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A YEAR after leaving JLL's residential team to pursue his own entrepreneurial interests, en bloc veteran and JLL senior consultant Karamjit Singh has launched the fruit of his labour.
It is a new portal called Showsuite which he believes will transform how new homes are presented, marketed and sold.
The website cum application is designed differently from agents' usual property websites. For one thing, it is infused with functions such as 3D technology, virtual reality (VR), and even storey views which allow potential buyers to check out views from specific units within a block. This is enabled by 3D modelling.
In an interview, Mr Singh explained that currently, buyers need to physically travel to multiple showflats at different locations during operating hours just to scan the market and formulate a view. The portal thus allows them to remotely explore and "visit" projects that they are interested in, thus saving them time.
Also, as projects are typically sold "off-plan" while they are still being constructed, buyers are not able to walk into and experience the actual unit they are buying. "So, it is somewhat a leap of faith on their part in making a forward purchase," Mr Singh says, adding that even show galleries display only three or four unit configurations most of the time.
The portal, however, is able to display units of all configurations.
Mr Singh founded Showsuite with two other individuals whom he prefers not to name. He also declined to reveal his equity stake. Asked how he will conduct subsequent rounds of funding, he says the company is in the process of discussing with investors and partners.
So far, his platform has garnered good response from developers. Early adopters have included UOL, GuocoLand, Bukit Sembawang, MCC Land, CEL Development and Roxy-Pacific Holdings.
The website currently features their projects such as The Clement Canopy, Wallich Residence, Martin Modern, Leedon Residence, Sims Urban Oasis, Grandeur Park Residences, Watercove, Trilive and Queens Peak.
Discussions with other developers are under way. Asked if coming onboard Showsuite has significantly helped to move units at the featured projects, Mr Singh says it is too early to tell.
Showsuite gets its revenue from developers who pay for the platform to feature their projects. Developers in turn get a dashboard that enables them to not only update information and change visuals, but also track online traffic and and buyers' navigation patterns.
Because Showsuite's engagement is directly with the developers of the projects, it is able to authenticate and ensure the data - for instance the real-time sales progress - is updated.
Mr Singh says he is aiming for the portal to feature all existing new launches so that it becomes "the obvious top-of-mind marketplace of what's available" for homebuyers thinking of buying a new home.
Next year should also be exciting, with a surge in new projects expected to come from en bloc and government-land-sale sites sold this year, he says.
The next thing he is working on is for developers to provide transparent pricing information on all their units, as opposed to their usual practice of doling out numbers piecemeal to buyers who ask about specific units. This is one of the gaps in the new home market that he hopes to plug.
Meanwhile, he sees property agents as beneficiaries rather than victims of this technology, believing that they can now "carry" the showflat around in their iPads, phones and laptops for clients to view anytime, anywhere. A portable VR box that agents will receive with their registration will also allow buyers to walk through the units without having to set foot in the showflat.
CEO of PropNex Realty Ismail Gafoor agrees, saying: "Now, close to 7,000 PropNex agents in Singapore and another 1,000 overseas could be marketing developers' projects rather than only those stationed in their showflats. Showsuite also allows them to better match available units across multiple projects with their buyers' requirements."
But providing differentiated and value-added service will be crucial for agents going forward, Mr Singh says.
"I'm not saying we will continue to need 28,000 CEA (Council for Estate Agencies) registered agents as we currently do, that number might need to come down . . . I think roles are going to be disrupted in the future.
"I think some of the fears could be true, and some of the agents can help themselves by improving their professionalism, being much more focused in client engagement, their knowledge, etc.
"If they do the right things, I think they can be protected; if they don't, I'm quite sure the fringe ones will go."
Mr Singh was the founder and managing director of Credo Real Estate, which was the market leader in collective sales before it was bought by JLL Singapore in 2012. He then became the head of residential and investment sales services at the consultancy.
Asked if he regrets taking a step back from his transaction work after he left his full-time executive position in 2016, especially now that the collective sales market seems to be back in full force, he says: "Obviously (leaving) was something I had to think very hard and carefully about."
He had enjoyed what he was doing at JLL, and last year personally led the sales of Shunfu Ville; Raintree Gardens at Potong Pasir; a prime freehold hotel site in Cuscaden Road; and another three prime residential buildings near Orchard Road.
"We practically dominated the land sales market last year, but I just felt that I wanted to do something different that re-energises the mind, and learn new things."
This year, he was also involved in the sales of The Albracca and Nanak Mansions.
Now, he is "extremely excited" about his new venture. Not being the most tech-savvy person around, he said it has been a "steep learning curve" learning from his 15-strong staff comprising mainly programmers, designers, architects, modellers and marketeers, and just whoever he meets "who's thick in the (proptech) space".
He adds that he expects demand in the primary market to increase next year, unleashed after a period of suppression.
Amid talk that prices are moving upwards too quickly, he maintains his confidence that the market will find its own footing and equilibrium in its time, and a supply glut is unlikely to happen as owners of en-bloc sold properties will also be looking for a new home.