Freelance real estate agents seen as way to boost business and cut costs

Savills leads charge in recruiting 'partners' with the idea they will sell properties to people in their professional or social networks

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 25 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 25 September, 2013, 4:44am

International property agencies are recruiting freelancers from different industries to expand businesses amid poor market sentiment.

Property agency Savills is recruiting people to set up what it calls "partnerships".

In the partnership or "associate" system, the recruit continues to work in his or her existing job while also selling property for Savills. They are paid a 50 per cent commission on any deals they broker, compared with the standard 20 per cent paid to in-house agents.

But they do not get paid the retainer paid to most standard in-house agents.

The partnerships will operate under the umbrella of Savills Associates, a subsidiary set up in Hong Kong two months ago.

"We believe Hong Kong is mature enough to introduce the partner system," said Keith Chang Chok-kee, managing director at Savills Realty.

"Many people are looking for flexible working hours and want to build up their own business. We can hire them as freelance property agents."

The firm introduced the system in Singapore four years ago, where it already has 4,000 partners, and in Taiwan in the middle of last year.

In Hong Kong the firm has already hired 70 partners and set up three support centres for them in its offices in Central, Taikoo Shing and Kowloon Tong.

"Some of the recruits work in the insurance and financial industries. The others are retired professionals or new graduates," said Chang.

Savills aims to build up the number of partners to 300 by 2015.

Property agencies have seen a fall in revenue as a result of the sharp fall in property sales since the government introduced cooling measures in February.

Germany-based agency Engel & Voelkers is also expanding its Hong Kong operation using a similar strategy. The sales team comes from as far afield as Mexico, represents 12 nationalities and speaks more than 10 languages.

But Willy Liu Wai-keung, chief executive of real estate agency Ricacorp Properties, is not sure about the benefits of taking on associates.

"Agencies may be able to get business through the new associate's business connections and their operating costs may decrease," he said.

"But we want to cover a bigger market and make sure we are aware of the latest changes in the market.

"That's why our staff often update the situation of the flats that are for sale or lease and work closely with the owners.

"Our staff have to be well disciplined."