Property agents may get tech boost

The next tech frontier is emerging for real estate agents - tapping government data in automated checks to verify information such as property ownership, floor area or prospective foreign tenants' immigration status.

Second Minister for National Development Desmond Lee floated the idea at an industry event yesterday, while giving an update on the ministry's Real Estate Industry Transformation Map announced in March. He said the government data suggestion, which is still under study, is part of a push to use technology to boost productivity in the property transaction process.

"There have been several moves on this front already," Mr Lee told his audience at real estate firm PropNex's Quarterly Convention, as he called for growth in property-related technology developments.

"Today, there are still a lot of manual processes in a property transaction, which can be time-consuming... If these are reduced, property agents can focus more of their time on higher-value work such as giving quality advice, personal touch, the human touch, and offering additional services to their customers."

Ms Jasmine Lau, associate district director at property firm OrangeTee, welcomed the idea, saying she trusted that the potential automated process would not make agents redundant.

"From our side, there will be less paperwork cost and we can focus on what is productive, which is the transactions," she told The Straits Times (ST), pointing to marketing, customer service and strategy as areas that staff could then work on.

Mr Lee, who is also Minister in the Prime Minister's Office and Second Minister for Home Affairs, said the industry must contend with "the new realities" of slower economic and workforce growth.

Another way technology could be used involves putting agents' track records online for customers to rate and review, said Mr Lee, who noted that OrangeTee launched such a platform in February last year. "This is an aspect which (the Council for Estate Agencies) will continue to encourage and study how to bring about wider acceptance and adoption within our industry," he added.

Mr Lee noted that a team from National University of Singapore's School of Design and Environment found the practice improved agents' commissions and sales transaction volumes. The study's lead researcher, Professor Ong Seow Eng of the Department of Real Estate, told ST: "The ability to respond and innovate is important to keep abreast of technological advancement... OrangeTee's Property Agents Review is a significant step in this direction."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 16, 2017, with the headline 'Property agents may get tech boost'. Print Edition | Subscribe