Despite uncertainties, it’s business as usual for PropNex’s Marcus Luah — online

By Valerie Kor
/ EdgeProp Singapore |
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SINGAPORE (EDGEPROP) - For Marcus Luah, head of a PropNex division of 1,300 agents, a day in his life used to revolve around going to showflats, meeting agents and conducting seminars. As the government pushes forward with stricter measures to enforce safe distancing to counter the Covid-19 outbreak in what has been termed a “circuit breaker” period, he now works from home.
Instead of viewing them as restrictive, Luah shares that he has in fact become more efficient as a result of the measures. On a workday, he now gets up early and dresses up as per normal before he tackles tasks related to overall planning and support for 40 team leaders and managers at PropNex.
He says: “Since I don’t have to travel, my online training sessions and meetings with agents are back-to-back. I have actually become busier.”
While showflat viewings have closed and some developers have paused the issuance of Option to Purchase (OTP), things have not come to a standstill. More than 50 new launch developments still issue electronic OTPs. Also, Luah shares that PropNex has over 40 virtual showflat videos that agents can use to show properties to their clients even from home.

Walking the talk

Luah, who had worked for a retail MNC engaged in product distribution before he joined the real estate industry in 2007, enjoys imparting his knowledge through mentorship. He spends 80% of his time doing that.
To him, all agents benefit from mentorship. Luah says: “For new agents who come from corporate backgrounds, they may not be used to being unsupervised. When they become newly self-employed, suddenly, they are not required to go into the office every day. They can fall into the trap of simply following their moods. Aside from learning the do’s and don’ts, having a mentor keeps them accountable.”
“High achievers need a different type of support,” he adds. “The upper-tier agents bringing in $300,000 to $400,000 a year may be too busy with day-to-day sales to realise their own weaknesses, and that there is more to learn. Mentors can help to identify blindspots and challenge them with new ways of doing things.”
As he believes in using property as a bulwark against inflation and a tool for retirement planning, he has convinced all of his agents to walk the talk by growing a property portfolio. When he learnt that an experienced real estate agent in his agency did not own any investment properties, Luah persuaded him to do some research and start investing.
“I invest and encourage my agents to also do so because I believe customers can tell a real opinion from a theory-based one. If an agent gives advice about property investment based on his research done for his own portfolio, the advice is more genuine,” he says.
Luah’s family has three properties in their portfolio: Hillview Peak, which is under his name; Park Riviera at West Coast, under his wife’s name; and Riverfront at Hougang, which was purchased under a trust set up for his son. By purchasing property under individual names, they do not need to pay additional duties.

Shifting paradigms

Despite the challenging situation caused by the Covid-19 outbreak, Luah believes that there are opportunities to take advantage of.
First, the pandemic might shift paradigms on the property scene in terms of digital transformation. He says: “I think purchasing things online has really taken off in the last few years — and even more now, due to the Covid-19 outbreak. Previously it was quite unthinkable for those older than the millennial generation to buy fresh produce online, but now it is more accepted.”
“Likewise, while properties are still not commonly bought online in Singapore, it may become commonplace,” he adds. “One of our agents has just closed a new launch property via virtual tour and e-signing — without [the client] physically seeing a showflat.”
Second, it is likely that property prices during this period will become more competitive, although he does not think that prices will drop drastically because Singapore’s property market has already corrected as a result of eight rounds of cooling measures since 2009.
The property market is also more resilient than the stock market, says Luah. “Don’t expect the prices to tank like equities, which can go as low as 80% from peak prices.” In his opinion, one reason for that is property sellers in today’s information age are more aware the market will recover despite setbacks, such as the 2008 Global Financial Crisis and the series of property cooling measures imposed by the Singapore government in 2014.
“Based on such data, I would say that if there are deals that are 10% to 20% lower than historical peak prices, it is a good time to buy,” says Luah. He shares these data-points with his agents to help them position property investment as a “wealth creation vehicle”, because buyers are becoming increasingly shrewd and base their purchase decisions on analytics and trends.
Luah also advises buyers to take advantage of lower interest rates during this period. “Upgrading for lifestyle choices should be put on hold, but if buyers are thinking of investing in a property for retirement, and they are able to afford mortgage payments, I would advise them to not wait too long, as they may then miss an opportune time,” he says.
Covid-19 or not, he urges buyers to consider the fundamentals of a property, such as cost of land, district prices, and size of development. Out of the properties that Luah’s agency is marketing in 2020, he points to Kopar as one of the properties with potential.
He says: “Aside from being surrounded by schools, it will also have a sustained demand from aspiring property buyers who want to move into District 9. The average price of $2,300 psf is very attractive.”
On Luah’s YouTube channel, where he uploads explainer videos and property tips, he has observed a surge in traffic since the “circuit breaker” period kicked in on April 7. He believes that potential buyers are doing research on the property market even as they stay home.
Pointing to China’s reviving housing market, where transactions in at least eight large cities show that buyers have returned in recent weeks and 1Q2020’s sales volume have surpassed average levels in 4Q2019, he predicts that there will be pent-up demand and the property market will recover as soon as the “circuit-breaker” period ends.
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