More HDB buyers, sellers prefer DIY transactions now

More Housing Board flat buyers and sellers are choosing not to use the services of property agents, while online portals that make such transactions easier have also sprung up.

Property agencies say the impact is limited for now - but are nonetheless seeking ways to stay relevant.

At events held by property firms recently, National Development Minister Lawrence Wong has highlighted the issue.

"We have opportunities but we also have to be realistic about these disruptions which are happening around the world and in Singapore," he said, referring to online do-it-yourself portals.

In 2010, only 11 per cent of all HDB resale buyers and sellers went the DIY way. Since 2013, about a quarter of all buyers and sellers each year have done so.

The trend continues. From January till May this year, 3,860 buyers and sellers - 23 per cent of the total - chose not to engage an agent.

Shifting consumer preferences could be one factor. In 2012, 66 per cent of consumers said they were likely to engage an agent for future transactions. Last year, this fell to 60 per cent, according to a Council for Estate Agencies (CEA) survey.

HDB buyers and sellers who DIY save on the agent's commission - usually around 1 per cent of the transaction price for buyers and 2 per cent for sellers.

PropNex Realty key executive Lim Yong Hock suggests a possible historical explanation, too.

Prior to regulations introduced in late 2010 to stop conflict of interests, an agent could represent both seller and buyer in the same transaction, he noted.

"If a buyer responded to an ad on his own, the agent could offer to represent (him)."

On paper, that would be recorded as both sides having an agent. Since dual representation is no longer allowed, independent buyers now show up in the data, he theorised.

Indeed, in 2011 - the first year after the change - the proportion of buyers and sellers doing without agents jumped to 18 per cent.

HDB buyers and sellers now have more resources to handle transactions on their own.

Buyers have a wider range of options, as they can look at listings by agents on established websites such as STProperty and SRX Property. On other websites, there are also listings by independent sellers who choose the DIY path.

Today, agents, too, have more resources. ERA Realty agent Kenneth Lim points to the i-ERA app which gives him on-to-go access to latest transactions, listings and so on.

The helpfulness of HDB officers was what assured Bobby Ng, 43, that it was fine to go it alone. His first DIY transaction, in 2009, had the help of an HDB officer who went through the paperwork with him.

Mr Ng, who is self-employed, completed his second DIY deal in June. He sold his Tampines three-roomer to move into a Punggol four-room flat with his wife and two daughters.

It was as easy as listing his flat online with photos, he said. He found a buyer who also went agent-free.

Even though the final selling price was $2,000 lower than his asking price of $350,000, Mr Ng felt that it was worth it. If he had engaged an agent, he would have to pay 2 per cent in commission, which could come up to $7,000.

"By going through this ourselves, we save a lot of money," he said.

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