In this new digital economy, middlemen are being reduced or completely bypassed, and technology is making it easier for producers/sellers and customers/buyers to deal directly with each other. The property market is no exception. In a previous article, I argued that unless property agents demonstrate value to their clients, their services will be more and more debased as technology makes transactions easier, more transparent, and so “boilerplate” that it’s possible for two parties to DIY the transaction. With Ohmyhome, this DIY route is made more feasible, and is completely free.

Ohmyhome provides a platform for sellers and buyers, landlords and tenants to transact directly with each other for their HDB flats. If they require help with paperwork or prefer the full agent services, they can choose from either a $1,688 or $2,888 package (a la carte paperwork assistance is also available), which is significantly lower than the current 1%-2% commission typically paid in a HDB resale transaction. For rentals, the cost starts at $99 and maxes out at $988.

How much can I save?

A “typical” HDB transaction results in the following commissions – 1% for buying agents and 2% for selling agents. For a $450,000 HDB flat, this is $9000 paid by the seller and $4500 paid by the buyer. If you feel uncomfortable with handling the transaction yourself, you can still save money using Ohmyhome’s full service agents for a flat fee of $2888. They will do all the things that a property agent is expected to do, such as meet up with you, advertise your property, arrange viewings, negotiate on your behalf, prepare documents, and attend the HDB appointments. If you want to arrange your own viewings and negotiate yourself, you pay just $1688 for document services.   

 

Do you need an agent?

Many people are unaware that on the HDB website, it states you don’t actually need an agent to buy or sell your HDB. In fact, HDB guides you through the process in this article. The vast majority of people have used agents because of the following:

  1. This is the only way they know how it’s done and they are unaware of the DIY route.
  2. They don’t have the time.
  3. They don’t have the know-how.
  4. They want a certain level of assurance that an agent might bring.
  5. They feel an agent might help them fetch a better price.

These are all very valid reasons. And for most people, I think agents still can play a vital role. However, many people are dismayed by the following:

  1. They believe property agents are overpaid, considering the amount and type of work they do.
  2. They also believe their fees are not so transparent.
  3. They feel property agents don’t have their best interest in mind or they have conflicts of interest that can harm them.
  4. They realise that even property agents have gaps in their knowledge, experience, and expertise.

My experience with DIY property transactions

I have owned overseas properties which I transacted on my own many, many years ago way before smartphones or apps were even a thing. How? I did it the old-fashioned way. I took some classes, read some books, and (like Nike) just did it. Was it time-consuming? Yes, it took a couple months for the classes and test but I saved tens of thousands of dollars which was more than my salary at that time. Was it hard? Not really. There are many other occupations which require more skills that aren’t nearly as lucrative. In the real estate industry, there are some rare instances where transactions can be very complicated or result in out-of-the-box situations, but these don’t happen often and in my case, I was only dealing with my own properties. Thankfully in Singapore, HDB transactions are more straight-forward than overseas property transactions, and you don’t have to have a license, take a test, or even take classes; you do however need to familiarise yourself with the process and there are plenty of sites and books that can help you with that.

My experience engaging Singapore property agents

I’m currently renting (waiting patiently for a market correction; for more details on why I choose to rent, see this article). Because of this, I’ve had to deal with quite a few property agents, and while I’m currently very happy and grateful for my living situation, I’ve had quite a number of bad property agent experiences. I’ve had agents lie to me by telling me a unit was unavailable simply because the listing agent did not offer a favourable co-broking fee. I’ve had agents take days to return phone calls or SMS messages. I’ve had agents conveniently forget to mention important things about the property, like the air-con unit not functioning which was only revealed after the lease was signed. I’ve caught many errors in their contracts. One time, when pointing out a specific error, the agent confessed that she had never actually read parts of the contract before. But perhaps the worst thing is that many agents don’t put their client’s interest first. Because they are incentivised to make transactions, some will just as easily steer you away from a property (instead of promoting it), or feed into a seller’s/buyer’s delusions of what the property is worth, since it is in their best interest to make a sale rather than to sell your specific property.

My experience with Ohmyhome

Ohmyhome has far fewer listings than Propertyguru, but because a homeowner/landlord can list for free, the number of listings have been steadily increasing since Ohmyhome’s launch just a few months ago. I have browsed their listings, and as a potential HDB buyer, I find their service appealing since I know I won’t have to pay commission to a buyer’s agent. I also know that since the sellers are saving on commission fees, they might be more amenable to negotiating a lower price. In my limited experience with their app, I was able to get a quick response from a seller to an inquiry, and arrange for a potential viewing. Compare that to a listing I found on Propertyguru which has taken more than 2 weeks to correspond and arrange for a viewing, due to the agent and seller at various times taking leave.

Final thoughts

There was a time when information asymmetry granted certain people and certain professions special privileges (better salary, better living conditions, etc.). Technology has in many ways equalised more and more groups of people, knocking down those at the top and raising up those at the bottom. Today, you can find the prices of HDB resale transactions as well as a whole host of information that was previously only known to those in control of such information. While there are certain aspects that automation and technology cannot currently replace, property agents who think that being an honest competent agent is enough and don’t continually explore ways to deliver more value to their clients are headed for some tough times.

 

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