ERA agents Jeffrey Heng and Elaine Chia have only been working as a team for a few years, but have already closed around 80 deals together.
PropertyGuru sat down with two couples to talk about why they went into the real estate business together, and what is their recipe for success.
By Romesh Navaratnarajah
More real estate agents in Singapore are choosing to leave the industry amidst the current downturn in the property market, according to recent figures released by the Council for Estate Agencies (CEA).
The number of registered agents dropped by about three percent from 29,262 at the start of 2016 to 28,397 this year.
While some agents have moved on to what they hope are greener pastures, others are not giving up so easily. In fact, a growing number of couples who also happen to be agents are starting to work together, using their combined strengths to boost sales.
From friends to lovers
Marcus and Cecilia Luah first met back in 2005 while they were working at a retail outlet, and quickly became friends. They lost touch with each other over the years until they met again in 2012. After two years of dating, they married in 2014.
Marcus, who now works as a property agent with PropNex Realty, decided to go into business with Cecilia in late 2015, as she was well-organised and meticulous.
While he runs his team of 280 agents, she handles the sales, arrangements and paperwork. The couple, who have no kids, would only reveal that they closed some sales and rental deals together last year.
“We work hard, set common goals that we want to achieve, and go for frequent holidays to get away from work and spend quality time together. (As a team), we believe that we can be more efficient and have more control over our time, especially for travelling,” said Marcus.
He added: “Learning to successfully work together has not only increased our combined income by more than 50 percent in 2016, but also improved our relationship as husband and wife.”
Maintaining trust and honesty
Another husband-and-wife team, Jeffrey Heng and Elaine Chia of ERA Realty Network, first met in 2004 and quickly fell in love.
“What attracted us to each other was that we were very honest, and openly shared our experiences and what was on our minds. With this, our understanding of each other grew very quickly,” said Jeffrey.
The couple, who have been married for more than a decade, have a seven-year-old daughter. However, they have only been working together for slightly more than two years, a decision they feel was the best solution for a work-life balance.
Said Jeffrey: “As our client base got bigger, we figured that we would become busier with our own activities, and would have less time for each other. So we decided to join forces, and this has resulted in more time spent together.”
Their strength as a team comes from the fact that they have different life experiences, and this helps to put them in the shoes of their clients. “There are cases where one client went through something that I could not fully understand, but Elaine went through something similar and could advise them better,” said Jeffrey.
Working out differences
But the couple admit that their working relationship hasn’t always been easy. One major issue has been the handling of different opinions.
“We’ve had our fair share of squabbles, but we knew this would not be beneficial to ourselves or to our clients, so we sat down and talked about it, and agreed that every difference in opinion would be discussed objectively,” shared Jeffrey.
Although this may seem like a simple solution, the couple explained that it took a lot of effort and has brought the two of them closer together. Their business is also doing very well. To date, they have closed around 80 deals together.
As a result, the couple prefers not to separate their work and private life. “We believe that if we treat our clients as friends and this business as part of our lives, the passion for the business will not fade,” said Jeffrey.
In fact, they sometimes bring their daughter out for lunches and dinners with clients. “By including her in such activities, we hope that she will grow up to have the same character traits as us,” noted Jeffrey.
With so much success, it isn’t surprising that they plan to continue working together for the foreseeable future. “We are very happy with our current working arrangement, and the testimonials from our clients are an affirmation that we are doing something right. Also, we like having more time to see each other,” said Jeffrey.
Follow this advice
When asked what advice he has for couples looking to work together, he said: “First of all, they should look at setting certain working principles for the business. When there are differences of opinion, it is always good to look back at those working principles and set yourselves on the right path again. This will reduce a lot of unnecessary arguments.”
He noted that professionalism is important too, and they try not to let arguments at home or unhappiness at work affect the other.
“Elaine and I also have a common understanding that we will not let any unhappiness flow over to the next day,” said Jeffrey.
As for PropNex’s Marcus, he feels that every successful business is built on love, which “comes before the money”.
“Therefore, always remember to have mutual respect and encouragement for one another. Never take things personally, and remember that the main priority is the well-being of the family,” he said.
For now, they too don’t see any reason for working separately. Instead, the couple has ambitious plans to grow their business.
Cindy Leong, Founder and Relationship Coach at the Relationship Studio, feels that couples can work well together, but it comes down to their self-mastery level, and whether they have a strong sense of awareness.
For instance, they need to work on their issues and insecurities first before going into business together. As such, emotional maturity is key to a successful partnership.
“Some couples jump into business too quickly, and that is when the situation gets complicated,” she told PropertyGuru. “If they did not deal with their issues earlier, it could resurface again.
“Couples who have worked through their differences for years, or have experienced challenges and overcome them before making a conscious decision to work together, would have a greater chance of success.”
Interestingly, she hasn’t come across many Singaporean couples going into business together, probably because there are many factors to consider.
“It’s a very bold decision,” she said. “Most people choose to keep their personal and professional life separate as there are risks involved.”
One of the risks involves getting into quarrels and bringing the negativity back home. Also, it wouldn’t be a healthy relationship if the couple was treating each other as colleagues, rather than as husband and wife. In addition, if there was an economic downturn and their particular industry wasn’t doing well, it could put a financial strain on the family.
Stress and strain
In the case of property agents, where their business is driven by sales, Leong noted that they are constantly on the move and must achieve results, which could put more stress on the couple’s relationship. There could also be some competition if both are doing sales. However, if one of them takes on the sales role and the other handles the more administrative functions, the relationship can work.
On the other hand, one major advantage would be flexibility in timing. “One of them can carry out viewings, while the other picks up the children from school,” said Leong.
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