Property Agents, Get Ready to be Disrupted!

TL;DR – In 5 years time, 1 in 2 agents expect to lose their jobs.

If you are told that in the next few years, one in two people in your profession would lose their jobs, how would you feel? I don’t know about you. But I would be really worried. That is the situation facing property agents in Singapore.

That was one of the key messages at the dialogue between the Secretary General (SG) of NTUC, Chan Chun Sing, and some 600 real estate agents at the 9th PropertyGuru Agent Summit. I went because my friend, who’s a property agent, asked me along.

I found it quite strange that the NTUC’s SG would be having a dialogue with property agents. NTUC… Property agents… got link meh?

Apparently, there is.

NTUC’s U Associate and PropertyGuru are coming together to roll out MasterClasses focusing on Digital Marketing, Social Media Marketing and Search Engine Optimisation, to empower agents with the right skillsets to succeed in marketing their services online. They had described it as future-proofing the property agents. But why?

Develop Cross-Competencies, Add Value

Because, as observed by SG Chan, property agents have traditionally been middlemen. In recent years, technology is rapidly doing away with the need to have such a middleman. A Deloitte survey has indicated that nearly every key sector in our economy is likely to face technological disruption in the next few years.

Things are not any different in the property sector. I got curious after the dialogue and went to read up on how technology is disrupting this very old buy-and-sell business. Even as we speak now, the property industry is being disrupted.

Digital platforms are already changing the way property viewing and property transactions are done. According to a report by CB Insight, the top five funded segments in the property industry were property information (29%), tech-enabled brokerage (19%), list-and-search services (17%), crowdfunding investment (9%) and property management (8%).

The millennials are tech-savvy and very used to doing everything online, from buying clothes to booking a holiday. The rise of the share economy also fuels the DIY trend. So what we have is a growing group of consumers who are very used to checking information online, doing everything online. If the platforms and tools are user-friendly, what then is stopping them from doing their property-related business online too?

There is already talk about how new apps like OhMyHome is cutting out the middleman and shaking up property market.

A CEA survey carried out on 2,113 people from Nov 2015 to Feb 2016 yielded that those between 21 to 39 years old were more likely to handle transactions on their own. We can only expect this number to grow in future.

If property agents don’t improve or revolutionize their services, they will be made obsolete. And property agents who aren’t tech savvy will most likely be the first to go.

That’s why NTUC is partnering PropertyGuru. NTUC wants to help property agents build those skills, and turn the threat posed by technology into opportunities. But beyond being competent in utilising technology, SG Chan suggested that property agents need to add more value through their services.

To do that, he suggested that property agents should develop competencies in areas like finance and legal. Property agents can then provide a one-stop service for their clients. NTUC is keen to support property agents to develop those cross competencies.

NTUC Chan Chun Sing PropertyGuru

Break the island mentality

Even though Singapore is a small island, SG Chan urged property agents to break free from the island mentality. That is the only way to be able to make money no matter whether the market rises or falls. How so?

SG Chan used 2009 as an example. The markets were in free fall then. But the world didn’t end. Singapore rode out the storm. We did it by realising that we weren’t the only ones affected. Everyone, everywhere was. The trick was to NOT be the one who falls the fastest. And because we were able to do that, to stand tall longer than others, people continued to see Singapore as a good place to invest in.

The moral of the story? According to SG Chan, it is to get our act together, and pull ahead when times are tough. Never waste a good crisis.

Similarly, the economy may be slowing now. Singapore’s own domestic market may be small. But if we can break our island mentality and see the world as our oyster, then we can turn this crisis in to an opportunity.

Property agents in Singapore shouldn’t just think about serving Singaporeans in the Singaporean housing market, but also foreign investors. Or Singaporeans thinking of investing in properties abroad. In other words, property agents should also know about the property markets in the region.

Trust is Our Greatest Asset

But what differentiates property agents in Singapore from property agents from other places? SG Chan suggested that our unique selling point is the trust premium that Singapore and Singaporeans have developed over the years.

So, what this trust premium?

SG Chan explained it like this: In middle East, when they need CFO, they use Singaporean. We (Singaporeans) are known for being straight. We are known we won’t break rules. Hence Indians come to little India to buy gold. Chinese tourists come to the Guardian pharmacy outlet in Changi Airport, making it their best-selling outlet in Singapore.

It is important that people all around the world trust Singaporeans, and continue to do so. This is our trust premium. This is what property agents can use as their unique selling point, not just to Singaporeans, but to property buyers from all over the world.

This is all the more important given today’s economic climate. Property market is down, but people, both Singaporeans and foreign investors, are still looking for places to park their money. They are looking for safe returns and people they can trust. SG Chan hopes that Singaporean property agents can be known as trustworthy agents throughout the world.

It is with such hopes in mind that the Labour Movement is encouraging property agents to come together to uplift the professionalism of the industry. If property agents are willing to do that, SG Chan pledged that NTUC will be by their side, helping to upgrade their skills. So why is the Labour Movement helping property agents who aren’t your traditional workers? Guess this goes back to what he said at the Future-Ready seminar last month,

“No matter whether you are blue collar, white collar, gold collar, no collar. So long as you draw a salary, receive a pay check. NTUC will take care of you.” – Labour Chief Chan Chun Sing

I hope my property agent friend got the message and will upgrade his skills and build on his trust premium. Because I think that’s the only way he’ll be the one in two property agents who will future-proof his skills to survive the disruption.

(Featured image of founders of OhMyHome, Rhonda Wong (left) and Race Wong, via smr.theedgemarkets.com)



Author: Jake Koh

Recovering sushi addict, I'm a man of mystery and power, whose power is exceeded only by his mystery.


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