Race Wong, 34, co-founder and executive director of Ohmyhome app, a HDB resale and rental app that cuts out the middleman so you save on commission fees. The app, purportedly the first-of-its-kind, also offers an optional service where users can hire OMH’s own team of agents to do their documentation for a flat fee. The Singapore PR was a member of now-defunct Cantopop group 2R from 2001 to 2009, and quit showbiz in 2010. “It was about personal growth. When I was a singer, everything was about ‘Me, me, me. Do I look good? How’s my hair and make-up?’ After a while, I felt so empty inside. I’d go to events and people only ever asked me what I was wearing and who I was dating. I asked myself, ‘Am I really so shallow?’ I felt like I wanted to learn more things and do more for other people. When you only work for yourself, there’s no bigger purpose in life,” she muses.
HER HOME AND RIDE IS: She declines to reveal details ’cos “my business targets HDB dwellers. So, I don’t want to appear that I’m flaunting [my wealth]. I really hope to avoid this disconnection between myself and the people I’m reaching out to.”
WHAT’S IN HER WALLET: Her Hysteric Glamour wallet houses her IC, driver's license, an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Business Travel Card, a credit card, an ATM card, a Kris Flyer card and $50 cash (“I still rely on cash for day-to-day purchases, especially since the places I lunch at, like hawker centres, don't accept cards.”).
8 DAYS: You went from singer to marketing manager to founding a property app. How did the transition come about?
RACE WONG: After my showbiz career, I went on to do finance for two years ’cos I needed something more in my life. I like reading and am constantly improving myself. Finance is the fastest way to learn about all industries. Now, I’ve gone into the property app industry ’cos a lot of today’s businesses are about solving problems and connecting people. With OMH, we aim to connect buyers to sellers, and tenants to landlords.
Why start a real estate app? When I was in finance, I realised that when I recommended stocks to people, I cannot manipulate or predict the economy. The stock market has been really volatile in the past five years and I didn’t feel good when I saw my clients lose money. My parents are real estate investors, so we grew up understanding that real estate is the most stable kind of investment. No matter what happens, you still own the property, whereas [you can potentially lose everything] with stocks. When I started a real estate consultancy firm [in 2014 with my sister, Rhonda], we had a lot of friends come to us for help with their HDB transactions. They had difficulty [buying or selling their flats] or were unable to pay the agency fees. So, we did research and found that it was a major problem, especially since 82 per cent of Singaporeans live in HDB flats.
How much can one save by cutting out the middleman? In Singapore, the cost of a HDB flat ranges from $300,000 to over $1mil, though most HDB flats are below $600,000. So if you’re selling a flat that’s the medium price of around $450,000, you pay 2 per cent commission, which is $9,000. If you’re buying, you pay 1 per cent commission, so that’s $4,500.
How does one deal with hagglers on the app? The good thing about HDB flats is that prices don’t fluctuate much. Usually, people try to bargain to get the price down by $2,000 to $3,000. That’s very different from private property where someone may quote a price $300,000 lower than the asking price. It’s very easy to check the past transacted prices. On our app, you can see all the asking prices. It’s very transparent.
What was it like when you first started the app? We had to be on the ground, giving out flyers and going door-to-door to get listings onto our app. We had a lot of NUS interns doing that with us. Sometimes, people think we’re trying to sell them stuff and ask us to go away. But, once in a while, there’ll be someone who happens to be trying to sell his house and would invite us in for a cup of coffee. That was very heartwarming. Knocking on 100 doors that day was worth it just for that one door that opened to us.
Clueless about the property market? Herewith, Race’s house buying and selling tips:
1. Do your research “Go to HDB’s website where they’ve all the past transacted prices to see if what your price [is reasonable].”
2. Decide if you want to renovate “If so, you may settle for a lower-priced HDB flat that may not look very nice, since you’re going to re-paint the whole flat anyway.”
3. To attract buyers, give your abode a fresh coat of paint “Nice pictures will attract more people to view your listing. If you spend around $1,000 to re-paint your house, it can fetch a much better price.”
4. Do your math “Regardless of whether you have an agent, every seller or buyer has to do their own calculation of whether they can afford an upgrade. We’ve heard of a lot of people who paid a deposit to upgrade before realising that they couldn’t afford it.”