Slump sees more than 2,000 property agents leave major firms

TODAY reports: Real estate agencies say they typically experience 10 to 15 per cent attrition at the start of the year, partly a result of agents switching companies. But this year, many have left the industry because of the current market slump.

SINGAPORE: The annual churn compounded by the sluggish property market has led to more than 2,000 property agents leaving major real estate agencies here in the first three months of the year, industry data showed. As of Apr 1, there were 23,947 agents, an 8 per cent drop from 26,014 towards the end of last year.

Earlier this week, the Ministry of Manpower’s latest labour market report showed that the number of people employed in the real estate services fell by 1,900 between January and March, compared with the fourth quarter of last year.

Mr Jeff Foo, president of the Institute of Estate Agents, said: “When the market is going through a lull period … it is only logical that some will seek temporary income-generating jobs or alternatives. Many have in fact left the industry because of poor income.”

The real estate agencies said they typically experience 10 to 15 per cent attrition at the start of the year, partly a result of agents switching companies. But this year, many have left the industry because of the current market slump, which has seen the number of launches hit a record low amid slow sales. Among them was Mr Brian Chan, 31, who decided to take a break to further his studies.

He said: “It used to be that we can close rentals very quickly and then things started slowing down and that process could go on for months. If that’s the case for rentals, it’s even worse for sales. It’s become very competitive because agents have to earn a living and there are so many agents around.”

ERA Realty Network, which is the largest agency here, had 5,866 agents on its books at the start of April, down from 6,132 towards the end of last year. Nevertheless, it has managed to bump up its numbers to above 6,000 this month, said ERA key executive officer Eugene Lim.

Mr Lim said having a larger team of agents would help put the company in a better position to pitch for marketing assignments with developers. The firm has also ventured into new business areas by starting a commercial sales and leasing team as well as an auction department, he added.

Bucking the trend among the major agencies was Savills Residential, which registered a rise in the number of agents from 739 to 781 over the first quarter. It has increased its strength further to almost 800 now. Mr George Tan, senior director and head of Savills Associates, attributed the increase to the firm’s initiatives, such as conducting training for its agents, providing ample project marketing activities and good administrative support. The agency also expanded its management team to deepen its expertise in the industry.

Industry players also blamed in part the slowdown of the residential property market for the construction industry’s fall in employment by 3,600 in the first three months of the year from the fourth quarter of 2014.

Nevertheless, Dr Ho Ngok Yong, president of the Singapore Contractors Association, said there were more infrastructure projects up for grabs.

The Building and Construction Authority said earlier this year that construction contracts are expected to reach a value of between S$29 billion and S$36 billion this year. The previous year saw the public and private sectors dishing out deals amounting to a record S$37.7 billion.

Dr Ho said: “We do see a slowdown in housing projects, but at the same time, we also have more civil-engineering projects for airport, sea ports, roads, MRT, so these help to balance things. I think the drop in employment is probably cyclical – it’s a small number when you look at the size of the whole industry.”

He added that the Government’s push for greater use of machinery and manpower restrictions could also have contributed to the decline.

Construction companies that TODAY contacted said there is still a high demand for skilled employees.

Mr Rajan Krishnan, CEO of KTC Group, said: “There are sufficient projects out there, but civil-engineering projects are labour intensive. We try to adapt to the situation by using more machinery, for example, but machines have limits, so there’s always demand for people with the right experience.”