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SINGAPORE'S fourth-largest property agency OrangeTee.com is getting a shot in the arm with its recent hiring of some veteran associates from rivals ERA Realty Network and Savills Residential - a move that has stoked rumours that they may be bringing along many more agents with them.
But such concerns were swiftly dismissed by their previous agencies, and the impact of their migration seems muted for now.
Gary Chua, a former executive group division director at ERA Realty, moved to OrangeTee last week; two other executive group division directors Jason Tan and Jay Ong have just resigned to join OrangeTee.
The trio are said to be key leaders of a group within ERA Realty that calls itself ERA Property Navigators (NAVIS). There are some 994 agents in 28 divisions that come under this group.
Savills Residential's former senior group division director Stuart Chng, who led close to 200 agents there, has also jumped ship to join OrangeTee, BT has learnt.
For now, it is unclear how many other agents may follow suit, with market watchers saying that they tend to move in batches. But ERA Realty CEO Jack Chua told BT that of the 28 divisions in the NAVIS group, 20 division heads who have over 500 agents under them have voiced their intention to stay with ERA. More than half of the 295 agents directly under the three former division heads have expressed their wish to stay while the rest have yet to respond.
"Movement of property agents between agencies is common," ERA Realty's Mr Chua said. "We believe Gary has a different vision and needs, which do not align with our firm's vision. He has chosen to move on for his personal reasons. We wish him the best in any case."
ERA Realty is now the largest agency here with 6,200-plus agents with plans to go for an initial public offering soon, while Savills Residential - ranked eighth in agents strength - has 711 agents at last count. PropNex is the second-largest agency with 5,742 agents.
To switch to a new agency, property agents have to seek in-principle approval from the Council for Estate Agencies (CEA) before resigning from one agency and being registered under another.
OrangeTee's sales force - now at close to 2,500 - will likely close in on Huttons, currently the third-largest agency here with 3,050 agents.
But any incentives dangled to draw agents, if any, may eat into the already slim margins for agencies, some market watchers say.
OrangeTee had marked a turnaround in profitability for fiscal 2016 ended June, chalking up a net profit of S$109,446 after a net loss of S$1.26 million in 2015. On the face of it, its hefty investments in technology is paying off, not just in getting deal leads, but also in attracting outsiders into its fray.
Mr Gary Chua, who is now senior associate executive director at OrangeTee, told BT: "OrangeTee will be able to help us weather the technological disruption. They have a very strong database and is a leader in IT, so with the inevitable technological disruption, our group felt that coming over will be beneficiary in the long term." He added that new launches typically make up half of all transactions closed by NAVIS group agents.
In a move to be more customer-centric, OrangeTee rolled out a reviews platform last year, touted as a game-changer as it allows clients to assess and rate their agents for the first time.
An updated version of the platform was launched on Monday, which incorporated a geospatial search engine supported by Google maps and more transparent information about agents. By signing up as premier members, customers will enjoy added features such as being alerted to "star-buy" units with asking price at least 5 per cent lower than the valuation price and receive the latest research reports by OrangeTee Reasearch.
OrangeTee managing director Steven Tan noted that besides having shared vision, values and direction with the management, the new hires also "believe in leveraging innovative technology to provide value-added services to customers and agents".
On the other hand, ERA Realty says it is not resting on its laurels. It still boosts of a larger pool of projects from developers, with more than 70 project marketing opportunities for its salespersons.
"We are always working closely with the agents and leaders in our company to enhance their career opportunities," said ERA Realty chief operating officer Marcus Chu, adding that the agency has also updated its mobile application and enhanced its incentive schemes for agents.
ERA Realty's ACRA filing shows a net profit of S$8.45 million in fiscal 2015 ended Dec 31, 2015, down 35 per cent from a year ago, though revenue rose 7.3 per cent to S$225.42 million; Savills Residential was still in the red for fiscal 2015, with a net loss of S$420,465 on the back of a 1.9 per cent dip in revenue to S$1.36 million.