More property agents amid rosier housing outlook

Members of the public viewing models of housing projects on sale in the sales display area of HDB Hub.
Members of the public viewing models of housing projects on sale in the sales display area of HDB Hub. PHOTO: ST FILE

Collective sales boost mood but number of agents 'not sustainable' with disruptive tech

A more optimistic property market last year led to a bump in the number of registered property agents this year, reversing a three-year slide.

There were 28,571 registered property agents in Singapore as of Monday, 174 more than last year, according to figures from the Council of Estate Agents (CEA) yesterday.

The CEA's director of policy and licensing Chia I-Ling said that the increase could be attributed to a "positive outlook on the real estate market".

This was particularly evident in the private market, said Mr Thomas Tan, president of the 3,500 member-strong Singapore Estate Agents Association. Pent-up demand pushed total private home transactions to 23,113 from January to November last year, compared with 16,378 for the whole of 2016.

Mr Tan said last year's collective sale fever helped to boost sentiment among agents, new and old. "Developers were feeling bullish, so they made attractive collective sale offers, and that sentiment passed on to agents."

Indeed, more new agents - 1,344 of them - entered the market last year, higher than the 1,189 in 2016 and the 1,299 in 2015.

  • 1,344

    Number of new agents who entered the market last year, higher than the 1,189 in 2016 and the 1,299 in 2015.

    1,269

    Number of registered agencies as of Monday, compared with 1,286 last year and 1,369 in 2016.

But even as the number of registered agents is on the rise, the number of agencies continued to dwindle. There were 1,269 registered agencies as of Monday, compared with 1,286 last year and 1,369 in 2016. Mr Lim Yong Hock, key executive officer of the largest firm PropNex Realty, said "many small to mid-sized firms might choose not to continue operating on their own and will instead consolidate their business with the bigger players".

Last year saw four agencies merge to pool resources: PropNex and Dennis Wee Group did so in June, while OrangeTee and Edmund Tie & Company joined forces in August. PropNex is now the largest firm with 6,684 agents, giving it more than 800 agents over the second-largest ERA Realty.

National University of Singapore real estate professor Sing Tien Foo said the current total number of agents is not sustainable, especially with new technology sure to disrupt the industry. A more realistic figure would be about 15,000 to 20,000 agents, he said.

He pointed to a new Housing Board resale portal launched on Monday, which could help buyers and sellers bypass an agent should they choose to.

"The reality is that agents must make sure their services are required, not just 'good to have'," he said, adding that those who help to only put up listings or arrange viewings will have their work replicated by portals in time to come.

"What is harder to replace is their market knowledge and bargaining abilities," he said. "Agents also have to offer value-added services, like financing advice or linking new home owners up with interior designers."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 05, 2018, with the headline 'More property agents amid rosier housing outlook'. Print Edition | Subscribe