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LAST week I was in Penang for two days to meet estate agents and real estate negotiators. Axis REIT was organising an event there to brief estate agents and negotiators on opportunities and prospects of working together with the company.

The one-hour briefing was attended by more than 100 people, all eager to listen to us, understand what Axis REIT wanted and how they could be of service to us.

Real estate professionals play a big role in Axis REIT’s day-to-day business. They are the ones who introduce properties to potential tenants. They are also the ones who bring leads to properties that are available for sale.

In good times, real estate professionals make a lot of money if they are prepared to work hard and make sacrifices. But when times are slow, they are sometimes hit badly financially.

In a protracted slowdown like the last few years, some estate agents and negotiators quitted the profession and looked elsewhere to make a living.

But for those who persevered, the good times would return. The experienced ones know this. They learn how to adjust during a property slowdown and ride out the storm. They understand that the market is a cycle and that bad times do not last forever. Neither do good times.

The property market in Malaysia has largely been on a downward swing, which started in 2012. The downward trend has mostly remained through the years until now.

The year 2015 and last year were the easier two years of the worst years, where both volume and total value of properties transacted saw a decline.

But my conversations with estate agents have given me hope. Nearly everyone I had spoken to said the first half of this year was better than the same period last year.

In fact, some of them told me that in the first eight months of this year, their income had surpassed what they earned in the entire last year.

Having been in an estate agency for more than 30 years, I have seen about four full cycles of the property market.

Although each cycle and its circumstances were vastly different, there were some similar underlying principles.

I would like to think that my experience has taught me to critically analyse the market and draw reasonable conclusions as to where it would head next.

In my experience, real estate agents are a good barometer to judge how the market performs.

The first sign of an improving market is the rising level of activities. Estate agents would find that they have more enquiries, more responses to advertisements and more viewings of properties.

The second sign that the market is improving is when estate agents start receiving more offers. These offers may not turn into sales but there are, nevertheless, more discussions and negotiations between buyers and sellers.

The next phase is the actual translation of these negotiations into sales. Estate agents start seeing more negotiations turn into successful conclusions. The situation continues to improve steadily, as more negotiations get converted into transactions.

The developers, too, would experience this sort of activity. I found that there were far more events and launches planned and executed this year than last year.

What does all this mean? It’s difficult to say for now. A bit more time and a lot more data is needed before making an analysis.

But if I was into betting, my money would be on expactations that the market is slowly coming back and sentiments and perceptions are improving.

The election fever is creeping in and I don’t expect any miracle recovery before that is done and dusted.

But better times are certainly on the horizon. Smart investors will quickly mobilise themselves before the window of opportunity closes and prices start going upwards again.

Happy hunting and may the force be with you.

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