SINGAPORE: Property buyers who want to avoid the stress of using an agent who turns out to be a dud have an extra tool at their disposal, following the launch of real estate agency OrangeTee's platform that allows customers to write reviews and rate their agent.
These reviews will then be published in full on the agents’ profile pages, which include contact information, a short biography, past achievements and current property listings.
While such rating websites for property agents are already available in countries such as the United Kingdom and Australia, the OrangeTee version – called the Property Agent Bank – is the first in Singapore.
Steven Tan, managing director of OrangeTee, told Channel NewsAsia that the rising threat of technology upending the local property sector is a reason why the homegrown company created the new platform, which also allows users to do the usual search for property listings based on districts and past transactions.
Coupled with the presence of online platforms that encourage buyers and sellers to transact without the help of real estate agents, as well as a growing reliance on online reviews to make purchase decisions among consumers, Mr Tan felt it was time for traditional players to act.
“The landscape of the property market is going to change very dramatically in the next few years. As we know there are technology firms that are following the likes of Uber and creating new experiences for consumers.”
He added: “Almost all the industries have been impacted and I believe the property market is due for a disruption. With new competitors coming, we cannot make do with just fine-tuning. We need to transform ourselves because ultimately, these new players will be taking away part of the market share.”
Apart from keeping up to pace with emerging trends, OrangeTee also hopes that its new system, which had received 741 reviews from customers as at May 11, can raise the standards of service in the industry. To prevent fabricated reviews, customers need to include information such as the transaction ID found on their invoices and a property address before being allowed to submit their feedback via SMS.
“Once you know these customers will give you reviews after closing (a deal), you will serve them well right from the start,” Mr Tan said. “It’s a self-regulatory mechanism which we believe will raise the service standards among our agents.
In a Facebook post on May 4, Minister of State for National Development Koh Poh Koon described OrangeTee’s new platform as an example of how a company reacts to “changing times and potentially disruptive technologies”, while adding that the transparency of a rating system will spur agents to develop a “customer-first attitude”.
Managing director Steven Tan described the set-up of the Property Agent Bank as a "pre-emptive move" against digital disruptions. (Photo: Tang See Kit)
“IT’S A DOUBLE-EDGED SWORD”: PROPERTY AGENTS ON RATINGS
However, the idea of being rated and to have reviews made public instantaneously without any filtering was not one that was readily accepted.
When OrangeTee first brought up the idea in the third quarter of 2015, Mr Tan said there were property agents who were worried about receiving sub-par reviews. Given that each review will remain on the Property Agent Bank for 12 months, agents were concerned about the impact of a negative review on their sales.
Among real estate agents that Channel NewsAsia spoke to, many described the platform as a double-edged sword. One agent was even worried about having to do “extra work” to maintain an additional profile page but eventually came round to the idea that change was necessary against technological disruptions.
Julin Tan said: “Now that it’s so transparent, clients can research everything online. The plus point means that sometimes I don’t have to do much explaining apart from reinforcing and giving clients the additional push to make the purchase. But on the flipside, it means that some people don’t need property agents anymore.”
While OrangeTee does not issue monetary rewards for salespersons with a perfect 5-star rating, the company features them prominently in their advertisements, both online and in print. Agents told Channel NewsAsia that there have been benefits.
“I received new enquiries from customers that were not referred (to me) by anybody. For the past two months or so, it’s been a 10 per cent increase for such calls,” Kasssandra Oh said.
Apart from receiving more enquiries, glowing reviews also acted as a confidence booster for some.
“It has never occurred to me that things (I did) left a deep impression on my clients so it really boosted my confidence,” said Raymond Khoo, whose profile is the top-rated on the platform for now. “Nowadays, people are happy if you do no wrong, so when you do well they won’t praise you. I guess writing good comments is easier than saying it face to face.”
Meanwhile, a less-than-perfect score has not been ego-deflating, according to other property agents.
“I was getting 5 stars before one client gave me a 4-star. But I was content with the rating because I knew that the client had wanted a higher selling price initially… Given the bad market (conditions), I tried my best and I’m happy enough,” KK Lee said.
Property agents who have a 5-star rating are featured at OrangeTee's office in Toa Payoh. (Photo: Tang See Kit)
NEW FEATURES, IMPROVEMENTS TO BE MADE
Moving forward, OrangeTee plans to introduce additional features to the Property Agent Bank, including a chat box for prospective home buyers to ask questions and allow customers to share their feedback via social media platforms such as Facebook.
Prospective home buyers that Channel NewsAsia spoke to said the idea of a rating website sounds useful. However, the eventual decision to engage a property agent will require more than just a perfect score on a website, 37-year-old Carol Wong said.
“If an agent has a 5-star rating, I will definitely be willing to give him a call and this (platform) can act as a testimonial for consumers to refer to,” she said. “But buying a house requires a lot of trust and it will still need to depend on whether this agent understands my needs and has sufficient knowledge about his job.”
Agents like OrangeTee’s Mr Lee certainly understand. “I think this has opened the door a bit wider for me but ultimately whether I clinch a deal will depend on whether I know my stuff because if I don’t, clients won’t come to me regardless of how many stars I have.”