[update] OrangeTee banks on agent review platform, diversification, overseas tie-ups

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/ EdgeProp Singapore
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December 18, 2020 8:00 AM SGT
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SINGAPORE (EDGEPROP) - Whether it’s ordering meal deliveries, booking cleaning services, or buying gifts and staycation packages, Covid-19 has made online shopping part of our everyday lives, if it wasn’t already. Consumer reviews and ratings contribute a major part of a shopper’s decision-making. In fact, 88% of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations, according to a study by Invesp, an e-commerce conversion optimiser software provider.
The Council for Estate Agencies (CEA) therefore launched a new Best Practices Guide for Consumer Ratings of Property Agents on Oct 21. Its objective is to standardise the ratings of property agents across all agencies’ platforms, and to build trust among users of these platforms.
Having common standards will allow consumers to better compare the ratings of property agents across various platforms. The ratings will be based on attributes such as level of service, professionalism and skills.
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STEVEN-TAN - EDGEPROP SINGAPORE
Tan: We want to transform our agents into investment advisers, who are backed by solid track record, based on reviews given by many customers (Photo: Samuel Isaac Chua/EdgeProp Singapore)
“A consumer review system is an effective way for the real estate industry to self-regulate,” says Steven Tan, managing director of OrangeTee & Tie. He announced on Nov 25 that the agency’s Property Agent Review (PAR) platform has fully complied with CEA’s guide.
“Why were we able to do it so quickly? When CEA implemented their guidelines, they took most of the framework — more than 90% — from us,” says Tan. “This is because we were the first to launch the PAR platform in 2016. So we just needed to make minor modifications in order to comply 100% with the new guidelines.”
In the past, OrangeTee & Tie’s PAR platform showed only the ratings based on the number of stars an agent had. Under CEA’s new guide, it will now show the scores given and the average tally. Previously, consumers could view reviews and ratings for an agent over the past 1½ years, but the firm’s PAR platform now shows reviews for the past two years, as required by CEA. The reviews and ratings over two years will give consumers a better gauge of the agent’s track record, says Tan.
“Consumers are used to the review system,” adds Tan. “I shop online quite often too. If the first review shows just one star, I will look at the other reviews. If the next 15 to 20 reviews are three to four stars, then the conclusion is that the service is more likely to be in the three- to four-star range.”
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Since the announcement of the new review platform, OrangeTee & Tie has seen a surge in traffic from an average of 150 unique visitors a day to 650–700 a day, based on data from Google analytics, says Tan.

From agents to ‘investment advisers’

There are now more than 28,000 reviews on OrangeTee & Tie’s PAR platform. These reviews are from actual clients who have transacted properties that were brokered by agents from OrangeTee & Tie. The client’s identification is screened and verified. The link for the customer review and rating is sent directly by the agent to the customer, via WhatsApp or email. The response is sent directly to the OrangeTee & Tie platform. Therefore, the agent is not privy to his client’s review until after it has been posted. And the agent will not be allowed to edit it, adds Tan.
However, CEA allows amendments to be made by the client in instances where there may have been a dispute that was subsequently resolved. If the client wants to change his review of the agent, he may do so by contacting the agency.
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Beyond service, professionalism and skills, OrangeTee & Tie’s PAR platform also includes two other attributes: trustworthiness and responsiveness, says Tan.
“We want to transform our agents into investment advisers, who are backed by solid track record, based on reviews given by many customers,” he adds. “I hope that this will be a common market practice one day.”
Besides OrangeTee & Tie, two other leading agencies have also committed to adopting CEA’s guide, namely ERA Realty Network and Huttons Asia.
OrangeTee & Tie is currently the third largest real estate agency by sales force. It is the result of a merger of the real estate agencies of OrangeTee and Edmund Tie in August 2017, just two months after PropNex announced its merger with DWG.
In September 2018, ERA acquired CBRE’s real estate agency, CBRE Realty, followed by HSR International. Meanwhile, this September saw the agency arm of Savills Singapore, Savills Residential, merging with Huttons Asia.
Tan does not foresee any further significant mergers and acquisitions as most of the mid-sized companies have merged. “We are close to the end of the consolidation phase,” he says. “Even if there was, it wouldn’t be significant.”
The four biggest real estate agencies by sales force, namely PropNex, ERA, OrangeTee & Tie and Huttons, already have at least 3,000 agents each. The fifth biggest, SRI, has close to 1,000 agents to date.

Diversification, potential listing

In addition to sales force, technology is another key differentiation point, evident during the 2½-month “circuit breaker” period, when most property marketing and sales activities had to move online, notes Tan. He is optimistic about the prospects of the residential market next year, especially following the Dec 14 announcement about the Phase Three reopening of the Singapore economy and the Covid-19 vaccines for all Singapore citizens and long-term residents.
Next May will see Singapore play host to the World Economic Forum, which is a big boost for the city-state, says Tan.
The Economic Development Board’s (EBD) initiative to issue the Tech.Pass visa to attract founders, leaders and technical experts in established or fast-growing tech companies to Singapore is timely too, notes Tan. “This will also attract other tech companies — both big and small — to move to Singapore, especially if they are part of the ecosystem or supply chain,” he adds.
OrangeTee’s plans for an IPO were derailed by Covid, but Tan hopes to revive them next year. “Being a listed company helps our future growth and facilitates our expansion into different businesses,” says Tan.
He believes the firm’s business model “is quite different and more diversified” compared to APAC Realty and PropNex, which are both listed on the Singapore Exchange, and predominantly focused on the Singapore residential market.
While OrangeTee & Tie is also involved in residential sales, OrangeTee Advisory business is focused on investment sales and capital market deals, such as collective sales and other big-ticket property transactions. According to Tan, OrangeTee Advisory is one of the group’s three main revenue contributors.
For sure, capital market deals this year have been affected by Covid-19, but Tan is confident that once travel restrictions are lifted and borders reopen, cross-border deals will return.

Overseas presence, partnerships

OrangeTee has a presence in Japan too, through its alliance with Tokyu Livable. In fact, Tokyu Livable became a cornerstone investor when it took a 22.5% stake in OT Group (formerly OrangeTee Holdings)in 2014. Tokyu Livable is a real estate agency in Japan, and is under Tokyu Fudosan Holdings, together with Tokyu Land Corp and Tokyu Community Corp. They are, collectively, the real estate business of giant conglomerate Tokyu Group.
Besides Tokyu Livable, another significant stakeholder in OT Group is private property fund Vogue Capital Group. Tan himself is one of the single largest individual shareholders in the company. He had joined OrangeTee Holdings in 2000 and acquired shares in the company following a management buyout a year later. OrangeTee Holdings was rebranded OT Group in December 2019.
The original co-founders had named the firm OrangeTee as orange is an unusual colour, relates Tan. And “tee” refers to the golf tee on which the ball is placed before it is first struck; it symbolises “helping their clients go the distance in their deals, and establishing far-reaching relationships”, he adds. “They were avid golfers.”
August this year marked another landmark partnership for OrangeTee & Tie: this time, with Chinese proptech and property agency, Juwai IQI. The two firms now boast a combined total of 15,000 property agents with a presence across Asia, Australia, Canada and the Middle East. According to Tan, the partnership has given OrangeTee & Tie greater access into China and Southeast Asia.
“This year has been challenging because of the travel restrictions and border closings,” says Tan. “If not for the Covid-19 pandemic, there would have been more foreign investors shopping for assets, as Singapore remains their favourite investment destination."

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