Needless to say, 2020 has been the most challenging year given the Covid-19 pandemic. The unprecedented movement control order (MCO) and its variations placed restrictions on business activities in the interest of public health.
Those adversely affected by a lockdown include real estate agents and negotiators who have typically depended on face-to-face interactions and physical viewing of properties.
The impact of the pandemic is compounded by the fact that most of these negotiators typically do not receive a salary.
Yet the ability to survive and adapt in the face of overwhelming adversity is a testament to the human spirit and this spirit is no less evident in real estate practitioners.
The dawn of a new chapter begins in 2021 and while it may be premature to celebrate, news of a vaccine on the way has people across the globe cautiously optimistic.
StarProperty spoke to the founders of three real estate agencies to share their experiences of the past year and their outlook for the year ahead.
Wereg Properties Sdn Bhd co-founder and chief executive officer Ethan Leong described 2020 as one of the most challenging years for his agency and other industries alike.
These challenges included overcoming the digital divide faced by non-tech savvy users, adhering to social distancing practices and the limited opportunities for face-to-face appointments.
Leong also noted the psychological impact and anxiety for existing agents and negotiators due to the uncertainties arising from the MCO.
Joseph Chan and partners Kenny Sim, Freeman Woo and Chong Teck Seng setup their agency, Kith & Kin Realty Sdn Bhd, on March 1, 2020. An unprecedented nationwide lockdown soon followed on March 18.
“All of us definitely had not faced this situation before and with the new office setup, we had many plans for our colleagues and clients.
“However, we sat down and reflected on what we can do to remain on course,” said Chan as he recalled events in the first quarter of 2020.
The climate of uncertainty and negative economic impact of the pandemic also rattled industry veterans such as Esprit Estate Agent Sdn Bhd managing director Aldrin Tan Tong Heng.
“2020 was a very unforeseen year for us yet was intriguing for Esprit Estate...I have had to put my thinking cap and be innovative in terms of keeping my team together and strong,” said Tan.
Rising to the challenge
A common sentiment echoed by these founders is that the pandemic has expedited the adoption of technology and fast-tracked digitalisation efforts in the profession.
Realising the pandemic will take a while to be eradicated, Chan & partners quickly pivoted their approach in business by emphasizing the importance of virtual training, digital marketing and recording property videos.
Such digitalisation efforts also included the use of e-forms, allowing clients to sign off remotely.
Leong finds the use of virtual tours and online meetings shifted discussions online, instead of the ways commonly used before the MCO, which is to meet face-to-face during the stages of prospecting, viewing, closing and signing agreements.
He believes the pandemic pushed his agents and negotiators to be visible (online) to the consumer and clients via digital channels such as Zoom, Tik Tok, and Facebook Live Streaming.
Tan used the entire MCO period to do as many Zoom sessions with his agents and clients to keep things afloat. Besides boosting morale, he aimed to prepare the team to gear up for when the MCO was lifted.
“The social media coverage was so well received by those who attended the Zoom sessions, our number of property agents significantly flourished from 300 to over 600 and counting,” mentioned Tan.
Reap the fruits of labour
Tan believed that closing sales appeared easier largely because right after the initial MCO, it was a real buyers' market.
Government initiatives and incentives to support the property market coupled with an all-time low interest rate had triggered fence-sitters to dive right into the market.
According to Tan, this has significantly contributed to an increase in Esprit’s sales in the third and fourth quarter of 2020.
“Solidarity made us resilient when faced with the vagueness of the situation, which built their confidence and trust in Esprit Estate as a platform to grow their business and continue to push forward.
“It enabled our agents to be more tech-savvy in cultivating the use of social media to promote digital marketing especially online marketing,” added Tan.
Leong believed the current climate presents a golden opportunity the likes of which was seen decades ago.
“Property buyers can have much better deals and options to choose the best property while riding on the historically low Effective Lending Rate (ELR) for mortgage loans,” he said.
Chan trained his team on the strategies to sell effectively in a buyers market and believes as a result his agents have managed to sell properties without a viewing.
Another technique he employed is to encourage his fellow negotiators to understand the predicament of landowners and provide solutions. This approach he says has helped negotiators to sell several properties despite numerous restrictions and setbacks.
“One of the positive results is that we have, is a young negotiator who has been able to transact six figures within four months during the CMCO despite being only 22 years old,” Chan mentioned.
Yet success does not come without perseverance, as Leong illustrates with the story a new negotiator who almost gave up.
“Although many agents and negotiators were well-prepared for the uncertainty after having been well trained in our agency during the MCO, a new negotiator struggled with client negotiations despite attending numerous training sessions.
“I customised a new strategy for her, and coached her along the way, especially on the psychological aspect, and eventually she was able to deliver great results beyond my expectations.
“Now she is one of the top achievers in our agency,” said Leong proudly.
The road ahead
Tan is confident that 2021 would be a ground-breaking year for Esprit.
“We had weathered through the most turbulent times of all besides the worst of Asian Financial Crisis in 1997. This pandemic taught us all an unforgettable lesson but on the contrary, it has turned us into warriors.
“I, for one, would undeniably feel that we are ready to take on the new norm of real estate and am very optimistic that we are able to soar our number of agents to 1000 in 2021,” he said.
Leong is optimistic that the sales performance of the real estate industry whether in the primary or secondary market will be on the uptrend for the year 2021.
As people start to adapt to living amid a pandemic and with the advent of the Covid-19 vaccine, it would help to stimulate the public confidence to spend and buy a suitable property for own use, whether for current or future use.
Property is among the first choice for many people to use as the best investment vehicle to hedge against inflation.
As such, Leong finds many potential property buyers are ready to buy when the price is right or below the market value, either by cash or by loan, especially for properties priced below RM500,000.
Chan takes a more cautious approach towards the real estate market in 2021, foreseeing it will be soft despite a vaccine on the horizon.
“As long as the virus is not eliminated, the public will still fear going out and spending which will have a severe impact on our economy,” he said.
Yet similarly, he believed that a negotiator should always be optimistic because the crisis should be viewed as an opportunity.
He reaffirmed that it’s a buyer’s market now where interest rates are at an all-time low, property prices are below market value and the government has several incentives for first-time homebuyers.
“When we focus the correct segment, our business will thrive which is why I am sure that we will perform well for 2021,” Chan said.