EDITOR’S LET­TER

Elite Agent - - CONTENTS - Sa­man­tha McLean

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.

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