A Korean perspective on Singapore property

By Valerie Kor / EdgeProp Singapore | March 12, 2021 6:00 AM SGT
Jun Kang ERA PropNex Realty - EDGEPROP SINGAPORE
Jun: Now, the new generation of Korean expats ask about property prices and are concerned about long-term investment gains (Photo: Samuel Isaac Chua/The Edge Singapore)
SINGAPORE (EDGEPROP) - For Jun Kang, district division director at ERA Realty Network, 2020 was one of the worst years in his 14-year career as a property agent in Singapore.
“When the Covid-19 outbreak started to spread sometime in February, I had four major clients — three from Korea and one from Hong Kong — all of whom could not enter Singapore due to travel restrictions,” Jun says.
“During the circuit breaker period, my income was not zero; it was, in fact, negative — since I had to continue paying all the marketing fees,” he shares. “So, I took things one day at a time. I jogged and read more. ERA also had a lot of virtual training, so I went to every single session, and kept in touch with my clients.”
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The downtime allowed him to pause and re-strategise, after four years of handling rental properties, which was “very hands-on and busy”.
Jun, who was born in Seoul, South Korea, obtained citizenship in Singapore in 2013 — a decade after he first moved to Singapore to work as a network controller at AT&T.
After four years in AT&T, Jun decided to become a property agent together with his wife — then a Malaysian — as he “always wanted to have a business”. The couple joined ERA in 2007.
“At my previous job, I realised that I have the personality to become a salesperson, because after I talked to the clients, they would ask me for the sales contract. I would then need to explain to them that I was not the salesperson,” he shares.
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Jun decided to stay in Singapore because he felt that Singapore is more suitable for family life compared to Korea. His wife also obtained citizenship in Singapore and they now raise two children here.

From rentals to luxury properties

A significant part of Jun’s clientele are South Koreans who are looking to rent or buy property in Singapore, although he also serves other overseas clients and Singaporeans.
Based on data from South Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the Korean community in Singapore numbers at around 21,406 as of 2019. Jun estimates that it has risen to around 25,000 today, even though he reckons that some have left Singapore due to failed businesses.
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“When I first started out in 2005, Koreans seldom bought properties in Singapore. They were mostly expatriates who thought relatively short-term — up to three to four years at most,” he says. “Now, new expats ask about property prices and are concerned about long-term investment gains.”
Robertson Quay - EDGEPROP SINGAPORE
Robertson Quay is one of the popular areas where the Korean community likes to live in (Photo: Samuel Isaac Chua/The Edge Singapore)
Citing the expansion of South Korean pharmaceutical company Celltrion Healthcare in Singapore as an example, Jun believes that with more Korean companies entering and expanding in Singapore, the number of Korean expats is on the increase. Celltrion Healthcare acquired assets in Singapore in November last year to strengthen its R&D capability in the global small-molecule pharmaceutical business.
Hence, Jun has been moving his focus to serve Koreans who seek to purchase property in Singapore. “I never used to take part in new project launches, but now I do. I joined the launches of Clavon, Ki Residences and Normanton Park recently,” he says. These projects were launched in 4Q2020. Jun is also familiar with properties in Johor Bahru and Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia, having marketed several of these projects in the past.
As to whether the Korean community has a preference for certain areas in Singapore, Jun says that there is no specific cluster or enclave. Rather, Koreans are practical and seek out homes with squarish layouts that are near amenities.
“Traditionally, Koreans liked the Bukit Timah and Upper Bukit Timah areas,” he observes. This is because the Singapore International Korean School and shopping centres are located in the area, he adds. Recently, the preference is for proximity to MRT stations, shopping centres or even an established Korean church, like Korean Church in Singapore at Bukit Panjang. “Many also like the Bishan, Novena and River Valley areas,” he adds.
Besides the Korean schools, locations near other international schools, such as Canadian International School, Stamford American International School, German European School Singapore and United World College of South East Asia, are also popular with Korean families, notes Jun.
The profile of South Korean expats in Singapore has also changed, says Jun.
In the previous generation, most of the Korean expats came with their families, so their focus was on finding a place near schools and within the budget given by the company. But in recent years, the Korean expats are younger, more international in their outlook and more open to consider buying as well as renting, notes Jun.
“While the prime districts in the Core Central Region is preferred, they are also open to consider the Rest of Central Region or Outside Central Region, and willing to consider leasehold properties too,” adds Jun.
Meanwhile, more wealthy Korean nationals are also considering buying property in Singapore and elsewhere in Southeast Asia, he adds. This is because in South Korea, the inheritance tax on bequeathed properties can be as high as 50%.
This could be why there has been an increased demand for commercial shophouses in Singapore among Korean buyers recently. There is no need for them to pay additional buyer’s stamp duty too. “Those under $5 million are palatable to Koreans residing in Singapore,” says Jun.
He also notes a demand for bigger spaces. “After the circuit breaker, I received requests for larger spaces. Even if it is within the same condominium, clients now want to terminate their lease of a two-bedder, for example, to rent a three-bedder instead. Balconies are also getting popular,” he adds.
Jun now manages a team of property agents called First Division, of which two are Korean nationals. One of them specialises in the commercial market, such as F&B rentals at Tanjong Pagar where there are many Korean restaurants.

Practical tips

As a property agent, Jun believes that customer service is about having empathy for customers. “I try to avoid door knocking or cold calling as a way of prospecting, as I think the recipient doesn’t appreciate being approached that way,” he says.
Jun Kang ERA Realty Network - EDGEPROP SINGAPORE
Jun is one of the few property agents in ERA who can speak Korean (Photo: Samuel Isaac Chua/The Edge Singapore)
“My clients are always long-term clients. When I sell a property to someone, I always visualise that he will introduce 20 to 30 customers after him,” he shares.
Jun is one of the few property agents in ERA who can speak Korean, his native language. “I receive a lot of referrals from Korean expats and residents,” he adds.
For expats who are married, it is ideal that the wife is happy with the property too. “In my experience, if the wife cannot accept the house, the tenant or buyer may regret his decision,” he says. “So I always encourage buyers to use video-calls to show the house to family members to get everyone’s buy-in, even if they are not in Singapore yet.”
Jun also posts practical home tips through a KakaoTalk chat group, which his customers or prospective buyers and renters can follow. KakaoTalk is a widely used messenger app in South Korea. “I post useful information such as how to take good care of appliances. For example, if an oven is not in use for a long time, it will cause power-tripping. Providing such useful information also allows me to build relationships with homeowners,” says Jun.
Now, Jun has started writing a book for Koreans who are looking to rent or purchase property in Singapore, which he intends to publish in two years’ time. “I hope to help Koreans in Singapore with my knowledge and expertise as I understand their needs,” says Jun.