Survival instincts kick in as sluggish property market takes its time reviving
Faced with a tepid property market, Mr Nicholas Chia, 28, decided to go from selling houses to shining cars.
An estate agent since 2010, he decided to "jump ship" in the first quarter of this year, setting up car-grooming business Doorstep Detailer as well as a franchise of a pre-school enrichment centre.
"Because of the slow market, I need something to supplement my income and something in which I can tap the network I've made," he said.
Car-polishing was a natural choice: "Almost every property agent has a car, and image is important when they meet clients."
In today's sluggish property market, more agents are letting their licences lapse or trying their hand at other jobs, according to anecdotal reports.
Housing Board resale deals hit a record low of 18,100 last year. There were just 12,683 deals in the first nine months of this year, putting 2014 on track for a new low.
Private property deals this year barely hit 10,000 as of September, a number that was about the average of each quarter in 2012.
On top of more agents leaving, there is also less new blood entering the industry. According to the Council for Estate Agencies' annual report last week, there were 3,061 new registered sales professionals in the last financial year, down from 4,289 the year before.
Agents say the exodus began last year, but really gained momentum this year.
Some part-time agents have returned to their day jobs, said Dennis Wee Realty agent Priscilla Pang, who is still in the business.
Full-time agents simply took their skills elsewhere. Active PropNex agent Remus Koek said: "They are mostly still in sales, but different types of sales."
Dennis Wee Realty agent Aaron Lin said he has seen older agents turn to multi-level marketing or driving a taxi.
Alternative jobs beckon in the food and beverage as well as spa industries. Agents are also turning to forex trading, holding investment seminars and even setting up economy rice stalls.
A 41-year-old agent who wanted to be known only as Mr Ong returned to his previous field of engineering. "I'm not seasoned enough to weather the current lull," he said.
Another agent, who wished to be known as Ms Xie, 27, stopped actively advertising around April, a year after she got her licence.
"Ideally I would have continued my activities in real estate but it just wasn't viable."
Besides the slow market making it tough to close deals, the new Personal Data Protection Act has made it harder to get clients, she said. Potential leads must be checked, for a fee, against the Do Not Call list of people refusing unsolicited marketing requests.
Still, she has renewed her licence for next year - just in case.
Indeed, some agents are biding their time, noted Mr Michael Long, key executive officer of Spacez Real Estate. They have told their agencies they would let their licences lapse on the understanding they can return in 2016.
Property experts expect transaction figures to start recovering by the end of next year.