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Last Updated: 10 April, 2003


I met an American entrepreneur who shared some advices on July 31, 2002. 

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 cultivate relationships. 

This American 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 distributors.      

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 succeed.

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 house-hunting services. 

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 mentioned above. 

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 going broke?
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 properties.

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 rental  market. 

They offer to advertise the properties for rent when their prospective Seller decides not to sell or there may be other reasons.   

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 non-exclusive basis. 

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 Owner. 

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 commission. 

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 budget competitors.  

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 you!  

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  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 rice bowl. 

Your reputation and that of the Company's would be as stinking as rotten eggs. 

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 informed. 

The Internet.

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 you.

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 records.

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 house-hunting tours.

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 extremely competitive. 

You get zero income handling such cases because you do need the time to learn how to source your own and compete with other realtors.  

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) 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 expatriates. 

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 pro-active. 

How to advertise and promote yourself?  This subject is a book by itself and the libraries have many books on such topics.    

Once you have a pool of investor clients who will entrust you with their properties, you can prosper to "I sell houses" too. 

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 realtor. 

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 them. 

See: The American plays fair.

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 success.  

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 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 and beyond.

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 Internet

Dr Sing Kong Yuen
Asia USA Realty (Singapore) Pte Ltd.
Last updated: 10 Apr 2003



Do you want to be self-employed and not stagnate in a big political pond in your office suite? Do you want to embark on a new adventure into the real estate cyberspace?

Be an internet realtor with Asia USA Realty (Singapore) Pte Ltd,

It is a licensed Singapore real estate firm focused on finding affordable homes for expatriates and management of properties for foreigners, using the internet.

To serve the increasing number of American and European surfers contacting Asia USA, we need realtors in the residential rental and sales departments.  

Expatriates and retirees who just know how to email but not the fancy web technologies are welcome too. As most business is conducted by internet, you will need to know how to email.

If you are ready to move, email your resume and queries to

Residential Rental Division
Residential Sales Division

Asia USA Realty (Singapore) Pte Ltd,
Blk 1002, Toa Payoh Lor 8,
#01-1477, Singapore 319074.

Tel: +65 9668 6468, 6254 2728, 6254 3326, 9668 6469.  Fax: +65 6256 0501, 64545 843. 

More details at:

Logo_Asiahomes (8092 bytes)Blk 1002, Toa Payoh Lor 8, #01-1477,
Singapore 319074, Republic of Singapore.

Mobile Tel: +65 9668 6468, 9668 6469 
Tel: +65 6254 3326, 6254 2728
Fax: +65 6256 0501, 64545 843

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