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New property app allows homeowners to ‘test market’

SINGAPORE — Yet another online property portal was launched here on Monday (Oct 23) that allows buyers and sellers to list properties on the market and do without housing agents. Such Do-It-Yourself transactions have been part of a growing trend, with consumers becoming savvier in using digital technology.

Soho's founder said his app has an edge over sites such as PropertyGuru because it can feature properties which are not ready to be transacted on the market yet. Photo: Screen capture from Soho's website

Soho's founder said his app has an edge over sites such as PropertyGuru because it can feature properties which are not ready to be transacted on the market yet. Photo: Screen capture from Soho's website

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SINGAPORE — Yet another online property portal was launched here on Monday (Oct 23) that allows buyers and sellers to list properties on the market and do without housing agents. Such Do-It-Yourself transactions have been part of a growing trend, with consumers becoming savvier in using digital technology.

Soho, a new mobile application started by Australian entrepreneur Jonathan Lui, allows homeowners, landlords and real estate agents to put up properties for rent or sale. Users can create and manage “profiles” of properties, providing information such as costs and investment performance, all without charge on the app. There is also a live-chat function allowing users to talk in real-time to prospective buyers, owners, agents or tenants.

For the online community here, the options available in this field are varied. Websites such as PropertyGuru, for example, allows only housing agents to list their properties for a fee. Real estate agency OrangeTee launched a site last year that provides property listings and transaction histories, as well as “ratings” for agents. Popular e-marketplace app Carousell has a property listings section for homeowners and agents to use for free, but the listings are not as comprehensive or detailed.

Mr Lui said that his Soho app has an edge over sites such as PropertyGuru because it can feature properties which are not ready to be transacted on the market yet. This is for, say, homeowners who might want to test the market, to gauge the level of interest, but are not ready to commit to any sale yet.

“Sites like PropertyGuru have done a great job in Singapore to evolve the print classifieds industry into an online classifieds industry, and apps like Carousell are doing well in cashing in on this trend. We, however, feel that only offering a classifieds ‘current listings’ approach is a legacy model, as it only accommodates ‘on-market’ properties and neglects every other potential property transaction out there,” Mr Lui said.

“Soho’s platform can bring many more properties online whether (people are) committed to selling, renting or just fielding interest from the market, giving more choice to buyers and renters who are looking for their dream property.”

 

PERSONALISED SERVICE MISSING

The start-up, headquartered in Singapore, has raised more than S$1 million from investors as of May this year.

Responding to this news, property agents interviewed by TODAY said that they are focusing on their strengths and what they can offer homeowners, such as their professional knowledge of various housing areas in Singapore, pointing out that listings online or on apps usually give just the basic facts.

Mr Jeff Foo, president of the Institute of Estate Agents, said: “Agents are against (using) such portals. PropertyGuru charges too much, and this Soho app allows homeowners to bypass agents.”

He added: “From an agent’s perspective, it’s about personalised service. Technology can be a good tool, but it can only do so much. These portals... cannot tell you certain things about the property and the area, which agents can provide through their experience.”

Mr Foo also cautioned homeowners not to be “penny wise and pound foolish” when jumping into deals via such platforms.

Mr Eugene Lim, key executive officer of ERA Realty Network, is of the view that most individuals might not have the time to manage the entire process themselves without an agent. “(That is why) you are paying agents to help you sell your home in the shortest time for the highest possible price,” he pointed out.

 

LIKE ‘LINKEDIN’ FOR PROPERTY SERVICES

Analysts said that such portals could present more competition to housing agents with its options. Property analyst Colin Tan of Suntec Real Estate, for instance, said that an app like Soho offers more choice for homeowners and seekers, including those who just want to look at opportunities to buy or sell.

“I suppose, like LinkedIn, you are saying I am not actively looking for a job, but if there are opportunities, contact me and tell me about it, I’ll give it some consideration and let you know if I am interested in pursuing the matter. Soho will be the property equivalent.”

The downside, he said, is that users “may be inundated by more and more ‘noise’ from agents rather than genuine buyers”.

The disruption from digital technology and DIY transactions have caused a number of agents and real estate agencies to bow out of the game. As at Jan 1 this year, there were 1,286 licensed property agencies and 28,397 registered property agents, statistics from the Council for Estate Agencies showed. This is a drop from 2015, when there were 1,369 agencies and 30,830 agents.

Last week, the Housing and Development Board (HDB) launched a new portal to cut the transaction time of resale HDB flats by half, saying that more buyers have been carrying out transactions without an agent. While only 11 per cent of buyers and sellers carried out their own transactions in 2010, the proportion jumped to 27 per cent in the first half of this year.

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