CBRE S’pore earnings up 130% last year

CBRE S’pore earnings up 130% last year

Property consultancy sets up new business units for luxury homes, residential agency and hotels

 

CB RICHARD Ellis Singapore has set up three new businesses this year – luxury homes, a residential agency of associates to market projects for developers and a hotel business – to provide a stable and broader business platform, after record revenue and net earnings last year.

 

The property consultancy company’s managing director Pauline Goh would not give absolute figures but said revenue was up 84 per cent and net profit up 130 per cent in 2007. The gains easily exceeded a 55 per cent jump in revenue and a 56 per cent increase in net profit in 2006.

 

‘It’s very, very hard to improve on 2007 numbers. Last year has to be taken as an extraordinary year,’ Ms Goh said.

 

‘Residential sales volume is down fairly significantly this year. Office leasing is still active and rentals are still increasing, though at a slower pace. We expect fees from investment sales to be very close to those last year, thanks to a pipeline of properties we’ve been working on since last year.’

 

Despite the tough market, CBRE has brokered 62 per cent of the overall $4.9 billion of private-sector office investment sales here so far this year.

 

Elaborating on the challenges facing the Singapore market, Ms Goh, said: ‘The lack of consensus of when the US sub-prime crisis will stabilise is a good indicator of uncertainty regarding the direction the Singapore market will take this year. Asia has not been hit to the same degree as US and European markets, so Asia – basically India and China – will provide a counterbalance.

 

‘In Singapore, I think we are not so reliant on the US situation improving. We are now struggling with the wait-and-see attitude adopted by many investors. But Asia is still a sweet spot for many foreign institutional investors.’

 

Before 2005, foreign buyers accounted for a relatively small portion of Singapore real estate investment deals above $5 million. In 2003, foreign investors bought $53 million of such real estate in Singapore. In 2007, this increased to $4.94 billion. So far this year, the figure is about $2.7 billion.

 

With the onset of the US sub-prime crisis, the profile of foreign institutional investors in the Singapore market has changed since Q4 last year, according to Ms Goh. ‘There are fewer opportunistic funds in the market now,’ she said. ‘These days we’re seeing more the core and core-plus funds.’

 

Opportunistic funds typically gear much higher and have a bigger risk appetite in exchange for higher returns, whereas core and core-plus funds have a lower risk appetite and use a higher proportion of equity.

 

Elaborating on the new businesses CBRE Singapore has entered this year, Ms Goh said the luxury homes business was set up to focus on the top-end of the residential market in a ‘systematic and structured manner’ rather than pursuing it ad hoc and risking ‘some of the opportunities falling between the cracks’.

 

CBRE’s luxury homes business is headed by Douglas Wong, formerly with Knight Frank Regal Homes.

 

CBRE has also built up a team of 180 associates under a residential agency business to help out when it clinches residential project launches for developers. These associates are not salaried. Instead they receive commissions on sales.

 

‘The associates can do the ground sales, and this frees our core residential project marketing team to focus on more strategic matters like working with developers on project concepts, unit size mixes and marketing, recommended pricing and launch strategy,’ said Ms Goh.

 

She acknowledges that CBRE’s pool of associates is small compared with competitors. ‘But our associates, unlike the competition’s, don’t focus on the HDB resale market,’ she said.

 

‘We brought them in with a very clear mandate to do project marketing. We hope to eventually grow the associates team to 400-500. But we’re taking it easy. We want to hire selectively and discriminately, rather than hire for the sake of hiring.’

 

The firm’s hotel business, set up earlier this year, is CBRE Hotels’ South-east Asia hub. This complements a North Asia hub based in Hong Kong which opened last year. CBRE Hotels began its business in the Pacific (Australia/New Zealand) in 2001 and expanded to Europe, the Middle East and Africa, as well as the Americas in 2003.

 

‘Currently, the South-east Asia hub focuses on providing hotel consultancy work, but we’re gearing up to handle hotel transactions,’ Ms Goh said.

 

Source: Business Times

Home, sweet home

Home, sweet home

 

In Hong Kong, you are where you live

 

Friday • May 16, 2008

 

 

 

Topping my list of things to do the moment I touched down at Chek Lap Kok airport was to find a place to live.

 

Despite the dire warnings I had been given about how rents in Hong Kong are the highest in Asia, if not the world, I wasn’t too worried.

 

Unlike in Singapore, property agents have brick-and-mortar shops here.

 

There is no need to wade through the classifieds to find them — they are everywhere. If an area is very popular — such as the Mid-Levels — there are rows of such shops, all displaying enticing photos in their windows. All you have to do is pick one and pop in.

 

But I had reckoned without a few things. One was that owners don’t tie up exclusively with an agent here, which means there could be up to a dozen trying to rent you the same flat.

 

It may sound convenient — one agent can show you every flat available in the area if you wish — but it also means you don’t get a chance to bargain prices down.

 

With so many agents competing, the owner is likely to choose the one who comes up with the best offer. So, most agents try to get prospective tenants to go for the flat with the highest rent.

 

Having dealt with nightmarishrealtors in Singapore, aggressive sales tactics were the least of my worries. The real headache was trying to decide which area to live in. It was no use asking the locals.

 

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that they don’t care. Hong Kongers are as obsessed about land as Singaporeans — perhaps more so, given how much of Hong Kong Island (the most desired piece of real estate in the Special Administrative Region) is made up of mountains so that the only build-able areas are along the coastline.

 

The problem is, if you ask a local where the good areas are, you never get a straight answer. Instead, he is more likely to profile you: “Hmm, you strike me as someone who likes to shop, has no children, so you don’t need to be close to schools … try Causeway Bay.”

 

Even strangers you have spoken to for about one second at a party will try their hand at this amateur personality profiling.

 

It was only after I arrived that I realised why the Hong Kong-based friends I had emailed before the move refused to commit themselves to which would be a good area to live in.

 

“It depends,” they had said. If pressed, they would reluctantly tell you where they are living but added quickly: “It suits me, but I don’t know about you.”

 

Eventually, someone spelt it out for me: “Where you live says something about who you are. If you pick The Peak or Repulse Bay, you are old money. If you plumb for the Mid-Levels, you are either a new expat or an upper-middle class local. If you live in the Outlying Islands, you are either a farmer or a hippie expat.”

 

It finally made sense. It wasn’t how much you could pay, but what sort of image you wanted to project.

 

I was shown flats in North Point — an area that had no recommendable qualities other than being an interchange station for even more ulu areas with flats costing as much as those in the Mid-Levels.

 

We have the same thing in Singapore too, don’t we? Katong for old money, Marine Parade for beach-loving family types, Toa Payoh for heartlanders, Orchard Road and Tanglin for the expats — every area has a personality.

 

My problem now was to pick a place that would suit a laidback Katong Girl who loves bargain shopping and a city-lover who wants to be within walking distance of Central, the equivalent of our CBD.

 

I wanted Wan Chai, the world of Suzie Wong, with its wet markets and dark alleys selling counterfeit goods. My husband wanted somewhere in the city, as close to his office as possible.

 

We settled for the Mid-Levels, wheremost first-time expats end up, because it’s only 10 minutes’ walk to Central. So, what does it say about us?

 

I don’t know and I don’t care because the flat has a roof terrace with a view of The Peak and that’s good enough for me.

 

Tabitha Wang loves her roof terrace, never mind that it’s grubby, hot and good only for hanging the laundry out to dry.

 

Source: Today Newspaper

What kind of paperwork deserves that much money for property agents?

What kind of paperwork deserves that much money for property agents? 

 

I WRITE to join Mr Patrick Sio’s discussion on the contentious issue of the 1 per cent property sales commission. Let me state that I am all for real estate agents who deserve their due. If a buyer has commissioned an agent to represent them as they have no time to look for a HDB flat and are in need of the agent, by all means, the agent has earned it. An independent buyer’s position, however, is completely different.

If HDB holds educational seminars for buyers to help them with the resale purchasing process, that clearly shows and means that buyers are empowered to act on their own and have a right to represent themselves, in which case, why should the sellers’ agents be paid a commission by independent buyers in order to make up for what agents say is a loss in profit as they are not selling a multi-million dollar private property? As reported on May 8, ‘Fee dispute: PropNex drops lawsuit against couple’, agents say the 1 per cent commission is practised by them due to the ‘lower prices of HDB flats, which translates into a lower commission’.

 

Saying that independent buyers should pay the 1 per cent commission in order to make up for the lower commission they make on HDB flats is like saying we should all pay a $2,000 airfare regardless or whether we are travelling to Los Angeles or Bali so that the airline company can make up for the ‘loss’ in profit. What’s the rationale behind that? It is utterly ridiculous and a blatant perversion of financial integrity.

 

The fact that agents say the 1 per cent commission is due them in order to boost their earnings on a lower-priced sale already betrays their position. In which case, how can the same agent represent both seller and the independent buyer?

 

Then there are reports of agents who refuse to sell it to independent buyers without the commission. These agents are practically extorting money from buyers who end up being blackmailed into signing the commission agreement. What recourse do independent buyers have when they are coerced in this manner? None.

 

The difference between the definition of a commission or service fee and that of an admin fee is huge. They cannot be the same. Does the service of a form filler command a fee of thousands? How much paperwork is there really? Please.

 

If, for example, having to fill in names and details, say five times over, in a 25-page document equals to a lot of paperwork and I get thousands for that, I think we need to seriously consider making an executive profession out of this prestigious task that seems so difficult it’s beyond the mental capacity of any independent HDB flat buyer. We must be a nation of HDB dwellers who do not know how to write even our own names.

 

And what services do they render that justify them a commission that equals twice, thrice, four times that of what an average Singaporean may earn in a month? I found this comment on a blog: ‘If a lawyer gets $3k for helping a client buy or sell a $3mil house, why should the agent earn $30k for helping the client buy or sell the same house?’

 

Even conveyancing lawyers do not represent both the seller and buyer. And these agents are not even required to have relevant qualifications. If they were to be paid by the hour, independent buyers would be paying them by the thousands. That’s a $1,000-$5,000/hr job. Even Donald Trump has to do a lot more than ‘paperwork’ to earn that kind of a salary. Never mind that agents submit part of the ‘paperwork’ online these days in less than 15 minutes.

 

I cannot understand this – why haven’t there been laws instituted to regulate this 1 per cent commission issue despite it being raised for a few years already? Are we waiting incredulously for the real estate agent associations whose own interests are at stake to address this issue? What can be done to create a movement to begin this?

 

I hope to see an article with a comparison between other nations and Singapore in this area. It is an issue that is in dire need of regulation. The silence and inaction of those in leadership positions who have been empowered to create the much-needed legislation in this area is very disappointing.

 

Huang Qiao Ying (Ms)

 

Source: Straits Times

To pay or not to pay

To pay or not to pay

 

ONE week after The Straits Times reported that housing agency PropNex was suing two independent home buyers for not paying its agent a fee, the firm withdrew its case.

 

The agent, Mr Ricky Low Yong Sern, had been hired by the seller of a $400,000 terrace house in Whampoa which marketing specialist Loh Yi Min and his wife, polytechnic lecturer Ariel Wee, bought last year. The couple had acted on their own without hiring an agent. They refused to sign the commission agreement to pay Mr Loh a fee equivalent to 1 per cent of the price of the property, which was classified as an HDB flat. Mr Low claimed he was entitled to the commission or a fee commensurate with the services that he said he had provided.

 

PropNex dropped its landmark suit as part of a confidential deal both sides reached through mediation last Tuesday. Given that the sum at stake – about $4,000 or less – would have been dwarfed by the roughly $10,000-per-day cost of a trial, it was surprising the case went as far as it did.

 

But the case is not unique in the HDB resale market, where a growing proportion of buyers and sellers is transacting without agents. Last year, 3.6 per cent – or 1,060 people – submitted their applications through the HDB’s e-Resale system, which caters to buyers and sellers without agents. This figure has been creeping up – it was 2 per cent in 2003 and 3 per cent in 2005.

 

Growing awareness of consumer rights has given momentum to the debate over whether independent buyers need to pay a fee to sellers’ agents. Adding to the controversy are rogue agents who mislead buyers into signing commission forms at the last minute by claiming it is a ‘rule’.

 

Although the law does not stipulate who should pay the fee and how much is payable, it is common for sellers to pay their agents a sum equivalent to 2 per cent of the property’s price, while buyers foot 1 per cent. If both sellers and buyers are represented by agents in an HDB flat transaction, both parties pay the fee to their own agents. This practice is known as co-broking.

 

Questions crop up when buyers act on their own – which is more common than sellers acting on their own. Many agents hired by sellers then try to claim a 1 per cent cut from buyers. This fee, peculiar to the HDB resale market, is levied because the quantum of commission on HDB deals is lower than that for private property deals, says the Institute of Estate Agents.

 

Agents and agencies cite other arguments:

 

Firstly, by advertising a property for sale, helping the buyer to make contact with its owner and negotiating the deal, the seller’s agent provides a service to the buyer.

 

Secondly, when the deal is inked, the seller’s agent has to do paperwork for the buyer, such as filling up the sale and purchase agreement and submitting the document.

 

Thirdly, since this 1 per cent fee is ‘market practice’, it is up to independent buyers to declare upfront they do not wish to pay it. If the buyer seals a deal without bringing up the matter, he would be tacitly agreeing a fee is payable.

 

But in the absence of a written commission agreement between an independent buyer and the seller’s agent, these arguments hold little weight, say lawyers. Under Singapore law, commission deals can be verbal, so refusing to sign a form does not solve the problem. The bigger question is whether both sides are aware of the commission and agree that it should be paid at all.

 

Drew & Napier director Hri Kumar says that while the courts will take note of the prevailing ‘market practice’, an agent will find it difficult to prove that the buyer was aware of this ‘practice’ if the buyer is a layman.

 

Ramdas & Wong consultant Ellen Lee says the agents – deemed the ‘experts’ in this scenario – are obliged to inform the buyer upfront that they are levying a fee. ‘If someone doesn’t know (about the fee), he doesn’t even know that he should say he is not paying it.’

 

But the buyer who is informed of such a fee and does not intend to pay has to object to it at the earliest possible instance. If he does not, he can be said to have agreed implicitly to pay, says Mr Freddi Lim, a partner at Trinity Law Corporation.

 

Awareness aside, what kind of acts can be considered ’services’ that sellers’ agents render buyers? The lawyers found it unlikely that introducing a buyer to a seller could be considered a service. Ms Lee points out that the seller’s agent places a property ad and makes contact with potential buyers because he is duty-bound to market the home on behalf of his client. His role as a liaison does not give him an inherent right to claim a fee from the buyer. However, if that potential buyer subsequently asks the agent to, say, recommend suitable properties, he may be said to be soliciting the agent’s services.

 

The question of whether handling paperwork constitutes a service to buyers is less clear-cut. This is because only one set of sale and purchase documents needs to be submitted to the Housing Board for the resale of a flat. Although the HDB does not stipulate which party should submit the form, the design of its online application system – through which most applications are made – places the burden of submission on the seller’s agent if the buyer is not represented by an agent. This often means that sellers’ agents fill up the form and submit the applications for both parties.

 

Assuming that the independent buyer has done his own checks to make sure he qualifies to buy the particular apartment, it is questionable whether a fee can be levied for such paperwork. Infinitus Law Corporation director Leo Cheng Suan, for example, feels such paperwork is simply part and parcel of the steps needed to complete a deal.

 

The HDB says: ‘The submission mode should not be misused by housing agents as a basis for charging commissions (which), like payment for all types of services, are subject to negotiation.’

 

A large part of the validity of housing agents’ claims hinges on what the agents disclose and when they do so in the dealings leading up to a sale. Unfortunately, many agents today produce commission payment slips only after a purchase is sealed. As Ms Wee says after settling her lawsuit with PropNex: ‘Agents should state clearly the services they are providing to justify the fee they are charging.’

 

Until that happens, the industry will continue to be dogged by doubts over the ethics of its rank and file.

 

Source: Straits Times

Split property sales commission in two parts

Split property sales commission in two parts

 

IT IS heartening to learn that the court dispute between PropNex and Mr and Mrs Loh Yi Min has been settled amicably.

 

We can learn something from this incident. When a property agent undertakes work for either the seller or the buyer or both, he does it for a remuneration. It is therefore only correct that the type of work to be carried out by the property agent be properly described in the document most property agents require their clients to sign before he starts work. The document is often called the commission agreement and it records how the property agent is to be remunerated.

 

The Housing Board conducts public briefings on:

 

·  Policies and procedures relating to buying and selling of flats;

 

·  Financial planning for buyers and procedure for HDB and bank loan; and

 

·  Option to purchase.

 

According to the HDB, it invites a guest speaker from the CPF Board to talk about use of CPF funds to buy resale flats. The next talk for which seats are still available is on July 5.

 

For more information, visit http://www.hdb.gov. sg, Home Owners, Selling Your Flat, HDB Resale Seminar.

 

Given that the HDB makes public the requirements in the resale process, the role of the property agent can be limited to connecting the seller and the buyer if the two parties handle the documentation themselves.

 

Perhaps the remuneration, often fixed at 2 per cent of the agreed price for the seller and 1 per cent for the buyer, can be broken into two distinct components:

 

·  The first, which can be percentage-based, is for connecting the parties and arranging the best price for either party; and

 

·  The second is for handling documentation, attending appointments and reminding parties of their obligations.

 

In that way, even if the buyer has to pay the property agent, he is clear that he is paying for services that are not related to getting him the best price, if the property agent also represents the seller in the same transaction.

 

Patrick Sio

 

Source: Straits Times

Fee dispute: PropNex drops lawsuit against couple

Fee dispute: PropNex drops lawsuit against couple

 

By Tan Hui Yee

 

PROPERTY company PropNex is dropping its lawsuit against a couple who refused to pay the seller’s agent the 1 per cent commission after buying a home.

 

Both sides reached an agreement after a mediation session on Tuesday, which PropNex said yielded a ‘win-win’ conclusion. They declined to disclose the terms of the settlement.

 

If the case had gone to trial, it would have turned the spotlight on the contentious issue of whether home buyers should pay a fee to sellers’ agents.

 

PropNex associate director Ricky Low Yong Sern, who was the only agent handling the sale of a terrace house in Whampoa last year, had sought about $4,000 in commission or a service fee from the buyers, marketing specialist Loh Yi Min, 29, and his wife Ariel Wee, a 33-year-old polytechnic lecturer.

 

The couple bought the house – built over 30 years ago and classified as a Housing Board flat – for $400,000 in April last year. They did so without hiring an agent.

 

According to court documents, PropNex’s Mr Low claimed that he had provided services to them.

 

But the buyers refused to sign the commission agreement, saying they had not agreed to pay him a fee.

 

PropNex chief executive Mohamed Ismail said of the first such lawsuit initiated by his company: ‘It has been amicably settled, so we are withdrawing the case. PropNex initiated this on the grounds that a fair amount of work has been done by the agent to start off with. This negotiated settlement takes into consideration both parties’ views.’

 

Ms Wee, however, called for rules requiring property agents to state clearly what services they were providing independent buyers that would justify the commission.

 

‘And we really need to see whether the same agent can represent both the buyer and seller – it’s a complete conflict of interest,’ she added.

 

The issue of commissions payable by buyers who deal without agents has been hotly debated in recent years. The law does not fix agents’ fees, but most property sellers pay their agents a commission of 2 per cent of the selling price, while buyers foot 1 per cent.

 

Many agents marketing HDB flats also charge independent buyers a 1 per cent fee, but this is not practised for transactions involving private property.

 

This difference, say agents, comes from the lower prices of HDB flats, which translates into a lower commission. The sale of HDB flats involves more paperwork, they add.

 

Disputes arise when sellers’ agents tell independent buyers about the commission only just before sale papers are signed.

 

Agents, on their part, say independent buyers often leave the sellers’ agents to handle the paperwork but refuse to pay a service fee.

 

Source: Straits Times

Reach out to your customers the smart way

Reach out to your customers the smart way

 

BUSINESSES in Singapore are learning to tap infocomm to transform their processes and gear themselves up to take advantage of new market opportunities. An example is real estate company HSR, which pioneered a new way for its agents to help buyers find their dream home using a system called SMARTplus.

 

A SMARTplus programme called iMatch enables HSR agents to specify the criteria for the house they are looking for their buyers. On finding a perfect match, the system will alert the agent via SMS and send an email with more details about the property. Agents can also view the latest property listings online, with just a few clicks of the mouse.

 

SMARTplus also comes as a boon for the agents. They can now discuss issues, share their opinions and seek advice on the online forum, and update themselves on upcoming courses and events using the HSR eCalendar. By allowing agents to work from any location that has Internet access, the system has also enabled them to cut down on travelling and make more productive use of their time. In fact, the system has been so popular that HSR increased its recruitment of agents by up to 40 per cent with its implementation.

 

Like HSR, used car exporter Sunauto has also been leveraging on infocomm to reach out to customers in new and innovative ways while enhancing staff efficiency.

 

Sunauto exports quality used cars to various parts of the world, and has also made inroads into the parallel import market. All these have been made possible through the development of an online presence, backed by a system that automates many of its processes.

 

Today, instead of paper-based orders, Sunauto’s customers can order used cars online.

 

Through the company’s website, they can access the latest information on the used car inventory, and view the photos and specifications of vehicles.

 

At the same time, manual tasks such as the storage and retrieval of car photographs and other data have been automated, reducing the manpower required and cutting down on errors due to inconsistent information or missing documents. These developments have helped to free Sunauto’s manpower resources to focus on broadening its business lines and developing its regional strategy.

 

Like HSR and Sunauto, SMEs in Singapore can learn to leverage on infocomm to expand their market reach and tap new business opportunities.

 

A good starting point would be to tap the Technology Innovation Programme (TIP), which is jointly administered by the Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore (IDA) and Spring Singapore.

 

Calling on more SMEs to take advantage of the programme, Lo Yoong Khong, Cluster Director, IDA, said: ‘If you have an innovative idea on how infocomm can better your business, make use of the support from TIP to turn it into a reality. Through the adoption of infocomm, businesses can make a difference in the way they operate. Infocomm can relieve them of the operational challenges they face daily, and allow them to focus on sourcing for new markets and business opportunities.’

 

This article is contributed by the Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore (IDA)

 

Infocomm public education for SMEs

 

The Technology Innovation Programme (TIP) supports SMEs in infocomm innovation projects and helps to defray up to 50 per cent of the qualifying cost. TIP can also defray up to 70 per cent of the qualifying cost for industry-wide projects.

 

Source: Business Times