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Saturday, May 9, 2009

Sharpening realtors skills

DESPERATE times call for creative measures and as the country’s property sector has softened somewhat, it has become more challenging to close sales as realtors are increasingly rethinking how to do things differently.

For real estate agency Reapfield Properties Sdn Bhd, the current downturn serves as a good opportunity to train its agency force, senior vice-president Gerard Kho said.

From left: Reapfield Properties director Ronnie Fernandez, president David Ong, senior vicepresident Gerard Kho and director Roland Low at the company’s Annual Business Conference on Mar 26, 2009.

“This is the best time to do it because our agents will not be so bogged down with transactions. It is a great opportunity to sharpen our axes and be well prepared when the market picks up,” he said at the company’s recent Annual Business Conference.

Kho said one of Reapfield’s prime focus was to train its agents to better interact with its clients.

“We’re encouraging our agents to learn how to speak to clients in the right way and to portray themselves in the right manner to achieve the optimal customer experience. With the market now, we can’t just be good enough – we have to be excellent in what we do.

“We also need to teach our people to address the present concerns of buyers. If they are not well trained, they would not be able to pass on the message that now is actually a good time to invest in property, given the lower interest rates,” he said.

Kho also said Reapfield would be focusing on developing its relationship with its existing clients.

“In times like this it’s hard to get new customers. It is more important to look back at our old clients. In the last five years we’ve served over 30,000 clients. That’s 30,000 people that we have already and that we can work with right now. We cannot look for new people if we cannot take care of the clients whom we have transacted with,” he said.

Kho also said Reapfield would be incorporating new technological tools to allow its agents to track its exciting clients better.

“We want to lift the industry up to a very high standard so that people will be able to trust us and have the confidence to invest in property and be able to off-load it as well,” he said.

Reapfield currently has about 500 agents and over 30 offices in Malaysia. About 90% of its business is in the secondary market focused within the Klang Valley area.

Reapfield director Roland Low noted that there has been a slowdown in transactions since the last quarter of 2008 and first two months of this year. However, he attributed the slowdown to buyers being more cautious with their spending.

“It is because of the adverse news we’ve been seeing and reading everyday. But having said that the market is still active. We are still seeing a lot of activities in a lot of areas within the residential sector.

“There is a lot of focus on high-end areas like KLCC and Mont Kiara where you hear observers say that transactions have dropped,” Low said, adding that there were still a reasonable number of transactions for properties in prime areas like Bandar Utama, Subang Jaya, Damansara Heights, Bangsar and Taman Tun Dr Ismail.

PPC International Sdn Bhd executive director Thiruselvam Arumugam says the current downturn serves as a good time to ‘touch base’ with its existing and previous clients.

“We take the opportunity to get in touch with our clients now because during good times we hardly have time to do so,” he says, adding that his agents still had lots of work to do despite an economic slowdown.

“We are all still pretty busy. People still have money and are still buying. My office is near Sogo and I always see people with shopping bags,” he laughs.

Thiruselvam also says his agents were always subjected to ‘on-the-job’ training and constantly learning to stay ahead of the competition.

PPC International has offices in Kuala Lumpur, Shah Alam, Penang and Alor Star.

SK Brothers Realty Sdn Bhd general manager Chan Ai Cheng says when there is an economic downturn, everyone just needs to work harder.

“Now would be a good time to focus on our strengths and focus on what we are good at. We need to improve our service quality because we cannot compromise on quality, especially during a downturn.

“Both buyers and sellers will need more assistance and we need to be more patient and help them to close sales.”

Chan says it was also hiring more people and plans to penetrate new markets this year.

“We are very Klang Valley-based and want to explore more outstation transactions,” she says, adding that it had regular training programmes for its people. “Training has always been our forte. We have half an hour training sessions everyday.”

By The Star (by Eugene Mahalingam)

Developers must know what buyers want when they return

WITH competition in the property industry set to intensify again once the economy and demand for property starts to recover in the next few months, developers need to get their act together and look for more ingenuous ways to serve buyers better.

Instead of just going ahead to unload their products in the market, they should do some serious “soul searching” and find out what exactly property buyers are looking for and what they can do to meet those needs.

After a pretty dull market for almost a year since the impact of the global financial crisis hit the country’s shores, injuring the confidence level, there have been very few project launches as developers “rolled up their sleeves” and deferred many of their projects to minimise their financial exposure.

Developers should be commended for this decisive move that prevented a flood in property products at a time when demand has simply evaporated. This has contributed towards stabilising property prices compared with the “free fall” experienced in many markets.

The deferment of projects resulted in a 72% plunge in total new housing launches in the third quarter last year to 4,966 units from 17,975 units in the first quarter of 2008. This has helped address the demand-supply imbalance over time and stabilised prices.

While the mass market is holding out quite well with positive response to the various housing packages from developers, the take-up for high-end property products such as bungalows and luxury condominiums is still soft. By deferring their projects, developers are also able to conserve their cashflow and keep themselves afloat during the unprecedented economic crunch that started in the United States early last year.

With some positive signs that are being widely read as early signals that the global economy may be bottoming out and will be bouncing back soon, industry players must be waiting eagerly to get back into the business of launching and building projects.

The recovery in the local stock market will generate some positive wealth effect. Confidence among the people is also expected to surge again as the effects of the Government’s stimulus packages start to kick in.

Having waited out so patiently for the market to stabilise before they move back with more confidence, developers should make good use of the current lull period to undertake an indepth study and research of the market as much have changed since the crisis.

For the good of property buyers and the developers themselves, industry players have to get to the bottom of things on what really matters for buyers these days and in the coming days, and have in place the right products.

Retraining and upgrading the skills and competency of the staff to think out of the box and come out with product plans that are in sync with the market needs and better still products with the “Wow” effect to safeguard buyers, in terms of their welfare and investment returns, will be a good start.

Whether they are the big-time developers with strong financial backing or the smaller developers undertaking small-scale projects, developers should harness their strength and find every possible ways and means to further add value to buyers.

With newspapers swarming with news on fatal snatch thefts, bold daylight burglaries, car-jacking and other crimes, it is important that developers, town planners and the authorities, including local councils and the police, work closely to ensure our neighbourhoods, streets and homes will be safe and secure again.

There is much to be done to spruce up the living environment and make our residential and working places sanctuaries for personal comfort, safety, growth and development.

The concept of Safe Cities should not be just a marketing tool employed to promote projects but should actually be havens for wholesome family living.

● Deputy news editor Angie Ng believes that by planning holistically and making safety a key focus in all their projects, property industry players can be the first line of defence to weed out crime in neighbourhoods.

By The Star (by Angie Ng)

Valuers laud new guidelines

PROPERTY valuers and industry players are generally positive about the amendments on the asset valuation guidelines by the Securities Commission (SC) as announced yesterday.

However, there are concerns over the minimum requirement on the number of years of post-registration experience set on valuers that may halt the growth of the asset valuation industry.

Valuation firms making submissions for asset valuations for public-listed companies must now have at least one equity owner at head office with a minimum of seven years’ post-registration experience.

The firms must also not be issued with more than two sanctions by the SC and Bursa Malaysia in the past three years.

Association of Valuers and Property Consultants in Private Practice Malaysia president James Wong says: “While we appreciate SC’s requirements for higher standards of valuation submission, we want the commission to consider whether the amendments made will result in discrimination of the smaller firms, emerging firms and sole-proprietorships.

“We request that the minimum post-registration experience for equity owner be reduced from seven years to five years.

“We also recommend that firms which have no prior experience and track record but have external valuation experts to assist be given the opportunity to seek approval from SC to submit the valuation for the commission.”

DTZ Nawawi Tie Leung Property Consultants senior director Adzman Shah Mohd Ariffin says the move is good to ensure certain level of competence within the industry players but this will also restrict young valuers from being able to carry out asset valuations for the SC.

“With the new guidelines, it will not be easy for new and smaller firms to penetrate the market in asset valuation,” he tells StarBizweek. “This might have an impact on the growth and prospects of the profession.”

Ernest Cheong PTL Chartered Surveyors principal Dr Ernest Cheong says the amendments made is a good move to filter those who are under qualified and inexperienced valuers from undertaking assets valuation worth millions of ringgit for the SC.

“It is a good move but I think it is not stringent enough,” he says.

He opines that any valuer found to misbehave or has been issued a warning letter by the SC should be barred from submitting valuation to the commission for a three-year period after receiving its first sanction.

“If they repeat the same offence, the punishment should be doubled to six years instead. They should be barred for life should they be doing it for the third time,” says Cheong.

He says valuers undertaking asset valuation for the SC, which usually involve asset of public-listed companies, should exercise the utmost professionalism and integrity in view of public interest.

“We fully support the amendments made as this would help prevent property valuers from colluding with public-listed companies’ directors from intentionally over-valuing property assets.”

Under the new guidelines, property valuers carrying out valuations must possess minimum requirement of five years post-registration experience compared with three years previously.

Valuation firms are also required to have sufficient internal controls and procedures, including having an established peer review process and head office that oversees all its branches.

CH Williams Talhar & Wong Sdn Bhd managing director Goh Tian Sui says the stringent requirements imposed by the SC will tighten up the quality of reporting work on asset valuation.

“This is a process we have to go through to have a higher standard of reporting in Malaysia,” he says.

By The Star (by Shannen Wong)