful of, said SEAA’s Mr Thomas Tan. To achieve this, as clients become more knowledgeable, agents must similarly become more knowledgeable and adaptable to learn new skills to value-add and build trust among their clients. Similar to IEA’s Mr Yeo, Mr Tan urged agents to be ready to learn, unlearn, and relearn when necessary.

SISV’s Dr Lim Lan Yuan had this advice for agents, “Continue to upgrade your skills and expand your knowledge of new developments in the industry. Be willing to explore opportunities in other sectors of the property market as well overseas ventures, and new ways of doing business to cope with changes and potential threats.”