SINGAPORE. Global Financial Hub. Foodies’ Paradise. Real estate heaven. It’s been a while since I’ve been back to South East Asia, which I called home for a while living in Kuala Lumpur as an expat about 16 years ago.
Some things haven’t changed: The hot summer nights, the smell of spices and Singapore Slings and the outrageous downpours that come out of the heavens from pretty much nowhere. Since I said goodbye to that all those years ago, there are more buildings – from the architectural feat that is Marina Bay Sands to hundreds of thousands of condominiums as far as the naked eye can see. Sometimes, looking out at all that concrete, you have to wonder how it is that in round figures Tasmania is nearly 100 times the size of Singapore, yet Singapore is home to 10 times as many people as Tassie.
So let’s go back in time, before we go to the future, to see what we can learn by looking beyond that pristine veneer of efficiency and economic growth that is today’s Singapore.
Something that first caught my eye were the colourful ‘shophouses’ in Chinatown, the original settlement south of the Singapore River. Rows and rows of cool boutiques and markets of all different cultures and races. There is a heritage centre located on Pagoda Street where the original interiors of tenants in the 1950s have been recreated. Offering a rare glimpse into the lives of Chinatown’s early residents (Sinkehs, as they were called), these small ‘eight by eight’ living quarters were simply furnished. Every object tells a story, some of them heartbreaking. Many of the early immigrants were not educated formally – life was that wellknown line of Cold Chisel’s Khe Sanh, “hours long, pay packets lean” – all for the sole purpose of giving their children better lives. Someone should provide a mascara warning on the way in, particularly as you stand in the doorway of the family of two adults and six kids… When I say ‘eight by eight’ we are talking feet, not metres. That’s the size of a walk-in wardrobe in an average family house on the Gold Coast.
I was amazed that, despite the Sinkehs’ lack of education, they seemed to understand a couple of today’s widely accepted pieces of wisdom: ‘If you don’t want to slip over, don’t hang around slippery slopes’ (sadly lots of them ended up turning to drugs to numb the pain and prostitution to pay for it), and ‘If nothing changes, nothing changes’. They saw education as a way out of the poor shophouses for their children. And when you look at Singapore now compared to just 60 years ago you have to wonder if, alongside the vision of Sir Stamford Raffles, and just plain hard work, this attitude to education became one of the big reasons the country has come so far.
Living in the same shophouse there could be a tailor, a carpenter, a trishaw driver, a doctor, a teacher, nannies, rice field workers and more. The story of the doctor really got me. He only charged a fee when he felt the person could afford it. My mind wandered to Chris Hanley for a moment. ‘Good Works’ has certainly been around for a long time, and in many cultures.
My takeaway was the second we landed back home on January 4. I sat down at my computer with renewed vigour and got straight into updating all our training material on Elite Agent Academy; it really made me want to focus this year on making a larger contribution to real estate education that is relevant, current, easily accessible and affordable.
Next: Shopping – so close to many a Singapore tourist’s heart! There were a few places I remembered; specifically, in the middle of Orchard Road there is a place called Lucky Plaza. Back in the 80s when I first visited Singapore, it was the place where you could get a pretty goodlooking copy watch, a tailor-made suit, a rip-off handbag and a fantastic tasting curry puff, all under the one roof. Well, as you’d expect, they’ve cleaned up the touts and the overly enthusiastic purveyors of counterfeit goods; there are all sorts of fancier shops now, too many to get through in one day, let alone a few hours. And it’s overwhelming
Someone should provide a mascara warning on the way in, particularly as you stand in the doorway of the family of two adults and six kids. When I say ‘eight by eight’ we are talking feet, not metres.
because they all look kind of the same and sell the same stuff.
So, out of hundreds of stores over several floors we actually spent money in just two. One was a camera store where the guy was just likeable and decided to have a conversation about photography and videography with my husband. One of the few people in the place that was just about straight talk (“No, you will be disappointed with that lens; not for you, lah”) and had a genuine passion for what he was selling that was pretty infectious. The other was a referral to a jewellery store, where the camera guy insisted my husband buy me something nice. Ahhh… the power of a referral. There is a lesson right there in customer service and showing interest in the person that will always cut through a heap of superfluous noise.
And what about the real estate market over there? I picked up a copy of Singapore Business Review in the lounge (as you do) to read about the trend towards ‘mega mergers’ in real estate firms. Singapore is an excellent place for technology start-ups and Proptech is also shaking up the industry over there in a big way. More than half of the top 20 largest agencies slashed their sales forces last year, as technology innovations were opening up platforms for consumers to handle their own property transactions.
On the other hand, four of the top 10 agencies this year increased their staff; but the CEO of the largest firm, PropNex Realty (7,000 agents nationally), has said that consolidation in the Singapore real estate industry has become a question of when, not if – commenting that mergers are becoming more attractive given the tougher operating environment. It is interesting to note that Singapore is coming out of a slightly softer market, with improving market sentiments, with still low interest rates - their government implemented a few cooling measures back in 2013 which led to a bit of a decline in prices. Is any of this sounding familiar to you?
We’ve known for some time that teams are a trend, but if this type of consolidation is any indication I started to think about what mergers we might see to optimise back-end efficiencies and operating costs while providing the customer a better experience here in Australia. I didn’t have to wait long once getting home, with the announcement of the merger between Perth titans Altitude Real Estate and Realmark as they gear up for a much hopedfor upswing in the WA market. More on that in our podcast with John Percudani and Paul Tonich, which you can find at eliteagent. com.au/elevate.
With Josh and Matt Altman on the cover, and tales of New York, Europe and Asia, this magazine has been affectionately titled internally, ‘the international issue’. So I might end this column with a bit of Chinese astrology; 2018 is the Year of the Dog. Apparently the key word is ‘action’! But, as you know, the Chinese are quite specific about their superstitions and it’s not just any dog; 2018 is a Mountain Dog year. According to chinesefortunecalendar. com, “Mountain Dog might be a wild dog. It could block your way out. That implies you might encounter some obstacles before executing your plan. You need to use your wisdom to remove the blockage first, then you will see the wide-open road.”
So maybe the answer is somewhere in South East Asia after all. In 2018, education, along with hard work and leaning on your mates, is likely still the way to lasting change. To that end, we would love to see you guys in Transform this year (something for everyone, where you get to experience learning, comradeship and lasting change) or over in eliteagent.academy. Stay focused, watch out for the blockages and have a great year.