Straits Times: Sun, Feb 19
Sales manager Ronald Koo has not bought a property recently but he has already forked out nearly $6,000 to learn how to do that well.
He paid about $3,000 to attend a Zest property investment seminar last December, and will be going for a $2,800 two-day programme with another organiser Marco Robinson at the end of this month.
He is not alone. Many others have done the same. Property investment talks and seminars seem to have caught on and there is no lack of property investors here.
HSR Property Group's chief executive Patrick Liew says these courses gained popularity when the property market started to pick up in 2009.
Courses are conducted with themes such as how to get rich through property investment or how to buy 10 properties for the price of one, for example.
They range from short one- to two-hour talks to seminars that last about three days and can cost as much as $3,000.
Who the organisers are
Organisers of property investment seminars include Zest Academy Group, ERC Institute's Mr Andy Ong, Azea Property Investment's Ms Tan Yang Po and Executive Directions' Ms Wendy Kwek. PropNex also entered the market last year.
Ms Tan and Ms Kwek previously worked with conference organiser Success Resources.
The course contents may overlap, but different personalities attract different people.
Ms Tan says her course attendees trust her and have bought units in her development in Danga Bay, Johor Baru, even before the launch.
'A lot of people don't really know how to invest, they just know how to buy low, sell high. They come to learn different strategies,' she says.
Mr Kelvin Fong from Zest says its main course is one run for property agents, and it keeps its property investor class size small to facilitate learning. When it gets good deals, it will share them with the course participants, he says.
There are others who do it differently. PropNex chief executive Mohamed Ismail, who runs a $1,400, 30-hour course, says: 'We teach consumers how to not overpay for a property, how to see the upside potential of a property and so on.
'Our objective is to teach you and be your partner. We don't push a specific product.'
Mr Ong, who charges about $2,000 for his course, also says he has no tie-ups with developers and does not sell anything at his seminar.
'We are investors ourselves, so we are trying to share with the participants how institutional investors think and how to apply the strategies we teach them.'
But, he adds: 'If they like, I will give them a chance to take a very small stake in my commercial buildings through my fund.'
Mr Eric Cheng, chief executive of property agency ECG Property, who conducts property investment talks at exhibitions such as Smart Expo, says the speakers or organisers usually do have an agenda.
'I do it to increase my network. I was just in Hong Kong to give a talk at an exhibition. I got there and I saw 1,000 people. I gave out my books and they gave me their contact details. I would then invite them for the VIP previews of my launches.'
Why people pay
Some seminars can have as few as about 20 participants while those run by Executive Directions can have some 300 people.
That is 300 people paying about $3,000 each. They are forking out the dough to gain market insights and find out savvy ways to invest and hopefully make big money.
At seminars and talks, they can ask questions, unlike if they were to pick up tips from a book.
Says Mr Koo: 'I learnt how to do my own research with the software from Zest. My research previously was my gut feel.'
He says it was also to get some property leads and learn about investing with less capital outlay. 'They would have done their own research and chosen the property that they want to market to us. That means we have less homework to do.'
Mr F. Khoo, who attended a seminar by Mr Ong because he wanted a stake in the latter's property Prime Centre, has invested $50,000 in it.
A potential investor, who paid about $3,000 each for an investment seminar by Ms Kwek and another by Zest last year, says she signed up to learn more about investing before plunging in.
'Sometimes, you need to spend some money to learn.'
Still, she says: 'I find that the 21/2 days are mostly a waste of time. Some speakers talk a lot of nonsense.'
But she did find the e-mail updates that the seminar firm sent her very useful as these kept her updated on investment opportunities in Singapore and overseas and new launches.
She has not bought anything yet. 'At the seminar, Ms Kwek said we must just do it and put out the first $10,000, but that can buy us only a property in Jakarta and Makati City. I don't know where these properties are so I don't dare to buy,' she says.
'I know if they have good deals, they will take them first. But I don't mind them earning a commission if it is a good buy.'
The sales pitch
Not all seminar organisers are alike. But if it is a seminar firm, it is likely that property sales are a top priority for them.
'You may be a good speaker but you must also be good at closing deals,' says business owner Lee Song Teck, a former seminar organiser with Azea.
'(The speakers) spend some time with you during the two, three days and you will trust them more and it makes it easier for them to sell you the properties.'
Says a property consultant: 'People can get turned off by hardcore selling, but with the educational style, when you are convinced, you will buy.'
'It's just another way of marketing. And it works because there are a lot of people who show an interest in property.
'If I am a seller, I would say these are already half-converts, so I would steer them towards buying by emphasising the positive factors, for example, that the Government doesn't want the market to collapse.'
Often, a rah-rah vibe is injected into the seminar through music, through the speakers, through games and exercises.
At one seminar, people were asked to stand up and say, 'I can do it' with fists clenched and elbow bent, says a participant.
With such an atmosphere, a consumer might be more motivated to act on buying.
Understand the risks
The seminar participant who attended the Zest seminar and the one by Ms Kwek says both seminars taught similar strategies on how to invest as a group, for instance.
If a person invests as a group, he will need a smaller outlay than if one were to buy the property on his own. It is an attractive proposition but not without risks.
'These people encouraged you to form syndicates but properties are not that liquid,' says the consultant.
'You are partnering strangers and you are guided by a rule book but people won't follow it when they meet with tough times. What if one becomes bankrupt?'
Also, there is talk that some of these organisers may cream off more than they tell you.
An agent accused an organiser of giving the course participants a 5 per cent discount off a property when she received a 12 per cent bulk discount from the developer.
The organiser can also negotiate with the developer for a free unit or bulk discount. He may then market the properties at a higher price here.
A check with the Council for Estate Agencies (CEA) shows that investigations are ongoing for some of these seminars.
'We have conducted checks including on-site inspections on these seminars to ensure the companies comply with the Estate Agents Act,' says CEA's Ms Purnima Shantilal, director (licensing and investigations).
The Act covers the conduct of estate agency work in Singapore even if the property is an overseas one.
'In the event the speakers at these seminars are found to be conducting estate agency work and operating without a licence or registration, they would be committing an offence under the Act,' she says. 'If found guilty, they can be fined up to $75,000 and/or face a jail term of up to three years.'
What you can do
There is no short cut to getting rich, short of striking the lottery at your first try.
Investors must always do their own homework. Do not buy blindly just because the absolute price or investment appears affordable and reasonable.
Check to see if that is the market price and if you are buying at the same rate that is marketed in the foreign land.
Always take time to think about the deal. Do not feel pressured to buy on the spot. There will always be another good deal waiting for you.
'Be wary of the deals presented and always check the track record of the speakers to make sure that they are for real,' says Mr Cheng.
When buying foreign properties, consumers should find out pertinent details such as their eligibility to buy the particular property and all the costs involved, for example taxes, if any, says Ms Shantilal.
'They should conduct their own research, look at the viability, pricing and terms and conditions of the purchase, and not rely solely on the advice of the speakers or vendor's representative of the foreign property.'
And, they should deal with only sales staff who are registered with CEA if they intend to engage one to handle their property deals, she says.
Source: The Straits Times
What goes on behind closed doors
Straits Times: Sun, Feb 19
On a Friday evening last December, a group of less than 30 people, most of whom have tumbled out of their offices, gathered in a simple office space in Winstedt Road to hear experts dish out property tips till late.
It was the start of a 2 1/2-day Millionaire Property System course, which is targeted at property investors, and that was the most recent session.
Run by four practising property agents, the course also took up the whole Saturday, from 9am till about 9pm, and ended on Sunday evening.
It was peppered with tips that the participants seemed to lap up. It was not difficult to stay awake throughout the course, most of the time at least. And if you worry about having no quick access to food, the lunches are catered while Saturday dinner consists of pizza.
One of the four founders and trainers, an energetic Mr Bobby Sng, greeted the group on Friday at about 7pm and launched into a discussion on the importance of learning how to deal with property agents.
Avoid those who are reluctant to try for a lower offer on your behalf for instance, he said.
Chief trainer Kelvin Fong, who has the largest team of agents at PropNex, dished out plenty of practical tips on Saturday as he went through the key steps to take before investing. These included understanding your goal, determining your budget and where to search based on your budget.
'A lot of people are buying based on emotions. Once you get emotional, you can't make decisions well.
'Do not be guinea pigs. Yes, you can make money but the question is when,' he said.
As an investor, you may want to avoid investing in an unpopular project because people may not know how to sell it for you at a higher price, he said.
As an investor, you may want to avoid investing in an unpopular project because people may not know how to sell it for you at a higher price, he said
And, he added: 'You will want to let go of a property once it obtains its temporary occupation permit because its market will usually stagnate thereafter.'
These tips were explained with real-life examples, or illustrated with property names.
Mr Fong also discussed strategies such as how to buy as a group and leverage on the bank.
As part of the course materials, you get a dongle and a CD that allows you free temporary access to an online property price system.
You are then taught how to use the system in a step-by-step manner. The system allows you to search for prices of nearby properties, compare prices of units transacted in a development, and sort the information by area or unit size for instance.
The course last December included a visit to a new launch in Tanjong Pagar, which was used in an illustration on shoebox flats.
Apart from the trainers, other speakers were invited to talk about different topics. They included a top agency manager Peter Tan, who spoke on the importance of insuring your properties, and a senior PropNex agent David Poh, who came to plug his course on commercial properties.
The writer did not have to pay to attend this seminar.
On a lazy Sunday afternoon, speaker David Yuen from Austpac met a group of mostly single men and couples in a relatively big function room at the Grand Copthorne Waterfront hotel.
There were fewer than 20 of them and they had signed up for a property investment talk on overseas properties, which was what the full-page advertisement in The Straits Times had indicated.
Instead, Mr Yuen mostly showed off his long list of properties, and talked about how you could get rich with property, and Australia as an attractive investment spot.
He also said how the rest could be like him if they would only start to act.
'Any idiot can do it as long as you say, 'I buy it',' he said. 'You will still make a lot of money if you don't know (anything). But if you know, you'll make 10 times more.'
He advised the participants to buy off the plan and says he does not bother with capital gains because he keeps his properties for rental gains.
'I don't talk capital gains... If I sell the cash machine, who is going to pay me the money?'
It all sounded more like a pep talk and his purpose for the talk was to sell a high-rise residential property in Melbourne, Madison, at Upper West Side.
Another room nearby was done up nicely with posters of the property and a few sets of tables and chairs.
The writer paid to attend this seminar.
Source: The Straits Times