After 25 years in the real estate business, Marcus Chu is still thrilled to witness transformation in the sector.

On July 1, the 55-yearold was promoted to chief executive of APAC Realty, which runs the ERA real estate advisery franchise across the region.

Formerly its chief operating officer, Chu succeeds Jack Chua who remains as the executive chairman of the group.

“I am excited to be taking over the baton at a time when digital transformation is rapidly shaping the industry,” says Chu to The Edge Singapore.

The top job comes amid a period of euphoria for the property sector in Singapore. With lockdowns and safe-distancing restrictions in play, trusted real estate advisers have had to be creative in their methods.

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Chu is getting creative too. He highlights strategic partnerships as a hallmark of his new direction for the company. Within a month of his appointment, ERA managed to work out two memorandums of understanding (MOU) with Redbrick Mortgage Advisory and EdgeProp, the sister company of The Edge Singapore, providing their respective customers first-hand access to RealtyWatch by ERA and iERA Robo Advisor, two of ERA’s proprietary tools used by its network of more than 8,100 trusted advisers.

Under Marcus’ leadership, ERA recently launched the mobile app version of its RealtyWatch by ERA — an award-winning 24/7 property transaction monitoring platform released during its annual conference in March this year. Not only can users receive the latest neighbourhood property transactions notifications via the one-stop property “superapp”, consumers can also gain access to tech tools previously reserved for ERA trusted advisers.

Among the perks of the app is instant estimated valuations of properties, derived from fair values distilled from property portal EdgeProp; as well real-time information on the latest interest rates and home financing packages by Redbrick.

“I hope to provide evolutionary solutions and services to clients while evoking positive changes in the industry,” says Chu. “I believe in creating value in the things I do and it is no different this time around.”


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That chase for value can also be seen on APAC Realty’s ticker on the Singapore Exchange (SGX).

Despite the impact of Covid-19, the company’s salesforce managed to close a much bigger volume of transactions, generating a higher commission income for themselves, APAC Realty, and as returns for its shareholders.

At the start of the year, APAC Realty shares were trading at 44 cents. It has since doubled.

“In one way or another, a company’s share price reflects the health of that company,” says Chu. “But also, it depends on the mood of the market.”

MARCUS CHU - THE EDGE SINGAPORE

Chu: I hope to provide evolutionary solutions and services to clients while evoking positive changes in the industry

However, the company did not only start shining this year. It has earned a place in the latest Centurion Club, which gauges company performances over the last three financial years.

Within the real estate sector, APAC Realty has been named the company for delivering the best-weighted return on equity of 11.9 times for the period under consideration.

Record numbers

If the company’s 1HFY2021 ended June 30 earnings are to be seen as an indicator, APAC Realty is riding strong on the growth momentum chalked up from the last three financial years — putting it in good stead for an even better year.

For the six months ended June 30, both its earnings and revenue doubled, thanks to better showings in both the new sale and resale market segments. Revenue and earnings more than doubled to $358.4 million and just over $17 million respectively.


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According to the Urban Redevelopment Authority, developers sold 7,601 private residential units in 1H2021, up 68.1% y-o-y.

In tandem, APAC Realty is gaining a larger piece of the pie, with its market share in the new homes market growing to 32.1%, from 27.9% this time last year.

To reward shareholders, APAC Realty has declared an interim dividend of 3.5 cents per share, plus a special dividend of 3 cents, for a total of 6.5 cents. The interim dividend represents a payout ratio of 73% based on 1H2021 net profit.

This time last year, the company’s interim dividend was 0.75 cents.

APAC Realty is also putting in place a dividend policy of distributing between 50–80% of its earnings every half year — a sign that it is confident about its prospects and therefore can give a clearer commitment to return value to shareholders.

“Congratulations to the shareholders of APAC Realty; some may have made more than double their initial investment if they had entered around the time when the pandemic hit,” adds Chu.

Based on historical data, the stock still has plenty of headroom. Since listing on the SGX Mainboard on Sept 26, 2017, shares in APAC Realty traded at an all-time high of $1.27 in March 2018.

Chu shares the market’s optimism. “We will continue to add value to the consumer. If we can provide that superior transaction experience to consumers, they will continue to choose ERA. For that, there’s no reason why the share price shouldn’t be moving up.”

Birth of a salesman

Chu’s real estate journey began only after he had assessed the market in the mid-1990s. “After attending seminars with different agencies, I chose to join ERA because I was impressed with ERA’s professional training and international branding.”

In fact, ERA is the first and only real estate agency in Singapore to own a building: the ERA APAC Centre in Toa Payoh. Since the early-1990s, ERA has dared to experiment with innovative marketing strategies, such as deploying pop-ups at MRT stations for maximum touch points. It was also one of the earliest companies to adopt an intranet.

Today, trusted advisers and clients of ERA Singapore hardly bat an eyelid when viewing 3D showrooms on their mobile phones, but when Chu started as a realtor in May 1996, his primary tools were a phone card and a public payphone.

“I was a pioneer of telemarketing in the industry. I used to cold call homeowners using public phones and knock on doors in search of prospects,” he says.

Eventually, Chu upgraded to a brick-sized Motorola mobile phone. “Today, mobile phone subscriptions for the whole family cost just $200 or $300 in total. Back then, my phone bill could be as high as $1,000 a month.”

While the market was buoyant then, Chu’s debut “wasn’t the best timing”, he says, as the government had just introduced anti-speculation curbs that same month.

His love for people and the thrill of transactions, however, kept his mind on a singular goal: to become the top agent in ERA — globally. “I employed assistants for administrative work so that I could have more time to focus on my clients and closing deals,” he says.

In turn, Chu managed to clinch ERA’s Top New Achiever in 1997 and the 2nd Top Achiever in 1997 and 1998. With Chu’s voracious work ethic, the accolade to come was his to lose.

In 1999, Chu achieved his longtime goal, securing 1st Overall Top Achiever across ERA International.

Team building

From 2000 to 2005, Chu focused on recruitment and team building at other agencies. “Having recruited 2,000 agents under me, I progressed quickly to become the top manager and team leader. Additionally, I played the role of the agency department head at these other agencies.”

These experiences shaped his leadership style, and when Chu returned to ERA in 2005, he stepped into corporate management roles.

“My career transformation; from being an agent, a sales team leader, to getting appointed as SVP in 2005, COO in 2013 and now CEO; has taught me invaluable lessons and I am enriched by what I have learnt,” Chu adds.

The work culture at ERA is very “agent-centric”, says Chu, who was attracted to ERA for its core value of putting agents first.

He even likens it to the calibre of Singapore’s flagship airline. “The standard of service from an ERA admin staff is comparable to the award-winning Singapore Airlines. Every agent is treated equally, whether they are new to the company or have been with us for a while.”

As he embarks on a new leg of his career 25 years in, Chu has a new goal: to groom the next generation of leaders within the company.

His former role as COO of agency business has been filled by Thomas Tan, former president of the Singapore Estate Agents Association.

The senior management team also includes Doris Ong, COO of project marketing. Under her leadership, ERA Singapore has executed over 300 international and local residential projects, including Singapore’s largest virtual property gallery, Project 360, and the largest virtual real estate consumer shows: ERA Property Mega Show 2021.

Together, the core leadership team is examining current appointments, incentives and programmes, says Chu. At the release of APAC Realty’s stellar 1HFY2021 results last month, the company announced a special one-month bonus for all its employees.

“ERA has always instilled a strong sharing and caring culture, where we encourage each other to be the best version of ourselves. Everyone is given an equal opportunity to grow and be given recognition while we provide trusted and professional real estate advisers to clients. These are the reasons why I have stayed so long and returned to ERA. My immediate task is to affirm the organisation’s vision and mission; ensuring everyone is aligned with a common direction and belief,” says Chu.

MARCUS CHU - THE EDGE SINGAPORE

From the company’s top brass to ERA’s thousands of realtors, it seems APAC Realty is in good shape to ride out the remainder of the pandemic. “Covid-19 has indefinitely changed the way we live and work. It has certainly accelerated the use of digital tools for the things we normally do face-to-face, such as property viewings, meetings, conferences, training and counter services. I feel the change has greatly increased the efficiency of trusted advisers and agency work,” says Chu.

“Despite the challenges presented during this pandemic, ERA Singapore managed to find opportunities in this time of crisis and exceed expectations,” he adds.

“I think it’s crucial to think big, set goals, stay focused and not be distracted by what others are doing. Most importantly, be innovative and do the same thing in different ways.” 

Photos: Albert Chua/The Edge Singapore