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Real estate agents feature strongly among opposition-party candidates
HAS the tepid property market created a new impetus for real estate agents to enter politics? Even as opposition parties here have attracted more professionals into their fold, real-estate agents have emerged as a noticeable group among the candidates this general election (GE) - and all are on opposition party tickets.
At least seven agents and one legal counsel of a real-estate agency are contesting, with four hailing from one single agency, PropNex. Two are contesting in Sembawang group representation constituency (GRC) - going up against National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan, the very person in charge of housing and the property sector.
But these property agents, who have mostly been inactive in closing sales in the past year, told The Business Times that issues other than housing have been on their minds too, such as that of income inequality, the use of Central Provident Fund (CPF) money and the influx of foreign talent.
Andy Zhu, 32, an agent from Vestor Realty who is standing in West Coast GRC under the Reform Party, said he hopes to focus on the elderly and health care; he also believes CPF monies should be returned to Singaporeans at the age of 55, without the need for the minimum sum.
Eugene Yeo, 39, associate director at Real Estate Alliance, said it is "purely coincidental" that this many property agents are standing for election - not because property transactions have come down. Still, the National Solidarity Party (NSP) candidate hopes to flag housing issues in parliament if he gets elected.
He said: "Being in the election is not a cheap affair; it is pretty costly. It is not because the property market is bad that agents want to have an MP's (member of parliament) salary."
Mr Yadzeth Hairis, who is also standing on the NSP ticket in Sembawang GRC, told BT that though he is a registered agent with Dennis Wee Realty, he has been focusing on his development business in Indonesia under PT Cass Villa.
Another NSP candidate Choong Hon Heng, 45, who runs a one-man agency DCA Management, is contesting in Tampines GRC.
People's Power Party candidate in Chua Chu Kang GRC Augustine Lee, 42, said he has a beef with what he sees as policy flip-flopping: "At one time, they loosen up the policies to make property prices so high; now, they use cooling measures to revise it back. That's very bad planning and quite disruptive," said the property agent with PropNex.
He said: "Property can be a mother of all problems because it affects everyone. You have to buy or rent - everyone needs the physical space, so that is a cost to everyone and these costs translate into prices in goods and services." He added that he hopes the government will look further into reducing land prices and review HDB's role as a developer.
Two of his PropNex colleagues - head of legal Gurmit Singh and property agent Ron Tan - are Workers' Party (WP) candidates in Nee Soon GRC. The WP did not respond to BT's questions; PropNex agent-cum-taxi-driver Darren Soh, 46, is standing in West Coast GRC with Mr Zhu under the Reform Party. He could not be reached for a comment.
PropNex key executive officer Lim Yong Hock, asked to comment on his staff and agents' involvement in politics, pointed out that besides those standing for election with opposition parties, there are others active in the People's Action Party (PAP).
The agency has made its position clear to full-time staff and commissioned agents, he said: "The fact that our agents or staff are standing for election doesn't mean that the company supports the party they stand for. We support them so long as they do not bring disrepute to the industry."
He noted that the three PropNex agents have not closed a single deal this year, but that in the industry generally, one in three agents is inactive.
PropNex agent Mr Lee said real-estate agents bring to the table a sharpened ability to connect with the ground, having themselves come from all walks of life and having to be "creative and communicative" to close deals.
"Good agents will always think for the best of their clients. They are quite independent in thinking and because of that, they tend to have different opinions," he said. Take the trend of condominium units getting smaller and smaller, for instance. "We feel sad for ourselves and our clients."