Property agents face prospect of tech takeover

Singapore FIRST it was sagging sales. But even as the property market now shows tentative signs of bottoming out, the shrinking industry of real estate agents looks set for even more pummelling as property listing firms across the board automate parts of the transaction process. Hit by a languid market, the number of licensed property agents has fallen from 31,800 three years ago to fewer than 28,400 in January 2017. And increasingly those still in the market may find themselves being edged out by technology - with both established listing platforms and newer startups using it to augment their services. Established players such as SRX Property, PropertyGuru, and 99.co tell The Business Times that agents will not become redundant, even as more of their work gets automated. The technologies employed will generally complement and augment the agents' services, they say. But startups - including Ohmyhome, HugProperty, and Averspace, all about a year old - feature innovations that could potentially cut out the middleman entirely. PropertyGuru, for instance, is developing four technologies for property buying and selling - artificial intelligence, virtual reality, drone technology, and a tracking function called ePropertyTrack. ePropertyTrack is one example of a service that complements the role of the property agent. It is a real-time project sales and marketing platform that makes it easier for the buyer to interact with the agent. PropertyGuru said that it has recently added improved functions to let agents track their leads in real time, which helps them better market properties. SRX's platform also has technologically augmented features, such as virtual tours, price analysis services, as well as property trackers, and 99.co says it uses Big Data and data analytics to make information more transparent on its portal. These firms emphasise the role of the agent in the transaction process, with 99.co CEO Darius Cheung declaring that agents are "absolutely essentia