Live Laugh Love: My Life As A Property Agent
Recently during an interview with Money Mind, I was posed the question: “How you got into real estate?”
Looking back, it has been a 15 years journey since I began my life as a property agent.
I usually would dodge the inevitable question that followed, “What were you doing before that?” But since the interviewer already knew my background, there was no way for me to siam this time.
Well, I became a full-time church pastor in April 1982, fresh out of National Service. Usually, when I revealed this, the reaction invariably would be one of great surprise, “Oh, really?”. I don’t blame them. What does a pastor have to do with the real estate industry?
This journey is both challenging and rewarding; it can be summed up in three words “Live Laugh Love” (hang in there before I explain what I mean).
At A Crossroad In Life
You might be curious, why the change? In 2005, I was at a crossroad in my life. Though I had set out to be a pastor as a lifelong calling, I reached a point when I was experiencing burnout because of the tremendous pressure of church ministry. Discouragement had also set in because of a series of events. Besides, there was this pull within me to minister to people in the ‘marketplace’.
It was never about money. I had a salary enough to get by. With my wife having a secured tenured teaching job at NTU, we were quite comfortable for our family of four plus my aged mother.
It was a tough decision. I remembered seeing a double rainbow for the first time in my life, and I took it as a divine confirmation for my next move.
I was in my mid-forties then. Though I had a Singapore Polytechnic Diploma (Mechanical Engineering) and a Bachelor Degree in Theology and Psychology, I had no working experience outside of the church. So there were very few options on the plate. Real estate appealed to me because I liked the flexibility of time to allow me to continue my involvement in the church.
How Holland Village Became My Launching Pad
A few years before I took the leap to become a property agent, my wife and her colleague (whose family owned several shophouses there) set up a company to run a website on Holland Village. It was the final year project for some of their students to develop the website.
The website, www.hollandvillage.com.sg, was very well done, and it ranked high on Google (it was easier then). Though it was not a property portal, the website was generating property leads which they passed on to an agent friend to handle them. Unfortunately, the company was sued by Streetdirectory for copyright infringement on the use of their maps (although the students were repeatedly warned to be careful about copyrights). Subsequently, they decided to shut down the company and website.
When I embarked on my new real estate career, I decided to ride on this foundation that was laid two years before. Plus the fact that I was born and raised in Holland Village, it was a perfect fit for me.
A Good Start
My new-found real estate career got off to a good start though I had zero guidance from my manager. I knew nothing about roadshows, mass mailing and email or sms-blasting. I only did one door-knocking campaign to help one of my associates to kick start her career. I had learned early in my career that having a geographical targeted area (GTA) is essential.
With tremendous support from friends and good leads from the website, I was doing relatively well. Slowly, my GTA expanded to D05, 10, 11 and 21.
I started as a rental agent but subsequently handled more and more sales. I was able to convert some of my tenants into buyers and landlords into sellers. The best part of it all, many of them became personal friends. Over the years, through continual support from them and their referrals, I built a good clientele base that provides me with a reasonably sustainable business. I must also thank my wife for many of her referrals. She is a people-magnet by nature.
Subsequently, in 2010 my wife decided to take early retirement from her teaching job. Though that cut off a big slice of our family income, we could do more things together, like travelling.
As a sole breadwinner in the family with two school-going children and an aged mother is not easy. While the money can be good for a property agent, it is not a bed of roses. Our income is not stable.
The years between 2013 to 2016 (many agents will remember) were lean years when the government cooled down the market with rounds of cooling measures. I remembered having depleted all my savings before the market recovered strongly in 2017. By God’s grace, I was among the top producers that year.
The current Covid-19 crisis is another challenging time for property agents with the market almost coming to a standstill. It takes a lot of fortitude and resourcefulness for us to weather this storm. One blessing in disguise is the situation forces us to learn unconventional ways to conduct our business. With no face-to-face viewing allowed and show flats shut, the new normal is virtual viewing.
My Early Childhood
Growing up, I was a little rascal. I stole stamps from the shops (without being caught). I used extremely profane language. Getting into trouble with my neighbours’ kids was almost a daily affair. My mother did not spare the rod though I am the only child.
In primary school, I fought with my Chinese teacher (goes without saying I lost the fight). Once, my school principal caned me for breaking my classmate’s glasses with a piece of chalk! Going into secondary school, I didn’t get any better. I was the ‘rising star’ to become one of the most notorious students in school.
Thankfully, by divine grace, my life was changed when I was in secondary four.
This deep sense of gratitude from a transformed life became my underlying driving force in life, even now as a property agent. It shapes my outlook in life and my view of people.
Live, Laugh and Love
“Live, Laugh, Love” is a popular catchphrase inspired by Bessie Anderson Stanley. In her 1904 poem, she opens with “He has achieved success / who has lived well, / laughed often, and loved much”.
These three words sum up my philosophy as a property agent (if only I can add “EAT” to it as in a 2006 memoir by American author Elizabeth Gilbert. By the way, I love the movie version by Julia Roberts).
Too many people are busy with making a living that they forget how to live. We work to live and not live to work.
To truly live is to have purpose, goal and direction in life. It transcends beyond financial rewards (though we do need money to survive). For me, it is out of a personal religious faith to treat people with love, respect and integrity.
To live also means finding time to do meaningful activities apart from work. Property agents work hard and play hard. One of the perks is the flexibility of our schedules that allow us to do the things we love. On the other hand, while our jobs may not be a 9-to-5 office bound workday, we are on call 24/7 because our clients may contact us any time to attend to some needs. Most of our time are spent, apart from viewing, on research, marketing, planning, calling, learning and writing. So, don’t get me wrong, agents do need to work hard. Flexibility doesn’t mean laxity.
One of the things I enjoy doing every Monday afternoon is my badminton games with my kakis.
Another thing I enjoy doing is traveling. In 2018, I took my wife on a 3-week vacation to Italy. We love Italy so much that we went back the following year, this time with my son who had completed his exchange programme in UK.
Most of the time, our travels were just short getaways to Malaysia or attending Christian conferences in one of the Asean countries. Regular day-trips to JB for shopping, food and massage were good de-stressors. Ask me about JB, and I can tell you where the good eateries are.
Since 2012, my wife and I (twice including my daughter) went on five mission trips to Myanmar to work with the children’s home and university students.
The funny thing was, I closed a few deals while traveling overseas. My wife would jokingly said each time we need to travel more to close more deals!
Many of you know me as a food-lover (very obvious from my size). I have a foodie club in my agency with fellow food-lovers like Farrand Hey, Don Chiam and Calvin Poh. Our common gastronomic passion later led to a working partnership, and we started a website focusing on the Bukit Timah area. It gives us a reason to scout for all the best food in the area! (Always finding an excuse to eat!) Naturally, we added a food blog on our website.
“A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones” (Book of Proverbs 17:22).
An ability to laugh at every situation and circumstance stems from a positive outlook of life.
But how do you laugh when you just lost a big deal? I remembered the pain of losing a $12.5 million shop house deal in Holland Village. The option was already signed by the 13 (yes, 13!) owners. Just before I could pass the option to the buyer in exchange for the cheque, the owners changed their mind! My heart crushed! This kind of experience is part and parcel in the life of an agent. We learn to let go and move on. (I did have a sleepless night though).
On other occasions, I have learned to ‘laugh’ even when undercut by fellow property agents, played out by owners or no-show by clients. Many times, I would serve a buyer or tenant wholeheartedly only for them to buy or rent through another agent or on their own. Believe me, these things happen, and they are painful. Property agents do have their fair share of setbacks.
On a positive note, there are many occasions to ‘laugh’ and celebrate with our clients when I helped them found their dreamed homes or sold their houses.
Once I helped a 59-year-old single man with only $240,000 from the sale of his 5-room flat (because he defaulted on the loan payments) to buy an old 3-room Toa Payoh flat. He was homeless and was sleeping in his van. I then helped him to fully furnish his flat with furniture given away by my other clients. He not only has a home now but also rents out his rooms for income. I even recommended him some handyman jobs. The monetary reward was small, but the joy of helping someone in needs was overflowing.
On another occasion, I helped an old lady to sell off a townhouse which she partially owned in order to get out of a complicated family situation. It was not an easy transaction because of family tussle. She was so grateful and would occasionally cook food for me or tapao for me Penang char kway teow (she knows I love it) when she was on home visits to Penang.
This is what I love about my job, to be able to help those who need help (and still be financially rewarded).
The easiest times to laugh, of course, is when we receive our commissions as a reward for all our hard works. Or when we are on stage to receive our recognition as top achievers.
This business is all about people.
Martin Buber, the Jewish philosopher, reminds us in his classic, “I and Thou”, not to treat people on an “I-It” relationship. This kind of relationship is with oneself, a monologue instead of a dialogue. So instead of understanding the needs of the other person, we care only about our opinions and operate on a very superficial level.
On the other hand, when we relate to another person on a “I-Thou” level, we seek to understand and empathise with the other person, resulting in connectedness and authenticity. This idea resonates with me and forms the basis of my work philosophy.
In counseling, I have learned that the main objective is seek first to understand instead of giving advice.
Practising this principle means not to place our own needs before our clients’ needs, not to push a product (e.g. new launch) without first understanding their needs, and to treat clients’ properties like your own.
I will never forget a Chinese couple, based in the US, who contacted me very early in my real estate career in 2006 to rent out their HDB flat in Holland. The flat was in a mess when I checked it out. I thought about walking away from it because it was too much work for too little money to make the flat tenantable. But I took a step back and put myself in their shoes and decided to go to work. Never would I have imagined it was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
Four years after handling their rental (the rent for the whole flat was only $900-1,000), I advised them to renovate their flat to secure better tenants and fetch higher rent. They agreed to my proposal and transferred to me $20,000 without hesitation. They trusted me wholly though I had NEVER met them before (may be because I have a very innocent and trustworthy look 😂).
After the renovations, the first person (a Causasian) who came to see the flat rented the flat immediately. Rent went up from the previous $1,000 to $2,200! In 2013, the rent shot up to $2,500.
Up to this day, I am still handling their flat. It wasn’t only until five years ago (2015) that I finally got to meet them when they visited Singapore. In that first meeting, the bond between us was incredible, more than just agent-landlord relationship.
Are there temptations in the life of a property agent? Certainly! The old book says, “The LOVE OF MONEY is the roots of all evil.” Where money is good, temptation gets more irresistible.
I shared in one article, “Client’s interest or own interest?” about a case when I was tempted to act against my client’s interest to get a higher commission. I was glad I didn’t succumb to the temptation.
Making the right choice may mean short-term financial loss. But having a moral compass and doing the right thing is not optional.
The Golden Rule never goes out of date: “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them” (Gospel of Matthew 7:12).
If you are keen to live, laugh and love together, I would love to chat with you as friend-to-friend and discuss with you your property needs.
Danny Han has been a licensed real estate agent since 2005. He also had five years of experience as a financial consultant. The insights and knowledge he shares in his blogs are the results of years of experience in helping many of his clients in their Property Wealth Planning.
Prior to becoming a real estate agent, Danny was a full-time church pastor (don’t be shocked!) for 23 years. Even now, he is still actively involved in church work and preaches regularly. He has also made six mission trips to Myanmar to-date.
Danny is a foodie, so during his spare time he would go with his kakis to try different “CNG” (cheap and good) food. (Be sure to check out his Holland food blog in this site).
Do feel free to drop him a Whatsapp message for a non-obligatory discussion if you are planning to grow your property wealth.