Lifting curbs 'not key to property sector's outlook': Lawrence Wong

Minister for National Development Mr Lawrence Wong Speaking at ERA Q2 Career Advancement Day.
Minister for National Development Mr Lawrence Wong Speaking at ERA Q2 Career Advancement Day. PHOTO: LAWRENCE WONG/ FACEBOOK

State of local economy, and not whether cooling measures are eased, will determine long-term prospects: Minister

The property market's long-term prospects are not dependent on whether market cooling measures are lifted but the overall state of the local economy, said National Development Minister Lawrence Wong.

Real estate industry players have repeatedly lobbied the Government recently to ease the cooling measures, which have weakened demand for new homes.

Mr Wong said he knows the industry is "fixated" over the measures, but the key issue is for the country to grow and remain a successful global city with a thriving economy over the next 10 to 20 years.

"If we stagnate, if we decline, if we are unable to sustain growth in the economy, if we cannot retain our position as a global city, then you can be sure that the property market will be in the doldrums even if we lift the cooling measures," he said.

The Government has implemented a slew of measures, such as stamp duties and loan curbs, which have helped bring down prices. Private home prices fell 3.7 per cent last year, after sliding 4 per cent in the year before; new home sales came in at more than 7,000 units in each of the past two years, about half of the 14,948 units in 2013.

Speaking at property agency ERA Realty Network's career advancement day event yesterday, Mr Wong said the Government will monitor the market closely and "policies will always evolve and be updated over time".

Earlier this month, he noted in Parliament that underlying demand for property is still strong, and easing the measures too soon may risk a premature market rebound.

As Singapore transforms its economy through innovation, so too must the real estate sector.

Mr Wong said property agencies and agents will have to adapt to new trends. He cited the way technology changes and how increasingly savvy consumers are closing property deals without estate agents.

For example, the proportion of "do-it-yourself" buyers or sellers for Housing Board resale flat deals rose from 11 per cent in 2010, to 24 per cent last year.

"I think the trend will continue because of consumer preference and technology," Mr Wong said. This means agents and agencies need to innovate, find new ways to add value and be more customer- centric.

ERA chief executive Jack Chua agrees: "We are looking at our business model and encouraging our agents to use social media to capture a wider audience. We also invest in IT and develop apps and productivity tools."

Mr Chua said the firm sets aside about $1 million to $2 million each year for technology investment. In 2013, ERA spent over $100,000 on an app giving live updates on the sales and home prices for projects it is marketing.

Such innovations and a positive mindset have helped its top 50 agents to hit an average income of $92,000 last month, up 72 per cent from February, Mr Chua added.

ERA is the largest real estate agency here with 6,153 agents.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 22, 2016, with the headline 'Lifting curbs 'not key to property sector's outlook''. Print Edition | Subscribe