Champion team builder, thanks to PropTech

Lester Tan is a real estate agent with an uncommon skillset. His training and experience as a computer programmer have given him an edge over others in the industry and prepared him to face technological disruptors.
“The industry is in an unprecedented situation and it is especially challenging for agents; never before have so many disruptors tried to replace the role of the agent,” says Tan. For the past eight years, turning technology to his firm Orange Tee & Tie’s (OTT) advantage, he has developed a suite of mobile applications that has eased property agents’ tasks and enabled him to grow his team, which now boasts 1,200 agents compared with just three agents, six years ago.
Tan, who is currently senior associate executive director at OTT, heads the largest division of agents there. The rapid growth of Tan’s team, the Apex Achievers Group (AAG), is thanks to his own mobile app called InstantPro, which he has been personally developing for the past 12 years. “I never intended to charge my agents for the software, but would give it free to [those] on my team. Through word of mouth, more agents have become aware of my software and they found that it simplified many of their repetitive and tedious tasks,” he says.
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Before becoming a property agent, Tan spent a decade working as a software programmer. He has a diploma in computer engineering from Nanyang Polytechnic and a degree in business IT from the University of Swansea. He joined DTZ in 2004 as a part-time agent to learn sales and negotiation business skills. After closing his first successful solo deal in 2006, a three-bedroom HDB flat in Ang Mo Kio, he switched careers to become a fulltime property agent.
Tan experienced first-hand how many of the work processes at the time were backward and inefficient. “It was all manual and tedious work. As a programmer, I started writing software to turn whatever I was learning into an automated process,” he recounts.
As a new agent with limited experience of the property market, he found it frustrating when he could not answer questions sellers and buyers asked him. “Senior agents had the info at the top of their head, and it frustrated me when it gave away the fact that I was a new agent”, says Tan. So he developed an app that provided him instant access to information from various sources, such as URA caveat data and publicly available HDB data.
He tells his agents, “Information is everywhere. But if you can’t instantly pull it out to close a deal, information is nowhere to you.”
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The various department heads at AAG. From left: Johnny Ng, recruitment and growth; Yap, sales performance; Ivy Eyu, team bonding and cohesiveness; Tan, technology and innovation and AAG head; Christopher Ng, branding and marketing; Siow, AAG Training Academy; Eric Lee, support and events advisory; and Kevin Seetoh, AAG co-founder. (Picture: AAG)
As a rookie agent, Tan was assigned to various project show flats that did not see many walk-ins. He used the time to develop his first mobile app, which would eventually become his signature InstantPro app. “While other agents read the newspaper or chatted, I was the only one who brought a laptop and, line by line, started coding my app,” he says.
The very first mobile app he developed was a reposting tool that made it easier for him to repost his listings on various listing portals. Over time, he added other software such as vTourCreator, which enables agents to create a 360-degree walk-through of a home, as well as extend support for commercial, industrial and landed property segments. His latest upgrade, InstantPro v5, includes a new Targeted Mailer Pro feature that allows agents to send addressed mailers to any property with just a few clicks.
The daily utilisation rate for Tan’s mobile app is between 70% and 80% and about 900 agents log on each day, says Harry Yap, associate district director at OTT, who is also in charge of sales performance at AAG. Online listings are more important than ever for agents, especially as market momentum picks up. His tools help agents engage sellers and buyers, helping them get a good price for a property, says Yap. Their team is also keeping a close watch on prospective en bloc sites and using the new targeted mailing feature to advertise their services, he adds.
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Tan is quick to point out that his success story is shared with his dedicated AAG management team, who helps him run the division and allows him to focus on developing the app.
It has not always been easy convincing agents to adopt technology. Five years ago, it was a struggle convincing [them] because at the time many still saw technology as just an auxiliary tool to support their work, says Tan.
Today, Tan and Perry Siow, associate district director at OTT who is also in charge of AAG’s Training Academy, are working to ensure that all their agents learn how best to capitalise on the many features available in Tan’s mobile app. According to Siow, the training programme is constantly updated to cover new features added to the app. The programme also includes real estate restructuring advisory training as well as customer service advice.
Tan and AAG aim to continue growing the team and sales by tapping their mobile app edge, and are targeting younger, tech-savvy agents as well as experienced senior agents who are not used to technology. Tan is happy when agents provide feedback that they finished their jobs quicker and with less difficulty, and when new agents are happy to know that such tools are available to help accelerate their career development.
Tan reckons the number of agents in the property industry will fall to about 15,000 in the next few years, from about 28,000 this year. “Technology is the only way that will allow agents to remain relevant,” he asserts.
Despite Tan’s success, he feels there are still many features and improvements he has yet to cover, and he is always thinking of new ideas. For Tan, his mobile app is still a work in progress.
This article appeared in the EdgeProp Pullout Issue #828 (April 30, 2018)