Ricacorp Properties, the third-largest property agent in Hong Kong, has seen its market share increase for two consecutive years while being chaired by Janet Shih. She puts this down to a bold move to remove thousands of fake and duplicate listings – a widespread industry practice – from the agency’s website in a bid to gain the trust of younger customers. “It means our campaign won the confidence of home seekers and saves them from wasting their time in looking for properties,” said Shih, the daughter of Centaline Property Agency chairman Shih Wing-ching. Shih succeeded her father as chairman of Ricacorp, a wholly owned subsidiary of Centaline Group, on January 1, 2019. She has strived to enhance the professionalism and integrity of the firm’s agents since 2018. “I noticed the market needed to change as most home seekers, particularly 20 to 40 year-olds, will first do online search,” she said in an interview. “As our scale is smaller, we have to launch a new breakthrough in the industry to create noise. We want to be the younger generation’s first choice when they need an agent.” Ricacorp has about 210 branches, roughly half what its two biggest rivals, Centaline Property Agency and Midland Realty, have. In August 2018, the firm removed 9,000 property listings from the more than 15,000 on its website because they either contained false information to attract customers or they were duplicates of existing ones. It was the first agency in Hong Kong to do so. Previously, it was common to find some listings were bait to attract more buyers to the various platforms with fake prices that were lower than the market average. The number of estate agencies has reached a record 3,903 in Hong Kong but the number of property transactions dropped for three consecutive years to 73,322 deals in 2020. Centaline and Midland Realty controlled a more than 60 per cent market share, leaving limited room for smaller players to grow. But now Ricacorp’s campaign has paid off. Its market share in the secondary residential market has increased from 5.9 per cent in 2018, to 6.5 per in 2019 and 7.7 per cent in 2020. In the first quarter of this year, it climbed again, to 8.1 per cent. Last month the firm, which has about 2,800 staff, went a step further by offering a cash reward of HK$1,000 (US$130) to anyone who spotted a fake or duplicate property listing. “We rewarded more than 30 successful reported cases. It showed that we are serious on this issue,” said the 35-year-old mother of two, who graduated from the University of Cambridge with a first-class honours degree in economics. Aside from removing the fake and duplicate listings from its website, Ricacorp declared that agents found to have posted them would be disciplined internally. After investigating the reported cases, she said 70 to 80 per cent were down to human error rather than straightforward fabrication. “Agents received dozens of pictures from different vendors by phone. They may mix up the pictures and upload some pictures to the wrong property listing. Most of them were not deliberated uploaded,” said Shih, who also oversees Centaline Financial, Centaline Finance, Centaline Investment and the property platform, House730, which is open to all agents to place their listings. Shih said aggressive expansion is on the cards for 2021. Ricacorp has added 10 branches so far this year after seeing a sharp increase in sales of lived-in homes since January. Singaporean retailers seize opportunity from lower rents, spending revival to launch Hong Kong operations Shih expects the firm to generate about HK$2 billion in commission revenue this year, more than the HK$1.5 billion to HK$1.7 billion for 2018 to 2020. In March, Shih raised the basic salary for the frontline sales agents to HK$12,000 a month from the HK$6000 to HK$7,000 most of their peers receive. The firm has hired as many as 300 agents from diverse backgrounds ranging from air hostess and managers of food and beverage operators to insurance brokers and telecommunication professionals. “The hiring is still an ongoing process,” she said.