Commentary 5 Hard Truths About Being A Property Agent In Singapore No One Tells You
- August 1, 2022
- 11 min read
Everyone has an agent friend whom they’ve known from secondary school/army and is now seemingly leading a glamorous life.
It’s almost a parody by now that a successful agent will be driving a BMW/Mercs/Audi, along with the regular social media postings about monthly awards and daily closings.
And of course, who can forget about the cliche photos of the luxury watch captured over the car steering wheel (you just can’t miss out on the brand), and an overused caption like:
“There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work, and learning from failure.“
But here’s the truth.
Being a property agent is not a bed of roses like what social media seems to portray.
As someone who’s worked with both sides of the equation, I can tell you that things are not what they seem on the surface.
For the majority of agents out there, life as a property agent is not an easy one.
So if you are considering real estate as a career (or just think that agents are all earning too much), I’ve decided to pen a piece today on the harsh realities of being a property agent in Singapore.
Table Of Contents
1. Not every agent is earning enough money to spray champagne in the club
It’s always easy to see the attention-grabbing headlines of agents making 6-7 figure incomes in a year (some even in a month). But the truth is that there are many others that are struggling that you just don’t hear about.
It’s the same as what you see in football. It’s natural to assume that all footballers are rich because of all the news of their million-dollar contracts posted online. But in actual fact, there are many, many other footballers in the lower leagues who are barely scraping by.
The reality is, that most agents really are not making such stratospheric amounts.
Let’s do some simple math.
In 2021, there was a total of $76.4 billion in residential sales (and mind you, this was a good year). Take away en-bloc sales for the year and you’ll arrive at $75.2 billion.
To be even more accurate, let’s divide the sales by the type (new launch and resale) so that we can account for a higher commission for new launch properties.
I’ll assume an average of 2.5% commission for a new launch, and 1% for resale transactions.
And so if we go by that, the total commissions would be $1.147 billion.
While that sounds like a boat load of cash, let’s divide that by the number of agents to see what we get.
According to CEA, as of Jan 2022, there was a total of 30,399 agents. Split that $1.147 billion and you get to $37,731 yearly salary per agent.
That’s hardly enough, is it?
Okay but we know that not every agent is active, so perhaps that’s not very accurate. According to a recent BT article on active agents, it was suggested that the number of active agents could be as low as 9%.
But let’s try a more generous approach here, and go with the 80/20 rule – so I’ll assume just 20% of agents are active.
Divide $1.147 billion with 6,080 agents and you get $188k per annum per agent.
Sure, that now sounds like a very attractive figure. (But let’s not forget that you still have to account for a lot of costs, which is in point 4).
So yes, while attractive, it’s hardly a salary that allows one to buy a luxury sports car and have a rotation of APs and Rolex’s either.
And remember, the figure is likely to be a lot lower as the numbers will be very skewed by the top earners.
Judging by the figures released by ERA Realty Network where the median gross monthly commission earned by their top 300 property agents reached $11,686 in 2015 – our figure of $188k is definitely quite an optimistic one.
(Let’s also not forget that 10% will be taken off to pay the property agency).
2. You are on your own
Being a real estate agent is one of those jobs where you get what you put into it. Sure, there are those agents that can coast by due to the connections that they’ve built in their previous careers, but by and large, it can be a very lonely job as it is a cut-throat industry.
There are, of course, teams out there with team leaders that try to foster some camaraderie but that’s few and far between.
You’re more likely hear of cases of backstabbing and fighting between agents for clients.
Don’t be surprised if an agent is really friendly with you on the surface, but tried to undercut a deal with a client behind your back.
After all, when it comes to money, anything goes.
3. No longer a 9 to 5 life
There’s always a perception of those who set out to be their own boss. Now, you don’t have to listen to anyone but yourself, it’s an own-time-own target life, and you control when you work. Right?
If you want to achieve results, you’ll be working nonstop – 7 days a week.
It’s hard to scale an agent’s business as you are literally the face of it. Your clients want you to be representing them, and you can’t really get away with hired help as that’s what clients engage you for.
During the days of the week, you can sometimes be inundated with paperwork, team meetings, marketing endeavours, prospecting, and negotiating on offers. After working hours it’s for viewings and showing clients around.
Weekends? They are your bread and butter, and that’s when an agent is their busiest. Naturally, this is the time when your clients are the most available, so you’d have to work around their free time, not yours.
The same thing goes with public holidays, you basically have none. Your clients need you when they need you, and as much as you’d want to be in control of your working hours, it’s just not possible.
Answering calls, replying to emails or WhatsApp is another whole job on its own. You can’t exactly delegate replies to a chatbot, and replying quickly is something that clients expect. Dinner with friends/family is sometimes possible, except beyond bites of food you are practically glued to your phone.
Which is why for those who want to become a property agent because get to be your own boss and work flexible hours, sure, you can do that.
But if you treat it as such like a side job, you’d be paid like one too.
4. Income can be very inconsistent, cash flow is tough
This is a big but very underrated point. Many agents forget that real estate is really like running your own business. And do you know the number 1 reason why businesses fail?
Cash flow issues. (In fact, 82% of the time cash is the main reason).
Think about it.
Unlike other jobs, if you want to earn more than a decent amount as an agent you will need money to fund operations. Marketing is a huge cost today, and unless you have a wide network from previous careers, it’s an expense that you have to pay for to prospect for new clients.
This can vary, but in a nutshell, you have flyers, FB/IG/TikTok/Google/YouTube ads (which are getting uncontrollably expensive due to demand), classifieds (if you sell landed homes), property portal advertising costs, video marketing, and social media campaigns.
Some agents can spend more than $10k a month on various marketing channels, and if you aren’t careful with your expenses this becomes detrimental (just like any business)
There are also running costs like handphone bills, petrol, and transport-related costs to think about.
Of course, there are others too (like insurance and health care), but for the sake of keeping this brief, I hope you get the idea.
But the real problem here is that you don’t have a steady paycheck. Many people discount that the money comes in very erratically for agents.
You could close 2 or 3 deals in one month and feel on top of the world, but not close anything for the next few.
With things like the December 2021 cooling measures that are out of your control, some agents may have faced the first quarter of 2022 with zero sales. If you have a mortgage, a kid’s education to save up for, and car loans to fund – this can be incredibly stressful. (Hence why as an agent, you have to be prudent and not assume that you will be making hay every day).
For example, for resale properties, the commission can come in 3-6 months later. For new launches, this can be 6 months to 12 months. In some cases, it can even be up to a year later.
Can you imagine getting your salary only a whole year later? How do you possibly plan for your own life and expenses?
5. Hard work and being sincere doesn’t always result in a reward
I suppose some may describe this point as a two-way street, but some newer agents may be surprised at how people can just drop you like a hot potato.
Sometimes even if you’ve genuinely tried your best to educate your client and do the right thing for months on end, some clients can just leave you in the cold for another agent that offers a kickback on the commissions.
Even if it’s months of work of showing them around on weekends, doing the numbers and analysis, it seems that many people don’t value that today. You can do everything right and put a ton of effort in, but if people are offered a way to save – they will often take it.
Many people don’t consider the amount of time that’s put into each home searching process.
For example, I’ve heard of some cases where the agent has been serving their client to look for a home for 2 years!
Sure, not every weekend is spent on them, but add all the viewings and research and consultations up and sometimes the commission that you earn at the end of it will hardly be justified by the hours that you’ve put in.
(Especially during a hot market such as this, and the seller agent shares 0.3% of the comm with you).
Here’s a taste of some of the work that we have put together for clients:
Unfortunately, there’s no such tool to compile prices at such a micro level, and this was painstakingly put together so that the client could have an easy comparison.
Can you imagine putting in many hours of research, only for the client to drop you at the last minute when it’s time to actually commit to a purchase?
And as much as property agents have themselves to blame for the negative stigma the public has, many times it’s also situations such as this that will make even a good agent turn into one that only looks out for themselves. If you’ve gone through 3 clients in a row that you’ve done hard work for, but they’ve chosen to cut you out at the end unfairly, what would you choose to do for the next one?
I suppose this really is the reality for many other industries out there.
It’s just like the hawkers in Singapore. Singaporeans always want things to be cheaper, but no one thinks about how hard a life it can be. (This is a pretty interesting take).
The reality is, not everyone can achieve a result like Hawker Chan, and most hawkers are just struggling to get by.
If you are thinking about a career in real estate, it’s definitely not for those who like to take a backseat.
For those who are willing to persevere to put in the hard work, time, and effort – it can be a financially rewarding career.
Just be aware of the struggles, and pitfalls before embarking on the journey.