When the Singapore government introduced the circuit-breaker measures on 3rd April – I remembered feeling bewildered and taken by surprise. There were signs of a lockdown being imminent but when it was imposed with just 3 days notice – that really knocked the wind out of my momentum for my real estate business.
There is no denying alot of people are affected and real estate agents are just another casualty of this pandemic.
So here was the immediate rulings laid down by the government:
- Showflat galleries that were to remain open until 6 April (one day before circuit breaker began) had to immediately comply with safety distancing measures.
- Developers were strictly not allowed to conduct any physical viewings and had to close their showflat galleries.
- All promotions and marketing activities had to be done virtually.
- Home buyers could still purchase property, but no physical interaction was allowed.
That was the most challenging part – selling a property but without being physically present.
We are used to buying many things online.
But can we actually buy a property online?
This was the new frontier.
The idea of virtual viewings has been around for a long time especially when dealing with overseas buyers. But would Singaporean buyers be influenced to buy a property – without physically touching and walking around the space?
Catch Up Or Be Left Behind
We know the anxiety from our sellers who are concerned about the circuit breaker and how it affected potential viewing sessions.
So on our end – we kept them updated that virtual viewings through Zoom can be the next option.
But this being the first month of circuit breaker – sellers believed that buyers would not be ready to make a decision without physically inspecting the unit itself.
Sellers believed that the first month of circuit breaker would pass by very fast and normal physical viewings could resume next.
That was until the announcement that the circuit breaker will be extended till 1st June.
This extension was announced on 21 April.
On 23rd April – I sent a message to my sellers below:
With the full cooperation of the sellers, we arranged virtual viewings via Zoom and negotiated with the buyers through phone calls and WhatsApp.
We coached the sellers how to do the virtual walkthrough for the benefit of potential buyers:
We created simple videos to highlight the units:
Successful Closing Without Physical Viewings
After all the coordination, negotiation and virtual viewings from the comfort of home – we managed to secure offers for both a private property and a HDB listing we had.
All this was done without even stepping out of the door.
I arranged a courier to pick up and send the documents to be signed by the sellers and delivered to the buyers.
For the Arc – the option was issued on 2 June 2020 which was just the end of the circuit breaker period. But physical viewings were still not allowed.
For the Fernvale HDB unit – the option was issued on the 10 June 2020. This was in Phase 1 – no viewings were allowed yet in this case.
This 2 cases confirmed to me that selling properties without meeting the buyer and physical viewings are indeed very possible and not too difficult to do.
Yes – it is slightly more troublesome. But overcoming challenges and working with constraints is what good agents will do.
With the power of technology and great communication, support and buy-in from the sellers – nothing is impossible.
With a lot of people being stuck at home – there was a greater chance of capturing their attention and diverting it towards our listings.
Phase 2 Started on 19 June
Phase 2 was the period when we property agents finally could step outside of our homes to meet clients.
Physical viewings were allowed to resume on 19 June and I managed to secure a buyer for one of my listings – the very next day.
This was partly due to some intense marketing efforts in May and June.
Likewise – this seller was also cooperative and helpful. Despite having young kids at home, the sellers took the time and effort to pack up their place very neatly.
They also helped to create a video clip to showcase the interior of their home which was sent to potential buyers which was helpful in their decision-making process.
For the buyer – the physical viewing merely confirmed their decision which resulted in them giving an offer – on the 19th June itself.
What was remarkable was the buyer didn’t negotiate and immediately matched the listing price.
(OTP was granted on 20th June)
In fact – we had to turn down 8 potential buyers who wanted to view the unit the next day.
Disrupted Habits Resulted In Behaviour Changes
The circuit breaker was a partial lockdown which broke the pattern of typical behaviours from buyers and sellers.
To be honest – it actually changed the behaviour for the better. It actually broke a lot of bad habits or behaviours.
Here are some of the interesting behaviour we noticed:
- Potential buyers were more serious
- Sellers really took the effort to make their property look good
- Negotiations were done in good faith and was earnest.
- There was no low-balling as buyers wanted to present very serious offers.
The fact that you need to:
- put on a mask,
- check your temperature,
- do a Safe-Entry check-in and
- avoid all unnecessary interactions
has actually resulted people being careful and calculated in their moves. The 80/20 principle comes into effect.
80% of the “browsers” no longer turn up while the 20% of the serious buyers are not afraid to offer their best price.
It means lesser competition and a much smoother negotiation process. Win-win for all parties involved.
New Emerging Buying Pattern
On my end, I am anticipating that a new buying pattern happening. As buyers are confined to being home – the use of technology will become important.
We have invested in a 360 camera to setup virtual viewings – so anyone interested to view a property can do it from the comfort of their home.
Example of 360 video:
So by the time they actually physically view the home – they are highly likely of in the moment of being ready to buy.
Being in the real estate business for the past 14 years – I understand that buying decisions are triggered by investments in time, energy and ATTENTION.
By making all these preparations beforehand, this ensures success in closing is not by chance.
Low Interest Rates & Historic Stimulus Measures
At the micro-level in my day-to-day interactions – perhaps the impact of the coronavirus has not been truly felt.
This is partly due to the historic stimulus measures by governments all over the world to ensure the economy does not come to a standstill.
With various measures coming in to make sure businesses can continue to pay wages to their employees – it also has meant interest rates has dropped to allow businesses to borrow at cheap interest rates.
At the macro-level – this means inflation being more likely than ever. This means we should not ignore the fact that fixed deposits, at current interest rates, a risk in its own right. It will not preserve capital.
This reinforces an argument for diversification and hedging against inflation through property.
It’s difficult — if not impossible — to determine the long-term effects of the coronavirus lockdown on our economy, and we’re all feeling a loss of control over this lingering uncertainty.
So, let’s take some uncertainty off the table.
“What can I do to ensure my long-term financial health and well-being?
How can I apply those lessons to my family and my company?
How I can keep at bay the dangers lurking behind the door?”
My personal preference is always a diversified investment portfolio. I have investments in shares, bonds and gold.
I currently now own a HDB flat after I sold my condo investment 2 years back.
I can tell you this though – I am seriously considering investing in another private property soon because of the very attractive low interest rates.
I feel that diversification is the best long-term investment solution for majority of people out there – but this is a very personal decision based on how we feel about living with risk.
If you’re ready to buy a property but are holding off until Covid-19 is behind us, you may miss opportunities.
There are people who do try to time the bottom of the market, but that’s really hard to do. By the time you make a decision – the property prices and markets might have recovered to a new high.
This is not sales talk – but merely my observations of the property market from 14 years of experience.