The convenience of online tools such as property applications such as Popety and availability of transaction information has made consumers more inclined to handle property transactions themselves. In fact, it has been reported by the Straits Times that since 2013, about 1 in 4 of all HDB buyers and sellers each year has done away with an agent.
It is evident that the usual job of property agents are threatened to be replaced by technology (30% of jobs will be replaced by robots in 2025). According to the latest annual report by the Council of Estate Agencies (CEA), the number of licensed property agencies has decreased by 3.5% to 1372 at the end of March 2016 as compared to 1422 last March. With the number of property agent licenses already declining, how can they adapt themselves to keep their existence relevant?
Take It As An Opportunity
An entrepreneur would see the opportunity in challenges. It may seem that the proliferation of these property apps is pushing property agents out of the real estate industry. However, these agents might still be needed by consumers as a more reliable and legitimate way of doing their property transactions. Such is the trade-off between convenience and legitimacy.
But the apps are not only meant to make it easier for consumers to purchase their property because it can be targeted at the property agents as well. Some property applications facilitate the involvement of property agents e.g. 99.co, Propertyguru. These facilities should be taken advantage of and complement other forms of social media to increase sales instead of being shunned.
Disrupt Or Be Disrupted
Some of these property apps that are meant to disrupt the real estate industry are actually created by the very people working in this sector. Ohmyhome is a property mobile app that was started by a pair of sisters who are also in charge of a real estate consultancy firm. In line with the many property apps available, they created a new app to compete with the market and to make themselves more relevant. To do so, you would need to either reinvent yourself by coming up with innovative ideas that meet the ‘inefficiencies’ in the market (the point of technological disruption) or find new niche markets to tap into such as in the next section.
Finding A Niche Area That Digitalisation Cannot Do Away With
The purpose of these applications is to make information more readily available to consumers and to cut down transaction costs. Although these applications are successful in doing so, not all of the processes that property agents are responsible for can be digitised. So property agents should focus on these discrepancies that the digital market cannot address to make themselves more competitive and marketable. For instance, property related markets involve the ageing population, physically disabled people and the green industry.
For the physically disabled, the real estate mobile application market has not been specialised to suit their needs. In the USA, there is a growing class of property agents who are becoming experts in this field. A sales associate with Coldwell Banker Dynasty from Temple City reported that annual requests from disabled clients have increased about 20% since 2010. While helping a client who is disabled can take a long time because it involves extensive and thorough planning, research and more heart, your efforts would probably be worth it.
This principle is definitely applicable to suit the ageing population in Singapore too. While these property apps are useful for tech savvy users, property agents could tap on the older generation who are not as IT savvy.
Property agent could also look into the green industry, which is expected to be in great demand in the future. According to a recent World Economic Forum Report, the real estate sector consumes over 40% of global energy annually and 56% of the total greenhouse gas emission is projected to originate from buildings in the future. This also means that the industry can potentially be part of the solution in the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.
For example, in the USA, there are certified property agents (by EcoBroker Certified Designations) who specialise in selling. It is only a matter of time before such specialisations reach Singapore, property agents could potentially carve out a special market that suits the unique demands of clients who wants to reduce their impact on the environment.
Just like any other industries, property industry is being disrupted by the technology advancement and the role of a property agent has evolved. People no longer need an agent as an intermediary between the buyers and the sellers. As such, property agents have to adapt and provide value-add services that are beyond what a platform can do.