OpinionI Sold My Freehold Penthouse Unit For $1.75 Million During The Pandemic. Here’s How.
- by Weeko Lee
- January 7, 2021
- 11 min read
In Dec 2019, after almost 9 years of staying in Gallery 8 – a small freehold development located in the East Coast area – we decided to sell and move on to the next stage of our lives.
As my family starts a new chapter and as my oldest child finally hit tertiary education – we made the decision to let go of our current residence to downsize to a smaller unit.
By Jan 2020 – I made earnest marketing plans to secure a buyer. I anticipated that I should secure a buyer for my unit by March or Apr 2020.
Then the circuit breaker happened.
So imagine the uncertainty that followed especially being a non-essential service.
As a real estate agent, I am:
- not allowed to go out and meet clients face-to-face
- not allowed to conduct viewings physically
- not allowed to bring clients to showflats
Almost overnight – my real estate business was shut down.
So the challenges are multi-fold.
During the circuit-breaker, I sat down and planned how to overcome these obstacles.
It was not just about selling my own home but my other clients who has entrusted me to sell theirs as well.
Virtual Viewing Became Necessary
Virtual viewing is actually not new. The technology which consists of 360 cameras and software has been around for awhile. But the truth is – if given a choice people still needed to view their future home physically.
The need to touch, smell and see a property with their own eyes is a notion we don’t challenge. After all, we are buying the most expensive item in our lives.
That is until this pandemic happened and physical distancing became absolutely necessary.
It is interesting to observe how we humans have the capacity to quickly adapt to various constraints.
Despite my efforts – I didn’t manage to secure a buyer for my own property during the circuit breaker.
But listening to my colleagues, it was interesting to find out that viewings still happened as people checked out properties from the comfort of their own home.
My guess would be that:
- more people stuck at home means more time to browse listings
- majority of agents started to pull out their listings since marketing is a cost
- this resulted in lesser competition for my own listing if it was still up
- more people viewing listings that was still being marketed
I saw a few closings that happened during circuit breaker itself. Documents were signed by using couriers to deliver them.
However, majority of the actual closings actually happened during Phase 2.
All the pent-up demand spilled over and transactions jumped during this period as businesses were gradually allowed to resume.
House Staging Needed To Be Consistently Done
Physical viewings was allowed to be resumed in Phase 2.
This was an opportunity to emphasize the strengths of the unit and downplay its shortcomings.
I had to ensure my property was appealing to the broad pool of potential buyers. Potential buyers that had checked out my place included families, couples, investors and foreigners – all were attracted to the freehold status and the large size.
On my end, I did some home improvement and started to repair and replace any worn out or broken items.
But the most challenging was keeping the place spick & span! As we were staying there, we had to discipline ourselves to ensure the place was neat and comfortable.
This helped to maintain an almost-showroom condition especially during the scheduled viewings.
Video Marketing To Attract More Viewings
In 2020, we have been conditioned to browse online and then making the purchase decision from there.
So video marketing became a norm in order to attract more viewings.
To be honest, I have sold plenty of properties without a video as I noticed that really serious buyers would still make the final decision through physical viewings.
Clear and quality photographs of the unit are actually enough to get buyers especially those who are keen.
It is how the IKEA magazine (which is sadly going to be discontinued) is enough to attract people to visit their showrooms.
The advantage of the video medium allowed for a virtual preview of the unit and easily expanded the marketing reach to far greater numbers. It also attracts more “browsers” than actual serious buyers.
But because of Covid-19 measures with various restrictions on viewings like Safe Entry, temperature checks, social distancing and a hard limit of 5 people – this meant less serious buyers will be weeded out.
Simply put, it was too much trouble to just view a unit…. and that became a blessing in disguise.
Group Viewings Creates A Sense of Urgency
A strategy I commonly applied was group viewings.
Being able to create a small queue of buyers waiting to enter a unit is powerful motivation to make serious buyers to quickly make an offer.
I simply had to limit scheduled viewings, gave very tight time slots to all keen to view the unit and still keep to social distancing measures.
Plus with the limit of 5 in a group means I can only bring in 4 people at a time.
With a smaller group, I am better positioned to capture their full attention.
Over the years, I developed an understanding that buying a property is really an emotional journey that requires understanding the buyer’s thought process.
The viewing is an an opportunity to push the right buttons to trigger the right emotions to sway their decisions.
I Thought I Could Sell My Own Property Easily
I know of property agents who engages other agents to sell their own properties. Why? This makes sure they are one step removed and are not emotionally involved in the selling process.
But for my case – I didn’t believe I would be emotionally compromised even though it is my own property.
This is because this freehold unit is not my first investment property.
It is actually my 4th property that I’ve sold and made a profit on.
I started out from a HDB flat and upgraded to a private condo about 14 years ago. That condo – The Montage – was a profitable one.
And that profit allowed me to purchase an investment unit (The Treasure Trove which I sold back in 2018) plus this existing freehold unit as well.
So that past buying and selling experiences has essentially framed every property I purchased as simply an investment that can be exited once the time is right.
I believed my emotional attachment are minimised as I viewed the place as just an investment vehicle to park and grow my monies.
The Secret of My Success? Acknowledging My Weakness
In case you are wondering – I had to reveal I was the owner of the property. This is due to adhering to CEA regulations.
So during the sales process, buyers knew that they were negotiating directly with the owner.
I admit, it was tough to handle lowball offers especially since it was my property.
My emotions was involved – whether I liked it or not.
Eventually, I realised I had to engage another agent to handle the negotiations for me.
Simply put – negotiating as an owner was tough since buyers would not reveal their true reasoning and I couldn’t get accurate feedback from them.
But once an agent – a 3rd party came into the picture – this property was sold within just 1 month.
By engaging another agent to gather accurate and frank feedback from buyers as well as manage the negotiation on my behalf – things happened far more quickly.
I actually accepted a $1.65M offer at first but it didn’t come through in the end – as the buyer couldn’t get the loan amount approved.
Finally, a foreign buyer came in and offered $1.75M in August 2020.
Looking back, I can see the advantage of engaging a realtor:
- a separate 3rd party who is able to counter a low offer without being offended
- someone who can followup without communicating a sense of eagerness or desperation as it is their job
- someone who can stop a homeowner from making silly mistakes like overpricing their home
The truth is everyone is attached to their home in one way or another.
I tried really hard in my case.
Biting my inner cheek subtly.
Counting up to 10 seconds before replying.
Looking away to manage my facial expressions.
But in the end – engaging someone else proved to be the best choice.
An Investment Is Simply Monies Working Harder For You
While some people can make lucky choices in their property decisions that result in good gains, those who understand the property market will be able to do so and profit consistently.
Of course, not all my property investments has resulted in “windfall-I-can-retire-forever” gains but I am happy to share that each exit resulted in about 6-figure gains on average.
Once you do it successfully, you try your best to replicate it again.
And I plough back those gains towards other investments.
The gross gains made here was about $210K. At the same time, my family enjoyed the freehold condo lifestyle here for about 9 years.
Is this freehold unit my best investment? No.
I actually made more significant gains with my 99-year leasehold investment unit Treasure Trove and the freehold Montage.
But a $210K profit is still a win to me and I appreciate that I exited this investment on the green side overall.
2020 Brought Important Lessons For Me
Only thanks to my years of practising negotiation skills – I managed to muster enough objectivity and not allow emotions to not creep into my thoughts and actions.
But it wasn’t enough apparently!
Buyers were not frank with their feedback once they knew they were face-to-face with the owner.
Plus I knew I would just build up a perception of weakness if I regularly followed up or chased them for answer. But if I was the agent – I am simply doing my job.
And that was an important lesson and reminder for me.
Having a real estate agent present will really help you refocus on the bigger picture – an essential tip to getting your house sold without getting hung up in the negotiation phase.
The Gift of Struggle Is Necessary In Challenging Times
2020 was a challenging year for everyone. Various constraints in place almost upended the traditional business for real estate agents.
This was a year of striving for me personally and professionally – but it also sets up the track to fulfillment.
Personally, I am glad I let go of my freehold unit at the height of the market.
Was it the best highest price possible?
Though I am not sure whether it was the highest price I could have gotten.
But it is done and dusted.
I am satisfied with the returns.
This real estate investment journey is something I believe in and will continue to remain on for years to come.
As a property investor, I am looking forward to discover the next opportunity available with my funds.
As a real estate agent and advisor, I am looking forward to serve clients by analyzing their needs, wants and aspirations as well as presenting to them the potential pitfalls that lies ahead.
We feel best about ourselves when we are being courageous and evolving while progressing towards a goal, not when we arrive at the goal.
Our greatest growth comes from not achieving the goal but from striving towards that goal.
If you are keen to explore your own goals in property – I welcome you to contact me and discuss your potential options that is open to you.