After a slew of bad news, property agents here may finally have some good news. Singapore’s three biggest real estate agencies have launched an online platform to challenge the dominance of other online portals like Propertyguru. The agencies, PropNex Realty, ERA Realty and Huttons Asia, have christened the portal SoReal Prop (SoReal).
SoReal is a response to the feedback the real estate agencies received from its property agents, said the chief executives of the 3 property companies. The idea for the portal was first mooted in 2016 and will provide real-time information for agents and buyers.
SoReal was launched after Propertyguru raised its listing price in September last year. Propertyguru is the largest property portal in Singapore with a very large database of listings and with about 15,000 agents using its platform. Propertyguru justified the price hike saying it will allow agents to upload more floor plans and reduce duplicate listings. Property agents have complained that the hike will hurt them the most.
About 1,300 agents who protested the fee hike by Propertyguru in September said that they intended to form a union to protect their interests. They added that they wanted to prop up property portal 99.co. 99.co is a rival of Propertyguru and is involved in a legal tussle with it over copyright infringement.
The listing price hike by Propertyguru came amidst the falling real estate prices in Singapore, as well as technological disruptions which has impacted the earnings of property agents. There has been a 11 percent decrease in property agents since 2014. There were 31,783 property agents in 2014, but this number dropped to 28,397 in January 2017.
Analysts predict that this number will further drop, and that Singapore may need only 20,000 property agents in the long run. In this new landscape, property agents “must upgrade or die,” said chief mortgage consultant of iCompareLoan.com, Mr Paul Ho.
The Housing and Development Board (HDB) too launched the HDB Resale Portal (建屋局组屋转售平台) in January 2018, streamlining the resale transaction process by integrating all the eligibility checks on a single platform. This not only increases the convenience for the public, but also provides less incentives to engage middlemen services.
Second Minister in the Ministry of National Development, Desmond Lee, who spoke at the launch of SoReal said that the Singapore Government will will do its part to support property agents, and the rest of the industry, in their innovation efforts.
In referring to the Real Estate Industry Transformation, the Minister said that there were a number of grants and programmes to help property agents to develop new products and new services.
“For example, you (property agents) can tap on SPRING’s Capability Development Grant (CDG) to defray up to 70% of qualifying project costs in areas such as product development, business process enhancements and human capital development.”
The Minister further promised to help property agents to better access HDB, Singapore Land Authority and Ministry of Manpower property-related data in the later part of the year. Mr Lee hopes that with this, property agencies and listing portals can automate the many administrative processes that make up a property transaction.
“Our goal is for (property agents) and property portals to be able to automatically verify key details, such as whether a seller is the legal owner of the property, or whether a potential foreign tenant has a valid work pass in Singapore – all with the click of a button. This will be an opportunity for firms to undertake significant process innovation to become more productive, and I hope SoReal will make full use of this data and others when it is released. Capitalise on it – make it valuable for your customers, make the process so much more efficient, effective, transparent, and competitive.”
The Ministry of National Development wants to make the property transaction process more streamlined and more efficient by minimising the use of hardcopy documents and physical payments (such as cheques and cashier’s orders), which are time consuming for property agents to process. This way, firms will be able to deliver more seamless services to their customers, Mr Lee said.
He added that as the industry continues to move towards more online services, property agents will need to be comfortable interacting with consumers online and in using digital tools to assist them in the work that they do.
Mr Lee acknowledged that making this change may be daunting for some property agents in the industry. This he explained, is why Council of Estate Agencies has been studying carefully how best to help property agents level up their digital literacy.
“Continuous skills training and upgrading will also be needed to make sure that property agents can deepen their technical competencies over the course of their careers, so that they can continue to remain relevant in this very fast changing economy.”
The Minister hopes that real estate agencies and property agents will make good use of the opportunities the Government has created, and be active partners in this industry transformation journey.
“In fact, it is very encouraging that having worked so hard together in the tripartite way on the transformation map, a detailed plan on a piece of paper, to see industry take and run with it, take and innovate, recognise what the Industry Transformation Map is intended to achieve, how it can help the Singapore economy, the Singapore firms, the Singapore workforce, and the Singapore customer base, to benefit and to stay ahead of the competition.”
Mr Lee asked property agents to let his Ministry know if they had any ideas on what more the Government can do to assist them with their innovation efforts.
But still, it remains to be seen if the real-estate giants who came together to create the SoReal platform will have the will to deviate from their core business, to develop and promote the portal to give the incumbents a run for their money.