Fewer choose to be real estate agents

Data shows number of new agents last year was fewer than half the figure in 2014

With housing prices continuing to fall and transaction volumes still low, fewer people are choosing to become property agents.

There were only 1,299 new agents last year - fewer than half of the 3,006 newcomers in 2014. These figures were released by the Council for Estate Agencies (CEA) yesterday.

Commenting on the fall, the council's director of policy and licensing, Mr Heng Whoo Kiat, said: "This could be a reflection of the property market sentiments."

Private property prices fell 3.7 per cent across the whole of last year, and Housing Board resale prices were down 1.5 per cent. Last year's total transaction volume in both markets is also expected to be modest, though up from 2014's lows.

Property agents are probably mindful of the cost of being in the industry, added Mr Heng.

Under the CEA's regulatory framework, agents need to have at least six credit hours of continuing professional development training each year in order to renew their registration. New entrants have to complete a course and pass an examination to qualify.

CEA figures also showed that there are 29,262 registered property agents as of Jan 1. This is down from 30,830 at the start of last year, and 31,783 in 2014.

Former estate agent Brendan Ng, 46, was one of those who did not renew his licence this year. Instead, he has been driving a taxi for the past few months because the income is more regular than that of an agent.

The CEA said it helps agents looking to exit by providing information on other career and training opportunities from relevant government agencies. However, slightly fewer people decided to leave the industry during this latest renewal exercise. There were 3,573 agents who did not renew their registration, 386 fewer than those who left the industry in the previous year.

Of those who stayed, some are seeking other ways to survive in the bleak market. One-third of all current registered salespersons hold another job, the CEA said.

Huttons agent Megan Chiew, 41, took on a new full-time job as an account executive with a trading company in 2014. She now handles property deals part-time. Said Ms Chiew: "My income as an agent was too unpredictable. Some months, I could not close any deal."

Julie Housing's George Teo, who is in his mid-50s, branched out into e-commerce at the end of last year. The full-time agent sells Kindle e-books on the side.

To help agents stay afloat, the Institute of Estate Agents, Singapore (IEA), has introduced a quarterly course in property management.

A private training firm arranges for property management companies to sponsor trainees in the two-month, $8,000 course. The sponsors then employ the trainees full-time for a year afterwards as property officers, paying them at least $2,500 a month.

Said IEA president Jeffhery Foo: "We help (them) convert from real estate agents to property managers." More than 20 agents have taken the course since it was first held in the third quarter of last year.

While it makes sense for agents to try their hand at other businesses now, they should still keep in touch with the market if they intend to practise again, Mr Foo cautioned.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 22, 2016, with the headline 'Fewer choose to be real estate agents'. Print Edition | Subscribe