Soh: Conducting a presentation online is very much akin to holding a live stage show (Credit: PK Soh)
SINGAPORE (EDGEPROP) – PK Soh, associate division director at Huttons Asia, has had a 10-year head-start on other property agents vying for attention in the online sphere. Way before the coronavirus pandemic reared its ugly head, he was already marketing properties on the internet and diversifying his presence virtually.
He says: “Uploading a video of myself online is essentially cloning myself. I can create multiple clones of myself doing different things at the same time — presenting different aspects of the market, for example, when I could be physically engaging my clients.”
Soh has always been drawn to platforms he can leverage to amplify a message. “If I can spend one hour talking to 20 or 30 people, why should I spend one hour talking to just one person?” he remarks. The first video he uploaded on his YouTube channel dates back to 2010, and the breadth of contents uploaded has since spanned property sale listings, new launch introductions, Q&A sessions, and explainer pieces on development plans by the Singapore government, such as the Greater Southern Waterfront and URA’s 2019 Master Plan, and their impact on real estate.
Forced to shift online
Before Covid-19 struck, the real estate industry had been largely accustomed to conducting transactions and viewings physically. “It’s very interesting because we are dealing with physical assets that consumers are used to seeing and touching all these years. And all of a sudden because of Covid-19, everybody is coming online,” says Soh.
Besides video marketing, Soh, along with some other agents, has been hosting live engagements with audiences, through Zoom, Facebook or YouTube Live. Property developers have also churned out virtual tours of their showflats that have helped to generate leads, which were especially helpful when physical viewings of properties were disallowed during the two-month “circuit breaker”. From June 19 onwards, physical viewings have been allowed to continue, limited to five people at a time.
See: Sentiment boosted as developers get set to reopen sales galleries
Despite homes being a big-ticket item, some buyers have proceeded to purchase one even without physical viewings. “Some of them could have visited the showflats before, but they didn’t make the commitment [earlier],” he says. Those who purchased a home based on the virtual viewings conducted by agents might have included foreign buyers who have been restricted from entering Singapore. Data from the URA revealed that in May alone, 486 private homes were sold in Singapore despite the circuit breaker.
Soh believes that buying a home is more than just buying the inside of its four walls. “The concerns [of buyers] come from various fronts, and it’s not just about the quality of the finishings,” he explains. “Very often, the concerns that they want addressed could be more about the potential of the property, does it suit their needs, the location attributes, and aspects like the asset’s potential for appreciation.”
Providing such information to potential buyers “is where agents can add value to consumers”, says Soh. “And once we are able to do that, sometimes the buyers will decide [to make a purchase] from there.”
However, there are still consumers who prefer the old-school way of feeling and viewing a property in person before making the decision to purchase. “There are attributes that you can’t really put across on videos, for example, whether the area is noisy or not,” Soh says.
See: [UPDATE] With project galleries reopened, sales could rebound in coming months
Engaging people virtually
In all his online videos, Soh’s enthusiasm is palpable. “Conducting a presentation online is very much akin to holding a live stage presentation,” says Soh. The secret to capturing the attention of an audience on-screen, he reveals, is the “energy that you bring across”. Essentially, it is “the way that you articulate your intention, the way that you are able to present in a very clear manner — what they are in for, and what you are able to offer them,” he explains. “In that short period of time, the intention has got to be clear.”
Soh, however, cautions against informal chat sessions. “I think [such formats] are not going to work, because people don’t have the luxury of time to just watch you without a clear intention,” he says. “Bear in mind that the consumers themselves are working, and even their companies are overwhelming them with Zoom meetings,” Soh adds. “So asking them to attend another online session during weekdays, or even during weekends, requires a lot of commitment from them.”
In many ways, the online world can be unforgiving. “You have only got one chance to impress, so unless you are able to catch the attention of your audience within a short span of time, they are not going to spend their precious time tuning in,” says Soh. “Online, people can easily switch from one tab to another, watching different videos, doing multiple things at the same time,” he says. This is different from a consumer-targeted seminar, where people would sit for an hour or so within a physical confine and listen to the speakers.
Heralding a new era in property
Prior to the pandemic, not all of Soh’s online ventures had reaped harvest. He admits that when he first started out, platforms like webinars were not popular. “The thing about this is when you have the right technology but the wrong timing, it may not work,” he says. The idea of holding open houses online, or meeting up with clients virtually, also did not resonate well with the public back then, he adds.
To be sure, as Singapore enters the second phase of reopening its economy, old habits cannot return. The Council for Estate Agencies, which regulates the city-state’s property sector, has advised that agents should still rely on technology to facilitate virtual tours, and turn to electronic means to distribute documents or marketing materials. A distance of at least one metre between persons must also be maintained, and contact tracing requirements adhered to, it said.
Pundits have been describing these times as the “new normal”, where new customs have had to be practised, such as masking up in public, and avoiding handshakes. But will the public go back to its old ways once the threat of the virus no longer exists? Soh believes that virtual viewings would still be a norm. “People have now been conditioned such that they actually enjoy the convenience. For example, in the matter of consumer webinars, why would I want to travel an hour to a venue to listen to this presentation, when I can actually attend it from the comfort of my home?” he says.
Soh believes that most clients will opt for virtual viewings, at least during the initial stages of purchasing a property. Physical meet-ups are then likely to happen after they have narrowed down the properties to a shortlist. “Agents who are not used to doing this will have to get used to it. Otherwise it could be a concern going forward,” he says.
Soh has come a long way in honing and crafting his online presence. As the real estate sector has had a taste of operating remotely, the sentiments on the ground are just ripe for his picking.
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