Agents see new ways of doing business in real estate

Technology has played a critical role in ensuring the continuity of business operations at such a disruptive time, especially for the real estate industry, whose operations partially rely on property visits.

Real estate agents have utilised digital tools, such as 360-degree virtual walks and other forms of property technology (PropTech), in the past year to keep business running; and this, as they see it, will likely continue to evolve in the coming months.

Ripton Realty, for instance, adopted a new system to handle its documents with minimal physical interaction.

“[Ripton Realty] adopted a smart document management system which could send the necessary documents to the clients for their signatures, significantly reducing physical contact amongst salespersons and their clients,” Its founder and KEO Chua Yong Kang told Singapore Business Review.

“Ripton Realty believes that these trends will continue in the coming years,” he added.

The industry had to shift to digital platforms as the government put in place social distancing measures when the pandemic hit in 2020. Singapore has since eased the restrictions it imposed until the virus resurged in May 2021.

In August, the government once again lifted the measures as it adopted a “living with COVID” strategy, which also paved the way for enterprises to accommodate social gatherings that comprise five persons, compared to only two previously.

In line with this, the Council for Estate Agencies announced that whilst it encourages online learning, realtors may resume holding face-to-face training and workshops in groups of five. In addition, agencies may allow no more than five persons to visit a property per day.

More from PropTech

With this, Chua expects that PropTech will not just continue to flourish in the next 12 months, the real estate industry will see new digital platforms and tools moving forward.

“Property technology will grow and become a mainstay in the industry. There will be new ways of shortlisting and purchasing properties with these new tech-enabled platforms and tools,” Chua also said.

“With COVID-19 becoming endemic, the adoption of these new tools would put the salespersons in good stead to handle real estate agency work in the near future.”

Huttons Asia, for its part, expects more changes to occur, a challenge that will likely be more pronounced amongst smaller real estate agencies.

“The industry is expected to consolidate further in the coming years,” Huttons Asia CEO Mark Yip said in an interview with Singapore Business Review.

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“Cost of compliance, digitisation, technology tools, training, branding, and market intelligence are not easy for smaller agencies. There will be more economies of scale when the agency is larger.”

Yip noted Huttons Asia invested heavily in tech-driven tools, like the 360-degree virtual walkthrough videos to showcase flats, enabling their salespersons to continue engaging clients.

The same tool was adopted by Ripton Realty to help clients peek at the units even from a distance.

“Due to viewing restrictions, salespersons embraced tools, such as 360 virtual walkthrough videos so that their clients could get a better idea of the units before shortlisting them for viewing,” Chua said, adding: “Salespersons also actively utilised platforms, such as Whatsapp or Zoom video calls, to conduct their viewings when their clients were unable to be physically present.”

Chua shared the pandemic had hit the industry hard as it complied with the health guidelines, whilst also keeping customers’ expectations satisfied. A key challenge, likewise, cited by Yip.

“As such, Ripton Realty and its salespersons adapted proactively to the changing environment and consumer consumption patterns,” Chua stated.

Investment activity in the real estate industry has recovered across the region as commercial property sales rose 11% year-on-year to US$40.3b in the second quarter of the year and by 8% to US$77.6b in the first half, according to Real Capital Analytics. In Singapore alone, investments rose to US$3b and US$4.7b over the same period.

In a separate report, Knight Frank said investment activities will likely further pick up by the second half, projecting deals to amount to S$30b, approximately US$22.35b, for the entire year. The reports cited the economic recovery of Singapore and cross-border investments to the Lion City amongst other drivers.

Thriving through PropTech

Meanwhile, OrangeTee & Tie Pte Ltd. had likewise dealt with striking the balance in staying compliant to the guidelines and maintaining the safety of both its agents and clients; but being a PropTech firm, OrangeTee certainly had a head start during the global health crisis.

The company was able to face the challenges that hit real estate firms head-on with its tech-driven solutions established long before the pandemic. It also developed new ones in the past year to ensure continuity of its agents’ training.

“OrangeTee has always taken pride in being a PropTech company; so even before the situation has come to this, we have been pushing for innovative and automated solutions, such as our Agent App to help our agents to do sales besides providing information and administrative matters,” COO Simon Yio told Singapore Business Review in another separate interview.

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“In addition, we have been conducting more virtual meetings, virtual training sessions, and even developed an eLearning platform for our salespersons.”

He noted the goal now is to find a level of normalcy to allow businesses to continue amidst a constantly changing environment.

Speaking with the Singapore Business Review, Spaceworx CEO Lakshita Wijerathne said that if anything, the pandemic served as a “catalyst” for digital transformation, as it forced corporations to determine ways to access data systems remotely.

The pandemic “became a catalyst for digital transformation. The people realised we cannot rely on buildings, workplaces, offices to do our work,” Wijerathne said. “We should be able to have access to our corporate data systems regardless of where we are.”

Seeing that returning to the pre-pandemic normal is still far-fetched, Wijerathne said PropTech will continue to evolve as the demand for hybrid workplaces and flexible spaces grows. He also expects new trends, such as predictive maintenance and operations, to emerge, opening new avenues for PropTech to grow.

On top of the potentials of PropTech, OrangeTee’s Yio said the real estate industry will likely see a depleting stock of new homes and more aggressive land bids. He also expects border restrictions to ease further that will allow foreign buyers to enter and drive prices up.

Construction projects may also continue to experience delays due to a shortage of workers. Yio said this could further increase buyers in the resale market, which has already rebounded in 2021.

In its Residential Market Depth 3rd quarter report, OrangeTee said the resale market has returned in Singapore after a two-year hiatus.

This comes as a total of 9,160 private non-landed homes were sold within the first seven months of the year. This is estimated to go as high as 17,000 to 18,000 by year-end.

“Having gone through the various alert phases, everyone is trying to find a certain kind of normalcy that is proving to be a challenge given the fluid nature of the pandemic,” Yio said.

“Nonetheless, the world will not stop for us, hence, we have to keep trying our best to stay informed and compliant while maintaining productivity.”

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