Real estate agencies work with government to transform industry

timothy.tay@edgeprop.sg

The long transaction process and regulatory hurdles are common complaints of people buying or selling property in Singapore.

Even as other industries embrace new technologies to streamline processes and improve customer service, the real estate industry has lagged in leveraging technology to become more customer-responsive and efficient.

The Real Estate Industry Transformation Map (ITM), unveiled on Jan 8, is a roadmap to ensure that the industry continues to grow and will be able to provide good jobs for Singaporeans.

It will focus on the property transaction services and facilities management sector, because existing business models and traditional jobs face disruption from new technologies, rising consumer expectations, and slowing manpower growth. This is part of an ongoing effort to improve the industry.

The process began in January with the launch of the HDB Resale Portal, which integrates all the eligibility checks onto a single platform, and has cut HDB resale transaction times by up to eight weeks.

To strengthen professionalism in the real estate industry, the Council for Estate Agencies (CEA) will work with the industry to publish property transactions closed by agents. This initiative will be implemented in two phases: starting with HDB transactions from end-2018, then private residential transactions from end-2019.

CEA says this initiative will increase transparency and boost customers’ confidence in continuing to engage property agents, even as the transaction process becomes automated. CEA will also work with agencies to collect and publish consumer ratings of agents.

First-movers in this area include Orange Tee and ERA Realty. Two years ago, Orange Tee was the first agency to launch a property agent review portal, aptly named Property Agents Review.

Last year, ERA launched its property agent search portal called FindProperty Agent.sg. An improved version of the portal was launched at its Asia Pacific Business Conference on Jan 8. The website lists individual ERA agent’s transaction track record, as well as testimonials and ratings from verified customers.

The portal enables consumers to choose an agent based on service rating and reviews, speciality, location and track record. It will help streamline property searches and enhance the client-agent matching process by integrating all key considerations onto a single platform, says ERA.

The focus is shifting towards improving the private property transaction process, says Jack Chua, CEO of ERA, an industry partner that contributed to the formulation of the ITM. Chua says upcoming plans will involve rental transactions, private property resale and new home transaction processes, as well as new ways to improve the existing work flow. Most of these initiatives should be rolled out by early next year, he says.


Chua says agents today need to understand their customers’ unique requirements and help them make the right decisions. (Pictures: Samuel Issac Chua/The Edge Singapore)

The ITM will also focus on transforming the facilities management (FM) sector to be future-ready. Building maintenance is expected to become more difficult as the population ages, and as new buildings and infrastructure continue to be built. Current practices focus on reducing cost rather than enhancing service delivery, and the industry is not incentivised to innovate and invest in new technologies.

To tackle this, the Building and Construction Authority has been tasked to advise and implement ITM plans for the FM sector. BCA will work with facility managers, property developers and property technology firms to find ways to increase the adoption of Smart FM solutions and practices. Examples include real-time monitoring, predictive maintenance and automation.

The agency will encourage the industry to consider FM in the design and construction of new buildings from the initial planning and design stages. CapitaLand was cited for its progressive initiatives in this sector. The company has rolled out initiatives such as iTrack to track FM jobs and the operational readiness of its malls; iTell to provide feedback and prompt resolution; and iClean to remotely monitor toilet usage for efficient manpower deployment.

In addition, CEA is leading a Digitalised Property Transactions Workgroup to make it easier for industry shareholders to access government property-related data. This includes property ownership details used to verify that a seller is the legal owner of the property or whether a potential foreign tenant has a valid pass to work in Singapore.

HDB, the Singapore Land Authority and the Ministry of Manpower will progressively make this seamless data-sharing available later this year.

The workgroup will also develop digitised contract templates and checklists that consumers and property agents will be able to use by early 2020.

Speaking at ERA’s conference, Tan Chuan-Jin, Speaker of Parliament, noted that, as time-consuming administrative processes such as due-diligence checks are increasingly handled via automation, agents must embrace the coming technological changes and use them to strengthen their professionalism and learn new skills.


Tan says agents must embrace the coming technological changes and use them to strengthen their professionalism

Automation and other smart technologies are taking away some roles handled by real estate agents today, Tan says, and it is likely that more jobs will disappear in the future because of technological change. Such changes are necessary, however, to ensure that the industry is future-ready, he adds.

Agreeing, ERA’s Chua says real estate agencies and agents must provide higher-value services that smart technologies such as artificial intelligence cannot provide, such as market insight, financial planning and a human connection.

He explains that the role of the agent is no longer as a “tour guide”, shuffling buyers between viewings, but as someone who understands their unique requirements and can help them make the right decisions. “The [transaction] process is a dead thing, but professional advice is dynamic.”

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