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Transforming together

“Transformation” has been a recent buzz word. Although we have certainly been made more aware of it over the past year, “transformation” is not an entirely new word for the real estate agency industry.

The industry experienced the first wave of transformation in 2010, when the Council for Estate Agencies (CEA) was established, and a more rigorous regulatory regime for the industry was introduced. Since then, the bar of standards has been raised and the industry has made good progress towards being more professional and client-centric.

The launch of the Real Estate Industry Transformation Map (ITM) in February 2018 brings about another wave of changes as various initiatives are progressively rolled out. In this wave, technology will be an important catalyst to give an added boost to professionalism and productivity in the industry.

The Ministry of National Development and CEA have been working closely with stakeholders across the real estate value chain, the unions, as well as other public sector agencies in the development and implementation of the Real Estate ITM initiatives.

The Digitalised Property Transactions Workgroup (DPTWG), which was formed under the Real Estate ITM, is already working to streamline and digitalise property transaction processes.

From next year, property agents’ HDB transaction records will be made publicly available. This will help property agents showcase verified records of their experience and lend greater assurance to consumers on the agents’ track records.

As for the Continuing Professional Development (CPD) framework, we will be enhancing it to equip property agents with deeper knowledge and skillsets that are necessary to ride this wave of transformation.

CEA and the various stakeholders who were involved in the development of the Real Estate ITM trust that these initiatives will bring benefits to industry practitioners and consumers alike.

The Ministry of National Development and CEA have been working closely with stakeholders across the real estate value chain, the unions, as well as other public sector agencies in the development and implementation of the Real Estate ITM initiatives. (Image: JTC)

An evolving industry landscape

The real industry landscape continued to evolve in the past year, impacted by technological disruptions and changing consumer expectations.

I am very encouraged to see property agencies further embracing technological changes to improve their agents’ productivity and better serve their customers. ERA Realty Network, Huttons Asia, and PropNex Realty came together to develop and roll out the SoReal Prop portal, RealAgent app, and RealHome app.

A good number of property agencies have since joined the partnership, which allows agents across various agencies to access real-time property information and digital tools in a single platform to serve their clients better. As for consumers, they can use the RealHome app to rate and review their agents after a successful transaction. This is indeed a win-win solution for agents and consumers.

Enterprising property agencies also tapped on synergies beyond the real estate agency industry to bring real estate transactions to digital mediums that Singaporeans are familiar with. For instance, OrangeTee & Tie entered into a partnership with Carousell, a digital marketplace, to reach out to a new generation of mobile-first home seekers through property advertisements.

All verified reviews of OrangeTee & Tie agents from its Property Agents Review portal are also available on Carousell, and are integrated with Carousell’s existing feedback system so that Carousell users can browse property listings with confidence.

Another example is a collaboration between the Singapore Institute of Surveyors and Valuers (SISV) Services Pte Ltd, the commercial arm of industry association SISV, and one-stop marketplace CloseBuy Asia Pacific. I understand SISV Services is collaborating with CloseBuy to jointly promote a digital app platform that will link home buyers and sellers up with stakeholders in the real estate value chain – from property agents to conveyancing lawyers and bankers.

CEA will strike a balance between providing sufficient creative space for businesses to offer innovative services without compromising on consumers’ interests.

More property portals with different business models have sprouted – from those providing property information to those offering consumers a chance to manage a transaction entirely on their own or engage the services of a property agent for certain aspects of a property transaction at a fixed fee.

Even parties outside the property industry, such as banks, are entering the market, offering consumers products to assist them in their home search.

Understandably, segments of the industry have expressed concerns on some of these start-ups with non-traditional business offerings.

CEA’s philosophy on the issue has been consistent. We welcome new business models that offer value-added services and more options for consumers, as well as contribute to raising the professionalism and productivity of the industry. However, such businesses should be mindful not to contravene any government regulations and guidelines.

Over time, such developments may have bearing on CEA’s current regulations, which may have to be updated to remain relevant. We are keeping a close watch and welcome views and feedback from the industry.

CEA will strike a balance of providing sufficient creative space for businesses to offer innovative services without compromising on consumers’ interests.

Deepening partnerships

CEA will continue to work with the industry associations and KEOs to further improve practice and operational areas.

Strengthening our partnerships with the industry has always been a key priority and will remain so.

During the past year, we held regular dialogues with the industry associations and Key Executive Officers (KEOs) from across agencies of different sizes. We covered ground issues such as pain points in adhering to regulatory requirements and gathered feedback on our practice guidelines and ITM initiatives during these candid but insightful sessions.

We also met with individual agents and CPD trainers through informal lunches and focus group sessions on the revised CPD framework. The agents and trainers offered constructive suggestions on how CEA and the industry could work together to tackle disruption and raise professionalism.

In addition, we held meetings with the key management staff and trainers of our Approved Course Providers to gather feedback on the Real Estate Salesperson and Real Estate Agent courses and examinations.

Some agents approached CEA directly with strong views on various topics during the year. We appreciate that you have taken the initiative and time to share your views and feedback with us on improving practice matters.

In fact, many of the ground issues raised have been discussed during CEA’s regular meetings with the industry association representatives and KEOs. Some of these matters are not so straightforward, and will need further deliberation because of wider implications. We will continue to work with the industry associations and KEOs to further improve practice and operational areas.

CEA will hold more of such engagements with the industry associations and KEOs. We encourage agents to also actively engage their KEOs and industry associations to keep abreast of industry developments.

Keeping business costs in mind

Just as we have been encouraging the industry to transform, we have been focusing on improving the way we deliver on our responsibilities at CEA.

We regularly look into adopting cost effective IT solutions to enhance efficiencies to better serve the industry. We have explored ways to reduce operational costs as well. For example, rental and utilities are now lower with our new and more compact office compared to our previous office that was spread over three different premises.

Where possible, we want to help reduce business costs and improve time savings for the industry too. The application process for agents’ registration went fully paperless in February this year, with fewer steps needed in the application process. In the renewal exercise for 2019, property agencies no longer needed to submit a copy of their ACRA business profile for licence renewal.

Reaching new heights as one

The real estate agency industry can achieve even more together in future if there’s unity in purpose and representation as industry associations, property agencies and agents continue to forge strong partnerships.

The industry’s operating environment is a dynamic one. With changes around us taking place so quickly, it is important that the industry is able to sense and respond quickly so as to continue to remain relevant.

I am assured to note that the industry has shown resolve and creativity in the past year to overcome challenges and seize new opportunities. I believe you can achieve even more together in future if there is unity in purpose and representation as industry associations, property agencies and agents continue to forge stronger partnerships between yourselves.

CEA is committed to supporting you in your transformation journey. We look forward to working with you to create a future-ready, professional, and trusted real estate agency industry.

May you have a happy holiday season and a fulfilling 2019 ahead.

Lee Kwong Weng
Executive Director
Council for Estate Agencies