A property agent's worst nightmare

For the first time since my husband and I became home owners in 2009, we have been house hunting in a falling property market.

Theoretically, that should be fun. After years of being on the back foot in the competitive sprint that is home buying in Singapore, we were looking forward to being in pole position for once. We dreamt of property agents anxiously courting us, while we leisurely browsed through a growing number of fire sales and watched with interest as asking prices dropped by the minute.

But these happy visions haven't quite materialised.

The problem is that while we know prices are falling, and property developers know prices are falling, and even the official data shows that prices are falling, somehow individual home sellers and their property agents haven't received the memo.

Instead of eagerly jumping at any inquiry, some seem almost bored with us.

"Sorry, only Sun 3.30pm," one said last weekend in response to my request for a Saturday viewing. "Owner out of town. Next month," another said, not bothering with full sentences.

Concerned about their lack of understanding about the market situation, I have taken it upon myself to educate them.

Armed with Google Maps, three months of recent property hunting experience and access to a public database of property transactions, I have become every property agent's worst nightmare: the know-it-all buyer.

Listening to an agent wax lyrical about why her client would accept offers only above a certain price, I had to interrupt her.

"But you do know that one unit two floors up was sold last month for $100,000 less, right? And that unit had a better layout according to the floor plan I saw online. And next door to this property is an empty plot of land that will soon be developed so this unit's view will be blocked."

Undaunted, she tried another selling point: a new MRT station "a stone's throw away" that she said would be operational in 2017.

"That's wrong," I told her. "It's 2021. And the nearest entrance will be 825m from here, which is a 10-minute walk at least."

Another agent told me the listing I was enquiring about was no longer on the market, but that she could show me other units for sale if I told her my requirements. I did, which she promptly ignored.

"Districts 1 to 14, within 800m of MRT," I texted her.

"Got one at East Coast," she said.

"That's not Districts 1 to 14," I said. She never replied. I like to imagine that the silence meant she went to revise Singapore's map by postal districts, but the reality is probably that she was blocking me on her mobile phone.

Not all agents go quiet when challenged, however. Some fight back, which can lead to very awkward conversations that are only partly my fault.

One agent selling a unit in Thomson got defensive when I called to ask for the exact location and then told him that it was "too far in" for us.

"If it's so far for you, why are you looking at the Thomson area?" he fired back.

I tried to explain that I meant the unit was too far from the main road - and hence the MRT station - but he didn't seem convinced.

Then there was the agent who, even before I had gone down to view the property he was selling, asked me if I was "ready to commit" or just "shopping around".

"Is the owner ready to sell or just shopping around for a buyer?" I asked in turn, noting that the asking price was higher than the valuations I had obtained for other units in the same development.

"Genuine seller but it's not (sic) desperate sale," was the reply. "Valuation is only an indication. Seriously being direct, before seeing the unit, what's your budget? If it's too low, it's a no go. Seriously."

I couldn't quite believe the messages I was reading on my phone, so I called up a bank and asked for an indicative valuation for that particular unit. The bank replied with an amount that was 20 per cent lower than the valuation the agent claimed to have received two months ago.

Giving in to my baser instincts, I sent the bank's valuation to the agent in an "I told you so" manner.

In response, he sent me the two-month-old valuation from a different bank. "I am just letting you know facts," he said. It was my turn not to bother replying.

Of course, there are plenty of competent and reasonable agents out there, and we were lucky enough to find a few.

One of them eventually sold us a place that is, if not our dream house, at least a home we can see ourselves living in for a reasonable number of years.

Not only is it in Districts 1 to 14, it is within true walking distance - about five minutes' walk - of an MRT station that is already up and running.

I think we will be happy there - if only because it means we won't have to deal with property agents for another few years.

fiochan@sph.com.sg