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News & opinion

27 NOV 2018

APREA-RICS PropTech Conference 2018: Adapting to the revolution

With a focus on how industry and government can work together to ensure the real estate industry is resilient to change and remains relevant in tomorrow's world, the inaugural APREA-RICS Property Technology Conference convened key players and stakeholders to address key challenges and the need to adapt to be "future-ready".

The real estate industry is facing various challenges. New technologies are disrupting business models and consumers' expectations are rising. The industry must continue to grow and provide good jobs to ensure it is ready for the future. Singapore's Real Estate Industry Transformation Map (ITM) is a collaborative effort between industry and government; it provides a roadmap for the transformation of the real estate industry.

Chief among discussions at the APREA-RICS Property Technology Conference were the questions of how to ensure Singapore can be resilient in the face of disruption and how companies can best-embrace the potential of innovations and technology. To facilitate this conversation, speakers and panellists were invited from Singapore government, start-ups seeking to disrupt the status quo, and businesses adapting to the fast-changing landscape.

Modernising a Singapore icon

One of Singapore's greatest success stories is its unique public housing. The Housing Development Board (HDB) provides over one million flats, which house over 80% of Singapore's resident population.

The process to procure public housing is constantly evolving, and HDB strive to create vibrant and innovative processes that interlink with the ITM's key initiatives: enabling seamless property transactions, supported by a professional and capable workforce.

In the past, looking for or buying a HDB resale flat was a lengthily process — up to 16 weeks. However, HDB have digitised many of their processes to make eligibility, financing, and other procedures faster and more efficient.

  • InfoWEB is an online resource that helps buyers browse options available to them, understand how to sell their flat, or learn how to play a bigger role in a HDB community.
  • AskJudy is an online chatbot that helps HDB manage day-to-day customer services by answering questions via an online assistant that utilises a retained contextual memory.
  • Mobile@HDB for iOS and Android allows users to access a suite of e-services, such as sales launches, resale flat prices and nearby car parks.
  • The HDB Resale Portal guides users through the process of buying and selling a resale flat. The Portal allows direct entry via SingPass, an authentication system implemented in 2003 for citizens (over the age of 15) to easily access government e-services.

HDB is reimagining the customer experience and is not settling for "business as usual". Their development of the ways property is transacted allows them to be more agile and ensures they can maintain pace with change.

Continuous improvement and innovation – these are core values for us; we consider our systems a work in progress.

Jamie Ng Pei Lun, Acting Dy Director (Resale & Planning), Housing & Development Board

Jamie Ng
Jamie Ng

Software & soft skills

President of the Singapore Estate Agents Association (SEAA) Thomas Tan stressed the importance of cultivating skills that those working in real estate will need in the future.

A more tech-savvy workforce is required to serve a more tech-savvy customer base; real estate professionals should leverage technology to free up time elsewhere, for instance, spending more time on building customer relationships. This impresses the importance of not just the ability to use technology, but also the soft skills that will ensure professionals avoid redundancy, such as problem solving, teamwork, leadership, communication, critical thinking, and empathy.

I don’t think inherently human skills will be replaced by technology. We must spend more time on teaching these to ensure we future-proof our professionals. Customers still need advice from someone who knows what they are talking about, especially when more unusual needs arise, and that’s where human agents and brokers come in.

Thomas Tan, President, Singapore Estate Agents Association

Thomas Tan
Thomas Tan

These aspirations are not without their barriers. Panellist and President of the IFMA (Singapore Chapter) Tony Khoo suggested in a later discussion that progress may be stymied by:

  • An adjustment period: The way we live and work is changing, technology can cater for this quickly, but humans aren't necessarily able to maintain pace.
  • Risk-averse behaviours: Committing to change is a risky business, investing in technology and skills that could be obsolete in three years' time can be a concern.

Read more: The social impact of digitisation

We’re still far from getting people ready for the revolution that is already on our doorstep.

Dr Davin Wang, Chief Data Officer, StreetSine Technology Group

Dr Davin Wang
Dr Davin Wang

Enter the start-up

Ohmyhome, a do-it-yourself (DIY) portal that allows users to list or search for properties that match their requirements, suggests that there has been a seismic shift in consumer preferences — they want real estate to be as quick and non-complicated as possible.

Ohmyhome is looking to inject innovation into real-estate processes by encouraging buyers and sellers to communicate with each other and remove the “middle man”. They offer free mortgage advice through in-house brokers and provide support to clients via a selection of legal packages. While Ohmyhome is currently only dealing in HDB flats, there are plans to potentially expand to condos, and begin operating in other markets, such as Malaysia.

The platform was queried by some members of the audience who were sceptical of this amount of user control and automation; for example, the ability of sellers to take attractive photos of a property that will appeal to buyers, or validation that a seller and their property are actually “real”. In response, Ohmyhome representatives said that developments are always in the pipeline; simple solutions like blogs and improvements to the in-app camera, to address the former, or algorithms to test against specific requirements that identify whether a user is fake or not, to address the latter.

Read more: Ohmyhome and a new way of buying your home

Keeping ahead and what to watch out for

Conference panellists stressed that while real estate, like most other sectors, is amid countless disruptions, developments and transformations, it is important for professionals and organisations to maintain focus.

Take a step back and keep an "end" in mind for your technology adoption and whether this matches your business strategy. The most interesting changes often occur when we sit with clients or colleagues and spend time understanding why we are doing things.

Rocio Perez, Manager, Innovation & KM Solutions, Dentons Rodyk & Davidson LLP

Rocio Perez
Rocio Perez

Read more: When worlds collide — why disruptors and the disrupted must collaborate

We were left with a mind to what is on the horizon and a suggestion of what technology professionals should keep an eye on. The panel, comprising Noel Neo, Rocio Perez, Lee Wei Hock, and Adrian Wong, suggested:

  • E-signatures: This may sound simple, but right now documents like Sales and Purchase Agreements (SPA) must be signed physically, which creates a huge amount of difficulty since thousands must be done.
  • Data exchange: Technology that speeds up and improves access to information with governments, SingPass is a good example of this in application.
  • Machine learning: One of the most significant developments that will automate many traditional housing functions.
  • Blockchain: Improving the trust, transparency and accountability of names and titles in real estate.

Highlights: APREA-RICS Property Technology Conference 2018

See the highlights from 2018's APREA-RICS Property Technology Conference, which covered how companies and individuals are breaking away from traditional processes.