My Story

Extracted from Success in Real Estate Volume II 2006

The Innovative Marketer
Stand Out Above The Ordinary

Favourite Quote:
“People of mediocre ability sometimes achieve outstanding success because they don’t know when to quit. Most men succeed because they are determined to.”  George E. Allen, 1832-1907, Publisher and Author

Alvin Yeo, the agent with the Santa Claus knack of dishing out goodie bags to sleepy residents in the morning stumbled into the real estate industry by accident. Initial fears of falling victim to post-Asian Financial Crisis job cuts has turned wage slave Alvin Yeo into a masterful realtor in full control of his life. These days, the marketer with the innovative tricks up his sleeves is looking for the right people to franchise his creative ideas.

Alvin Yeo Builds Strength From Fear
Before joining the real estate industry, I was working for a local Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) company dealing in beverages. As an assistant brand manager in Marketing, my typical working hours were long, starting from eight in the morning and ending at ten at night. But time flew by fast and I was there for three years, learning and experiencing new things constantly.

Back then, Singapore was reeling from the effects of the Asian Financial Crisis. Everyone was worried about job security. Retrenchment was common and people seemed to be living in a climate of fear. Employees who had dedicated twenty to thirty years of their life in loyal service to their companies were mercilessly axed. That left a deep impression on me. I felt for those helpless people. But in contrast, I knew I didn’t want to live life in fear.

Contemplation in the Dark
When I was honeymooning in New Zealand, I had a vision of what I wanted in my life. New Zealand is a scenic place but there is absolutely nothing to do when dusk sets in. I even found the television programmes boring. Amidst the quietude, and all that free time, I started thinking.

I thought a lot during the nights about my aspirations, my life and what I wanted to achieve. Inevitably, I began realising that I was wasting energy keeping myself too busy, running around in the same spot and not getting very far.

I thought about my immediate boss, who worked just as late as me. Could I end up like her one day? I shuddered. I wasn’t sure what her source of motivation in working so hard was, but I could tell that many of my colleagues, especially the older ones, were working out of fear of losing their jobs rather than passion for their work.

Job security was an illusion and bosses were more concerned about their shareholder’s opinion than the welfare of their employees. I thought back about the time I purchased my matrimonial home and recalled how easily my real estate agent had earned his commission. It fuelled a desire in me. I wanted to give real estate a shot.

After our honeymoon, I told my wife I wanted to quit my job upon returning home to Singapore. She thought I was having post-wedding blues. I brushed aside my honeymooning ‘vision’ and got back to the daily grind of work, pretending it was just wishful thinking.

Agent of Change
It was my mother who first initiated in me the idea of joining the real estate industry. One day, she asked me to accompany her to a career talk on real estate. I went with an open mind and there and then, I signed up for the basic course. Ironically, till now, my mother has not even dipped her toe into the industry.

When I completed the course, my mother became my first client. At that time, she was trying to downgrade from her executive maisonette to a four-room flat in Clementi. She had already contacted real estate agents experienced in the field and told me simply to be there. That day, I had just graduated from the course.

But blood runs thicker in the family so I ended up representing her. I was so wet behind the ears I took out a photocopied, rather than original, HDB Sales & Purchase document for the sellers to sign. Their agent gave me an incredulous look but saved me ‘face’ by offering to do all the paperwork. It was awkward and I felt small that day.

Go For It
When I started doing real estate in December 1999, it was on a part-time basis. Giving up my day job was a difficult choice.

A colleague of mine said, play safe, don’t let go of the full-time job. Another said, go for it all the way. I kept thinking, even if I work very hard in my present job, the company isn’t going to give me a medal. Finally, I decided to follow my instincts. I told myself, I’m going to give myself one year to try this out before my wife and I started having children. I quit my day job, feeling sad that I had to start from scratch, even having to give up my car, which was purchased using my company’s interest free loan. But I knew I was more than ready to ride a new path. 

A Bumpy Ride
When I closed my first deal, my agency boss said something which cuts me deep. He announced to the whole team that we could not rely only on friends and relatives in this business. Those who depend on others will not last long in the industry. He said there are only two groups of people: those we know; and those we don’t know.

I was the top producer that month so I felt he was taking a dig at me. He seemed to be putting down my achievements. Since then, I began to work tirelessly getting to know ‘those we don’t know’ as it is a bigger demographic and I wanted them to know me and my services.

One of my first few transactions nearly derailed my career. There was an indecisive young couple who came to purchase a three-room flat I was selling. After they had put down the deposit, the seller promptly went on to buy another flat. Soon after, the couple dropped the bombshell. They wanted to abort the transaction! My seller threatened to sue the buyers and I was caught in the middle. Accusations started flying around and the young couple threatened to sue me. I was devastated. After several rounds at the lawyer’s office, the couple bought the flat grudgingly. Even while giving me my commission, they made sarcastic remarks, saying I would not be able to enjoy the money. I was deeply hurt.

Today, I think they have actually profited by going ahead with the decision as their property has now appreciated. But after the experience, I became more aware of the many sides of this business and that it isn’t as easy as it looks.

In another incident, a seller called me, insisting I meet him immediately at a nearby coffee shop. He turned up with a lady whom I assumed was his wife since they appeared intimate. When I wanted to go ahead with the proceedings, he said we had to meet his wife in his flat in Toa Payoh. That got me confused, but being ever professional, I made arrangements to meet him and his wife there.

In the flat, while going through the paperwork, a man turned up shouting and gesticulating violently. He was so filled with rage he looked ready to kill someone. It was the brother of the client’s wife. In the commotion, my client had slipped away, leaving me there with the violent man. Fortunately, I managed to leave unharmed. It turned out my client was having an affair with the woman whom I first met in the coffee shop; she was his sister-in-law, the wife of the furious man. It was all too much for me. I felt the seller was not trustworthy and had questionable morals, so I chose not to market the property.

Hang On

Someone once paged me to tell me he had received my flyer in his letterbox. I was puzzled as I had not been prospecting in that area for a long time. What was even more puzzling was that I had stopped advertising my pager number for half a year. Later, when I met up with the owners, they told me my flyer had been stuck to the back of their mailbox. They hadn’t bothered to remove it all this while. However, when they decided to sell their flat, they thought, hey, since this flyer has been hanging onto the mailbox for half a year, why not call this agent? In the end, I went on to sell their flat, help them purchase a new one and they even referred me to other people. This goes to show it is worthwhile to just ‘hang on’, and I mean, literally.

Stand Out and Deliver

One of the challenges in this industry is to stand out from the crowd so that you get picked to do the job. Out there, there are many experienced agents with much bigger marketing budgets for aggressive campaigns of flyer distribution and advertisements. To survive, agents must constantly think of ways and means to acquire new clients.

Once, I was “late” in penetrating some almost matured HDB flats. Actually, I was there three months before the flats were ready to be sold, but I found out other agents were already ahead of me with their aggressive prospecting campaigns.

In that area, many of the homeowners were frustrated with agents constantly knocking on their doors, slipping flyers under their doors; and add to that the many flyers already filling their mailboxes. To become a realtor of choice in that area, I had to beat those agents with a different method.

Mobilising my agents, we decided on an early morning marketing campaign. The idea was simple. Most agents prospect in the evening and I wanted to break convention and prospect in the morning instead.

To stand out, we prepared goodie bags containing cookies, packets of tissue and sachets of coffee powder. We also slipped in name cards and flyers. It was an experiment but one worth trying. I wanted to prevent people from throwing away my flyers, but mostly, I wanted to do something to make them remember me.

We went there at six in the morning. At first, the residents thought we were strange. But after warming up to us, it became easier to break the ice and talk to them. We followed up on this by knocking on doors at night and managed to secure several properties to sell. 

I don’t believe in doing different things but doing the same things differently. I like doing things which open doors. Once, during Christmas, I combed a few blocks of flats by leaving presents for the residents. The ‘gifts’ were simply tissue packs wrapped in wrapping paper. In the evening, when I followed up with phone calls, I found it easy to break the ice quickly.

I strongly believe that if you do what 90 percent of agents are doing when prospecting for clients, you are competing purely on luck. I see the need to do things differently to improve my success rate.

Changing Lives
In the real estate industry, we get to meet people from all walks of life. A friend of mine who used to sell insurance and has since joined me in real estate once said, before this, he has never met anyone in such dire straits. Previously, the people he’d came across while selling insurance always had some form of disposable income, but in real estate, he comes in contact with many people who want to sell their flats not out of choice but from desperation.

I have a client who brought up his three daughters single-handedly. After his wife was arrested on drug charges, he gave up a high-paying job to look after his children. It was completely selfless. Even though he knew one of the children wasn’t his but born from his wife’s affair when he was on a long-term overseas assignment – he loved all his children. He has since divorced his wife but remains committed to the children.

When I come across such a fatherly figure, I was immensely touched. To think that in our self-centred society, there exists a man willing to give up a high-flying job just to spend time with his children.

That inspires me. It motivates me and gives me satisfaction from helping another fellow human beings. When I don’t focus on the money factor and put in effort to help my client, my reward comes naturally. I’m particularly elated when a new agent joins me and doubles or triples his income when embarking on this career. The feeling I get that I might have added value to that person’s life is priceless.

Life Long Learning
At different stages of my life, I have had several role models. My very first role model was my officer from The Boy’s Brigade, Bernard Chua. He taught me the necessity of planning our time schedules and to have the discipline to follow through with those plans. Now, it has become a habit to plan my weeks and months ahead so I know where I’m heading.

My second role model was in fact, a person I did not like very much initially. He was the general manager of the beverage company I used to work for. At that time, I thought he was the most unreasonable person alive. He was famous for saying: I’m sorry, I don’t understand your reasons because if I do, I have to accept your explanations. And since I am not prepared to accept your explanation, I won’t be able to understand it.

What he was trying to do was to make us think critically and not to accept excuses lightly. Not everyone likes to be reproached this way. I have to admit, however, on hindsight, his statements had a powerful impact on me and remain etched in my mind till now. Sometimes, I even use them on my staff and agents.

I’m not any different from other agents. I have two eyes, two ears, one nose, one mouth…but the difference is that thing between my ears. My mind gets bored easily and I like to do things differently and am open to ideas. I’m willing to experiment. Asking me to do the same old mundane work will evoke in me a big yawn.

I believe we only truly fail when we stop trying. For me, I never stop trying. I tell myself, if I fail, I will diagnose the problem to see what went wrong, rebound, and try again. I will die trying rather than die playing it safe.

Knowing What Matters

In my first year of business, I became a Top 30 agent and proved all my critics wrong. One day, I hope I will have many mini groups of committed agents covering all segments of the Singapore real estate market. When my agents succeed, I succeed too. I am in the business of people-helping-people-succeed.

To do well in this industry, it is important to stay focused. Even if you feel let down by a bad market situation or lose deals, keep yourself on the balls of your feet to recover quickly and get recharged to try again. Always have a positive attitude and constantly improve your skills and be updated yourself on the latest information. Be a sponge and learn as much as possible. It is important also to purge out negative emotions and hang around positive people. Remember that busybodies will not help you, so stay away from them. React to your client’s request promptly for timely follow-ups are essential.

This business is not about the big eating the small; it is the fast eating the slow. It is also not about who you know that matters, but who knows you. And remember, make those who know you know that you are a real estate agent.   

Mr Dannie Soh, my first real estate manager who nurtured and guided me at the start of my career. Especial thanks goes to my wife who is ever so supportive of my work. I also owe thanks to my Dad, for lending me $10,000 to start off my real estate career despite not knowing when he would get it back, and to my Mum, who worried constantly about my business and has been giving me lots of referrals. And lastly, thanks to God, who owns everything I possess. He never fails to provide for my family and has made my journey in real estate an enriching one.

Summary of Alvin Yeo’s Key Success Factors:

1. Integrity 
Serve the client’s interests before yours. In the industry, there are black sheep willing to exploit any situation. Don’t be one of them.

2. Speed 
React to queries promptly. This is an asset, especially to new agents competing with industry veterans with years of experience.

3. Look for Alternatives 
Don’t reinvent the wheel. It’s not about doing different things but doing the same things differently.

4. Passion 
The job involves helping another human being and adding value to that person’s life. If the motivation is only money, any initial enthusiasm for the job will fizzle out quickly and the work will become a chore.

5. Learn from failure 
Dare to take risks even if it involves failure. If that happens, learn from the mistakes and improve.

6. Macro approach 
Look at the big picture and don’t be hindered by a small hitch in the process.