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Property agencies' Big 3 join forces in online platform

(From left) Jack Chua, CEO, ERA; Jeremiah Ng, CTO, SoReal; Ismail Gafoor, CEO, PropNex; Desmond Lee, Minister for Social and Family Development and Second Minister for National Development; and Goh Kee Nguan, CEO, Huttons Asia at the launch of the SoReal platform.


IN A marked showing of solidarity among industry rivals in the face of disruption, Singapore's three largest property agencies have teamed up for the first time to launch an online platform for agents and consumers.

They seek to provide real-time accurate information for agents and consumers and, in the long-run, provide the industry with a more streamlined transaction process between salespeople and consumers.

Though led by PropNex Realty, ERA Realty and Huttons Asia, these big boys say they are not about to leave the one-man agencies or smaller firms behind.

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SoReal Prop, as the initiative is called, was mooted in early 2016 by these agencies' chiefs after receiving feedback from agents on the challenges they faced when subscribing to property portals for their business.

These include duplicated listings, high subscription and increasing fees as well as outdated information that is not refreshed in real-time.

SoReal Prop offers two apps - one for agents and the other for consumers - as well as a property portal. Agencies that agree to partner with SoReal Prop have to share data in order to enjoy the shared real-time data in return, among other tools available on the platform.

Since other agencies were told of the initiative last Friday, SoReal Prop has found traction with seven of them - namely Savills, C&H, HSR International, SRI, Global Alliance Property, CBRE and SLP International.

The 10 property agencies, the Singapore Estate Agents Association, Institute of Estate Agents Singapore and the KEO Connect signed a partnership agreement with SoReal Prop on Monday.

Collectively, the agents and members of these agencies and associations represent over 80 per cent of all property transactions here. Talks are under way to bring other agencies onboard.

ERA Realty CEO Jack Chua said: "In times of digital disruptions, the three of us knew that the time is right to work together, embrace innovation and technology and add value to industry stakeholders.

"We will not stop our agents from subscribing to any other portal if they feel that other portals can provide other value," he added.

While the top three agencies have injected an undisclosed amount of seed capital into SoReal Prop in order to kickstart the initiative, they are inviting other agencies to become joint-venture partners with SoReal Prop by putting in capital too.

Huttons Asia CEO Goh Kee Nguan shared that it is important that agencies embrace technology as many players within and outside the industry are trying to disrupt them and "hound their rice bowl".

Also calling it a "timely and positive move" for the industry, Second Minister for National Development Desmond Lee said at the launch that this is "also a good indication of the kind of healthy ground-up initiatives that are taking place and shows the strong desire of players from within the industry to ride the transformation wave".

SoReal Prop has hired chief technology officer (CTO) Jeremiah Ng, who was chief design officer of StreetSine Singapore from 2011 to 2014 and CTO at Stratege for the past three years. StreetSine Singapore, a subsidiary of Singapore Press Holdings, runs real estate portal SRX Property.

Under SoReal Prop, the sharing of property information, listings and documents can be done seamlessly via its portal. Through the RealAgent app, real estate agents can retrieve more real-time data, generate detailed property reports, manage client queries, schedule appointments and request to attend open houses online.

The RealAgent app has also incorporated the recent checklist for the Anti-Money Laundering/Countering the Financing of Terrorism, which salespersons can use digitally for their transactions.

Access to the RealAgent app will be free for all real estate salespeople for a year and will subsequently be "priced affordably". Mr Chua said the company has to break-even through subscriptions in the second year.

For property buyers and sellers, the RealHome app will allow them to search for listings, connect to the respective agents and even review or rate the agents after a transaction. The RealHome app is still at testing stage; its initial phase may be ready in six to eight weeks.

Among those who have not hopped onto the partnership yet, OrangeTee & Tie managing director Steven Tan said the agencies were informed at short notice and he wanted to have more clarity on the kind of data to be shared and how the data will be used before deciding whether to join.

PropNex CEO Ismail Gafoor stressed, however, that the initiative "is by no means trying to be in a monopolistic position to out-beat or destroy other property portals".

"New players will still come after this. What is important here is what is rightfully owned data of ours and we can give it back to you with a different motive," Mr Gafoor said.

"Our motive of SoReal is not going back to count what is the valuation or PE (price-to-earnings) of this company so that we can list. The objective of this portal is for salespeople to be part of the disruption, to keep pace with disruption. We don't want to be in denial stage."