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TIPS FOR THE FIRST-TIME
Last Updated: 10 April, 2003
TAKES TO BE A SUCCESSFUL RENTAL HOUSING AGENT IN SINGAPORE?
I met an American entrepreneur who shared some advices on July 31,
He was a MBA graduate and had worked for a European bank for ten
years, meeting various clients who wanted loans. He knew he
would be retrenched one year later. This meant he was aware
of TRENDS. Banking was no more a profitable business.
He wanted to be independent like some of his clients. To have time
to do what he liked, without having to wear a tie. But how would
he do it?
Niche market. So he went to Vietnam with an idea. To
find distributors for products for American manufacturers. Not
just any product, but focused on one category. His colleagues were
thinking why he was taking a holiday when retrenchments
(re-engineering of companies was the fashion) were imminent.
Barrier and cost. He explained to us. There were 3
types of business. HIGH BARRIER, LOW COST or HIGH BARRIER AND LOW
COST. All these are from marketing books. A wafer laboratory will
be high barrier and high cost. Selling T-shirts and being a
housing agent will be low barrier and low cost.
HIGH BARRIER LOW COST. His business was high barrier as most U.S manufacturers (small and
medium sized ones) do not wish to set up branches in Asia as there
were overheads, lack of integrity amongst locals and the need to
sells the U.S made products needed by Asians at low cost at a reasonable price to
distributors. His business expanded in Vietnam and now, he is setting up an office in Singapore.
Commissions. He gets commissions (based on sales by
Asian distributors) or a retainer fee (US$2,000 per month) from
various manufacturers. Then he goes to Asia, sourced new
distributors and monitor the performance of appointed
Hard work and passion. If you think about it, he is an
agent like you. Manufacturers will be Landlords or Sellers,
products are houses or condos and distributors are the fellow
agents if you operate your own business when you reach a certain
level of success. He has the passion to do well.
He looks forward
daily to calling up the manufacturers, to see them at trade fairs
and meet time. He shared his experiences and even encouraged the
civil servant from the US government working in the US embassy who
was introducing him to four
Singapore distributors for US$200 to be his own boss. To ask his
superior officer for retrenchment
benefits and become self employed. He was very encouraging.
I know the challenges or discouragement of striking out on your
own encountered by employees/civil servants from the age of thirty years.
Family responsibilities and children needing money for schooling.
A heavy mortgage. This civil servant had a good boss, a cosy job
and an ideal living environment in Singapore. There was no hunger
in his belly.
I doubted this civil servant would want to get his butt kicked and
risked being a bankrupt. When we see successful entrepreneurs, we
get inspired. We don't see the sacrifices they had made and the
hard work and long hours they endure to build up the business
against more competition.
This American was retrenched as he predicted. He did get a retrenchment benefit of US$30,000
and stayed in Vietnam to build up his contacts. But most housing agents
have no financial resources to be self employed and coupled with
many negative thoughts of competition and hard work, do not
What do you really want to do in your life?
You want to be self-employed to chart your destiny.
If you want to be a self-employed residential leasing realtor, I
see 2 main options. You can focus on the Landlord by being the Owners'
Representative or on the Tenants by providing free
From my discussion with other self-employed realtors, the reason
for the preference to be the Owner's Representative is that they
dislike being a tour guide spending money on petrol and ending up
with no closing.
This is because the prospective tenants are usually
promiscuous; they do not entrust you solely with their
house-hunting. Also, it is extremely difficult to get expat
clientele if you are self-employed as a start-up, but the Internet
has the power to bring you customers. It is hard to believe
but it is true.
Provided you have the passion and hard work to learn how
to apply the internet to get prospective expatriates.
If you get good properties, you can still co-broke but you do have
to advertise in the Straits Times regularly. Your problem
will arise when nobody responds to your advertisements and if
there are offers, the Owner wants much higher rent.
Co-broking realtors now have access to the internet data and can
contact Owners direct; why should they co-broke with you?
The Owners become unhappy when your 3 months' exclusive marketing
rights lead to no results. This means that your high
advertisement expenses cause you to lose money with no revenue
generated, a very common complaint amongst Singapore realtors if
you ask them.
Some realtors have the obligations of showing apartments next
to an active construction site. Very slim chances of
closing; in fact I will say none unless the rent is very low or
the condo is so popular.
As a new realtor, you may not be able to withstand the heavy
losses in advertising money and time showing such apartments.
Catering to expatriates has its own headaches besides those
You can advertise in the Straits Times that you provide a
house-hunting service for expatriates, hoping some
expats will contact you. However, can you afford to maintain
a regular presence in the advertisement over the months without
The responses will be poor as most expatriates in Singapore do use
rental realtors who advertise the Owner's property for rent or company-retained realtors.
1. More intense competition as younger realtors
use Palm PDAs and internet to get sources of information. A
prospect of redundancy as prospective clients try to do away with
housing agents to save on commissions by self promotion of their
As a self-employed realtor, the year 2001 will be a more
competitive year as realtors who in the past few years concentrate
with "selling houses" now branch into the residential
They offer to advertise the properties for rent when their
prospective Seller decides not to sell or there may be other
2. Multi-national companies which employ
expatriates have their own panel of realtors. Some will outsource
to expatriate relocation consultancy firms which provide
"one stop" service including relocation, attendance to
minor repair problems and house hunting.
If you can be a partner with such firms, it will be excellent.
3. Expatriate movers have their own realty
firms to provide house-hunting services for expats.
4. Non-exclusive marketing rights.
Most Singapore Owners are sophisticated to know that co-broking
reduces the income of the realtor who has the prospective
tenant. If they give you exclusive marketing rights as the
Owner's representative, they are de-motivating rental realtors
with tenant clientele. However, they don't mind if you pay
for your own advertisement without exclusive rights.
Many rental realtors will try their luck advertising in the
Straits Times. Sometimes, they do get direct calls
from expatriates and agents. Good properties will rent out
fast and it will be worth the risk provided the Owner has
not been proactive to rent out by himself faster than you!
5. The Internet will make you redundant in
the future. It will happen if the Owners and prospective
tenants become much more sophisticated.
The internet database has the contact numbers of Owners leading to
direct contact by the realtors with prospective tenants or even by
the tenants themselves.
Such realtors can also pay $5.00 or less to find out the name of
the Owner from the internet.
This will explain why you do not get much response after you have
had advertised and promoted the property many times on a
You have had exposed the non-exclusive property to all
and sundry. The realtor with the prospective tenant or the tenant
himself pays a small search fee to get the contact numbers of the
Prospective Tenants will use the internet to reach the Owners
cutting out the middle man to get a better deal. If
the realtor is not involved, the Tenant can negotiate a lower rent
since the Landlord does not have to pay the agency
There seems to be no solution to the challenges of the Internet to
wipe you out as a self-employed realtor.
Perhaps, the high standards of customer services, your dedication,
your passion and hard work, specialised knowledge
and the big network you have may make you useful to the
prospective Tenant, Landlord, Seller or Buyer.
Advertisement and promotion.
You will have to advertise and promote yourself first.
I have seen a realtor with a well known realty firm who has
more than 20 advertisements of photos of herself with rental
properties per day for several days in the Straits Times. You
can't miss her photo.
But she could not afford the expenses after a few
advertisements. Nobody can if there is no income generated
from the newspaper advertisements.
Another firm put advertisements in the newspaper for every
category of the rental and sales market. These are the big
I recommend small and regular advertisements in the Straits Times,
so that prospects can recall you. It takes more than 5 times of
reading your advert before a prospect can remember
Unethical practices. In January 2000, I came across a case
of a "creative" co-broking agent representing the
Owner. The Owner had told him that she would be advertising
since he was not successful in getting what she wanted.
He pushed the "brochure" on The Anchorage condo to my
expatriate tenant saying that there was good information on
the condo facilities.
Of course, his name, name of his realty firm and contact numbers
were in the brochure.
You may think this is smart. I do not want
any of asiahomes.com
realtors to adopt this unethical practice when you
co-broke. It would not be polite to tell him off in front of
your client as that would spoil the mood for my client. It
was best talking to him in private.
Handing your name cards to clients of co-broking agents.
This practice is definitely not acceptable even if the co-broking
agent's client asked for your name card. Your ethical
behaviour gains you respect and the sound reputation of the
company rests mainly on associates' ethical behaviour.
If you are unethical, soon you will not get any co-operation from
the co-broking agents because you are trying to take away their
Your reputation and that of the Company's would be as stinking as
Secret commissions from the Owner or Tenant as a reward for
getting a good deal? Please do not accept such
"gifts" if you want to be associated with Asia
USA Realty. It is unethical and a conflict of interest
to accept commissions from both parties unless they are
Singapore will be a place with intense competition no
matter what you want to do for a honest living.
Most Singapore realtors feel that the Internet has no impact on
them and it is extremely costly to maintain a web presence with
regular updates. This is true.
The internet helps you to compete against the big boys not just by
having a URL.
All Asia USA Realty have
been given a free first webpage. It is up to you to put
"products" or listings inside your electronic
store. Ideally, you should have your own webpage which will
be linked to this first page.
It means learning "html" and entering a new world of
continual education to improve yourself as an Internet
Realtor. Unless you want to pay the professionals to do for
If you can be the Owner's representative (non-exclusive) as well
as be the Tenant's agent (non-exclusive), you will not need
to co-broke and with updated information and proper qualification
of what the prospective tenant wants, you should be able to close
after 2 afternoons of house-hunting.
This means you have to be alert as regards new condos and houses
being advertised by Owners and corporate owners and keep proper
Even if the new properties are advertised by other realtors, you
have the prospective Tenant from the company. Do co-broke if they
have good properties like penthouses and close the case fast
rather than dreaming of earning 100% commission by not co-broking.
Time is of the essence and the client may be promiscuous.
For example, I saw the Sam Kiang Mansion during one of my
In 2000, two out of the three penthouses in the well located condo
near the Somerset subway were leased by the expatriate
tenants via two Asia USA Rental Realtors.
I have always advised co-broking to close the case faster. For
Realtor Joice, it was an expatriate contacting me from my
newspaper ad and she took the risk to show the penthouse.
For myself, it was an internet client who liked the penthouse and
decided after only half a day house hunting.
You will get discouraged by the many failures due to your
insufficient knowledge of the rental leasing market as you are new
to the business.
I had new realtors who expressed great dissatisfaction as if I was
questioning their competence when I asked them not to handle the
big accounts with rental budget between S$10,000 - $20,000.
This segment is very demanding. A new realtor does not yet
have the depth of knowledge to cater to this market niche which is
You get zero income handling such cases because you do need the
time to learn how to source your own and compete with other
For that time spent, you will have earned some bread handling the
smaller accounts as there is a great diversity of lower rental
condos with direct owner listings, available for you to recommend
and close the cases.
Asia USA Realty (Singapore) asiahomes.com Pte Ltd is a
Tenant-based residential leasing realty. Although being a
housing agent is a low barrier, low cost business, you still need
the savings to tide you over the lean times.
It will be best if you can focus on leasing whether the account is
big or small and get the referrals from the happy
You will need to work harder and with passion, but that
applies to any career as an employee or entrepreneur.
At the same time advertising and promoting yourself by being
How to advertise and promote yourself? This subject is a
book by itself and the libraries have many books on such
Once you have a pool of investor clients who will entrust you with
their properties, you can prosper to "I sell houses"
Specialisation is one key to success in the years
to come. If you want to be a jack of all trades, you are
master of none and that is a danger for the self-employed
Some realtors specialise in one condo and know all about the
Ownership and vacancies. This will be a smart move since
they don't have prospective tenants or buyers.
There are no quick ways to success in any profession.
Everyone has to go through the hands-on experiences. It may
take one year of hardship. It may take many more years.
Unless you are committed and willing to sacrifice time and money
and to specialise, you may end up with no income.
Therefore, get the hands on experience, distribute flyers and make
cold calls. Take up cases as they come or are referred to
you by the company.
Do ask the prospective expatriate whether they are allowed to use
an outside realtor.
Decide whether you want to show expatriate surfers houses free of
charge when they come for job interviews as they may not be using
your service many times. You will not see many of
Get rejected and see the positive side of rejections. There are
many books in the National Library to read more on how to handle
rejections. Taste defeats as a learning experience
rather than get depressed.
If rejections and defeats are not your cup of tea, you do need to
get out of this business and become an employee. It is much
safer in the sense that you have a salary at the end of the
month. And time do fly by faster when you are self-employed
and hard working. There may be feast and famines as a self
employed and you may not want this uncertainty when you start up.
Do have passion if you want to work for the Company which has
several internet cases for you to handle. I can't guarantee
that you can close or will close.
Hard work and passion do make that difference to
However, for 2002 and beyond, the internet is the power to
harness. Those over forty years old will groan. You
need to learn new things. You need to buy a digital camera.
So much to do.
However, if you can apply the high technology to help you promote
yourself on the internet with useful content and information, you
will secure credibility and you will have more cases than you can
handle. Are you prepared to spend money on your own webpage?
I can get you a good webmaster to set up your webpage which will
link to this first page in
asiahomes.com. The cost is $2,000.
In summary, passion, hard work, integrity, application of high
technology will see you through the worst economic crisis of 2002
Even if you don't fancy the high technology, the time-proven
persistent "follow up" will get you more closings than
you can imagine and put bread on the table.
PASSION & HARD WORK needed to be successful.
Research article updated by Asiahomes