Minister of State (MOS) for National Development Tan Kiat How met with key executive officers (KEOs), real estate salespersons (RESs), and the industry associations in a series of dialogue sessions to gather insight into how the industry has responded to the challenges of digital disruption and restrictions to estate agency work due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Business in the new normal
During his meetings with the KEOs and management staff from the large, mid-sized and small estate agents (EAs), MOS Tan acknowledged their forward thinking and planning to embrace and leverage proptech to deliver better services to their clients, and their admirable efforts in finding new ways to conduct estate agency work due to the restrictions in face-to-face interactions with their clients during the early phases of the pandemic. The EAs had also continued to ensure that their RESs kept up with their training to help them manage the transition to the new normal when conducting estate agency work.
In addition to the daily operational challenges that the EAs brought up for discussion, one of the oft-raised topics was the issue of upholding professional standards and enhancing skillsets through the Continuing Professional Development (CPD) framework. The EAs provided constructive feedback on the current CPD courses and offered suggestions on further improvements to ensure that their RESs would have digital fluency and the right skillsets to handle different types of property transactions.
The industry’s input dovetails well with the work of CEA’s Project ADEPT (Advancing and Enhancing Professionalism and Training) workgroup, which is looking into enhancing the CPD ecosystem to raise the professionalism of the industry. Project ADEPT is reviewing the sufficiency of the current CPD regime and exploring differentiated approaches to motivate RESs and KEOs in their learning journey to achieve higher standards of professionalism.
Another popular suggestion from the industry was sharing of more case studies and good practices to help educate RESs on practice-related matters, so that they can avoid committing similar breaches of the relevant laws and regulations. The EAs’ commitment to upholding professional standards was what prompted the mooting of Project Focus, an initiative aimed at reducing complaints and encouraging better supervision of RESs by the EAs. CEA met with the 5 largest EAs (ERA, Huttons, OrangeTee, Propnex and SRI) to share information on the complaints received by CEA, and discussed with the EAs could how to better supervise their RESs to prevent similar breaches from being committed.
First-hand perspectives from younger RESs
MOS Tan also met with a group of young RESs, who are in the initial years of their careers, to hear their views of the industry. A quick poll of the 28 participants, who hailed from various EAs, found that almost 80% of them felt optimistic about the real estate market outlook for the next three to five years, and a large majority of them were likely to continue working in the industry in the next decade or more.
The young RESs offered insights and suggestions to improve the relevance of the CPD courses, and suggested more training on commercial and industrial property transactions as well as courses on softer but critical skills like motivation and negotiation. The RESs discussed at length about digital transformation and the challenges faced by the smaller EAs to digitalise their business processes. They also highlighted the unequal pace at which different parts of the property transaction process were becoming digitalised, and the discrepancies in the level of digital fluency amongst the RES population – all of which hinders the industry’s progress towards future-readiness.
Bringing the industry’s concerns to the forefront
At his sessions with the industry associations (IAs) – the Institute of Estate Agents (IEA), the Singapore Estate Agents Association (SEAA), and the Singapore Institute of Surveyors and Valuers (SISV) – MOS Tan commended their digitalisation initiatives and provision of new digital tools to meet their members’ needs.
An example of such a tool was SEAA’s WhereNext platform, which would help RESs instantly create project websites with data analytic features and reach out to their target audience. The platform is free for SEAA members and would help them save on marketing costs and improve work efficiency.
The IAs echoed the sentiments of the EAs and RESs in their feedback about the importance of enhancing the CPD framework to better support industry practitioners in an increasingly competitive environment and better serve a progressively digitally savvy consumer base. They also concurred with the suggestion of sharing of more disciplinary cases to help the industry comply with the regulations.
There was a shared view that consumer education on the roles and responsibilities of RESs would improve RES-client relations and reduce complaints made about the industry. With a better understanding of a RES’s scope of work and expertise, consumers would have more realistic expectations of what their RESs can do for them, which would engender more trust in the industry.
Committed to professionalism and upskilling
The industry representatives that MOS Tan met were enthusiastic about learning more about government policies that directly impact the property market. They welcomed the idea of webinars and other sharing sessions on the rationale behind property-related policies to enhance their understanding, which, in turn, would equip them with the knowledge to better explain these policies to their clients.
Their suggestions – from increased CPD hours to raising entry-level requirements – and their support of initiatives such as the Alliance for Action (AfA) on accurate property listings, were encouraging indications of their strong commitment to collaborate with the government in building a trusted and professional real estate agency industry.
Information accurate as at 27 December 2021