(By Kwang Heng Lee)


It is often said that real estate is a local business. However, there is an increasing rate of capital and investments moving across international boundaries where the yields are attractive or there are competitive advantages for multi-national corporations to relocate their operations and manufacturing.

In the last two decades, Asean has seen the globalizations of property consultancy companies mainly from United States of America and United Kingdom into South East Asia. They are here as their corporate clients invest into our region. In Singapore, we have international companies like: CB Richard Ellis, Collier Jardine, Jones Lang La Salle, Colliers Jardine, Chesterton and Knight Frank. And for the newer ones, they include Cushman and Wakefield and Hampton International.

Meanwhile the world economy is changing. The economic dynamics are shifting and there is also a shift in the economic prosperity of countries. Many of the local companies in our region recognize the need to venture beyond the local shores in order for them to grow. It becomes a need for local companies to globalize. In Singapore, globalization of local companies is encouraged by the government and for many companies, globalization may be the strategy of survival and growth. Major property services companies in Singapore also need to have a global perspective.

Real Estate Services

Besides the shift in the world’s economic dynamics, the old economy is now replaced by the new economy with rapid the technological advances. These have impacted the business environments and the services provided. Real estate services are not spared. In old economy, the real estate services are mainly:

  1. selling and buying of properties
  2. leasing of properties
  3. property management
  4. property consulting

In the new economy real estate services company provides a total asset solution to an investor or property owner. Thus its services may include:

  1. facilities management
  2. property management
  3. real estate consultancy services such as selling, buying, leasing and valuation
  4. corporate real estate services for clients who are moving cross borders for competitive advantages.
In Singapore, PREMAS International Ltd, is one that provides the full spectrum of the real estate services
  • Facilities Management
  • Property Management
  • Township Management
  • Energy Centre
  • Indoor Air Quality
  • Consulting Services:
    Asset Management, Marketing & Agency Services, Valuation, Landscape Consulting, Design and Build, Space Planning and Interior Design, Marketing Communications, Property Survey and Enhancement
    Engineering and Technical Services
  • Carpark Management and Consulting
  • Contact Centre
  • Training Centre
PREMAS International is a Singapore bred real services company. It is one of the largest real estate services companies in Singapore.

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Push and Pull Factors
There are push factors and pull factors for real estate companies to have a global strategy. In Singapore, the push factors are the saturation of the local property market and the fierce competitive environment. The bigger companies compete side by side with the small companies where the overhead costs are much lower. Todate there are many real estate agency companies, valuation companies and property management companies for a population of three million people.

The pull factor can be from the home clients who have global businesses and need corporate real estate services. As the cross border issues for doing business have gradually been reduced in this rapidly advanced technologically age. The increased connectivity amongst offices in various states of country and various countries gives impetus to the globalization of real estate services. In this new economy, connectivity is through email, video conference and internet.

In its initial years in China, PREMAS International Ltd was providing property management and marketing services to the CapitaLand group of properties in Shanghai.

The competitive advantages of one country may attract global of businesses. For labour intensive companies, many have established themselves in China, and India from their home countries. Philips and Seagate are examples of the multinational corporations who have globalised operations.

Companies providing the real estate services may also be pulled by the vast opportunities offered in countries where there is a lack of sophisticated real estate services. The opening of China to the world is a window of opportunities as China moves from a communist society to a socialist society with inclinations towards a laissez faire economy.

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Modus Operandi
Presently the globalization of real estate services may take one of the following forms:

  1. A one company structure with offices in various countries.
    This requires the companies to start from a fresh. It requires the registration of the company, the search for an office, and the establishment of the office with the full office equipment and administration support.

  2. a joint venture with local partners with the main company holding certain percentage of the shareholding
    This is a jump start to penetrate into the local market. The customer base is now available to the main company whilst the latter can provide the expertise

  3. Franchisees of the real estate services in various countries by the real estate company. Each franchisee operates independently in his or her country and share the global network for international referrals

    The franchises can be the use of a brand name, like Knight Frank, Colliers Jardine and the likes. The franchises can also be the transfer of a system and the continuous training.

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In all these forms of globalization and to export the real estate services, two basic ingredients have to exist. They are:

  1. The mobility of the knowledge workers with the skills in providing real estate services
  2. A system or procedures and processes for the provision of services.

Mobility of the Knowledge Workers
The knowledge workers have been termed as crown jewels as they possess the skills and knowledge in the company. In the provision of real estate services, technical and professional skills are the core competencies and advantages of a company. The export of real estate services will include the transfer of core competencies and knowledge from the home country of origin to another country with new markets. The core competencies of the knowledge workers in the company are likely to be the comparative and competitive advantage for the company to globalize. Thus often the company has to send the knowledge workers from the home country to the new county to set up the new business and to transfer the skills an knowledge. For PREMAS, a senior manager was sent to Shanghai to start the total asset management services. Cushman and Wakefield has to send their staff from other parts of the world to work in India, China and Korea.


In my observations, the availability and mobility of the knowledge workers across boundaries are important. Their availability and mobility are affected by
  1. The level of unemployment rate. The local competitive labour market and the constant demand for younger workers may be a push factor for the older workers to look beyond the home shores

  2. The commitments by the knowledge worker in his home country of origin. The knowledge worker may be committed to housing loans and the children’s education. Thus their commitments may require a double income by the husband and wife. The move results in one spouse has to give up his or her job. In Singapore, more than fifty percent of the families need the husband and wife income to finance their home, car and children’s education. In the move, the wife may have to give up her job and the children have to adapt to new education system. Thus it is often that the compensation packages may have to be attractive enough for the knowledge worker to move.
  • The social support system. In Singapore, many couples have their support of their parents, parents-in-law, siblings and relatives. In the foreign country, this will be lost.

From the Singapore experience of globalization of real estate services to China, a number of companies have entered into China by the establishment of the company there. Thus the knowledge worker is needed from the home country to China. The knowledge worker must be receptive to be uprooted from the comfortable situation to one that may have many uncertainties...

Systems and Procedures of Processes

For the facilities and property management services, systems and procedures of processes are usually the core competencies and core competitive advantage for the company to go global. The implementation of ISO standards, the Total Quality Plan, the Six Sigma or the Malcolm Balridge Award helps the company tremendously in its pursuit for globalization.

The Malcolm Balridge Award is an award given to a company who has reached a certain prescribed standards in seven areas namely: leadership, strategic planning, management of information system, human resources, management processes, the measurements of key processes, and customer satisfaction. The equivalent Malcolm Balridge Award in Singapore is the Singapore Quality Award which helps a company document its procedures and processes.

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Local Knowledge and Legislations
In the more developed countries, the local market knowledge and information of the various legislations can easily be obtained from publications like journals and books. In the less developed countries, secondary information may be hard to come by and may be written in their local language. Information gathering may have to be through meetings with the locals and the expatriates who have been stationed that particular country for some time.

In countries where the legislations are evolving as their economies grow, secondary information can be outdated very fast. Evolving legislation can also spell uncertainty to the companies who have invested in a country.

In PREMAS experience, to provide valuation services in Shanghais or local financial institutions, the valuer has to sit for a national examination and the valuation company must have at least 5 licensed valuers. Many foreign real estate consultancy companies may not qualify and thus only serve foreign clients who are investing there.

Political Stability
Politically unstable countries or countries with high labor unrest provide opportunities and also high risks. Exchange losses can affect the profits earned in these countries. In some countries, the expatriation of the profits to the home countries is not allowed.

Cultural Differences
Cultural differences may have to be taken considerations. In Shanghai, it is common for the employer to provide lunches or lunch allowances to the employees. Thus this additional cost to the company has to be imputed in the business plan. In India, a normal working day may not start at 8.30 am in the morning.

The food taken in a foreign country may be different too. To have the same food as from the home country can be expensive. The fast food meal costs as much in Shanghai as in Singapore. It is important for the expatriate workers to adapt to the culture in the new country.

In certain countries, the medium of communication may not be English. Documents may need to be translated with the right technical terms. In addition, the ability to master the local official language makes networking easier and generally this can be translated into more businesses.

Continual Training and Upgrading the Skills of Workers
When a company provides facilities and property management services in countries like China and India where labour cost is much cheaper than in Singapore, it is economically more viable and advantages for the company to have more local staff with a certain number of knowledge workers from the home country for knowledge and skills transfer. However, continual upgrading of the skills of the local workers is necessary to ensure the standards and quality of services are not compromised. Staff may have to be trained in the home country of the company. It may be a challenge to a medium size company who has expanded overseas.


In PREMAS, a training college has been set up to upgrade these skills in the countries which PREMAS has business operations. For those companies who do not have the resources to have their own training facilities, PREMAS training facilities are available to them too.

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As Woodward Hansin from USA has mentioned in his paper, the new economy will be driven by a profound development. Information is an important matter and global sharing is made possible through internet and common platforms of databases. Space and distance have been diminished. Geographical distance is not an excuse. The world is our customer, business partner and competitor. Time is collapsing. Instantaneous connection and response are the demands from your customers. Individuals and companies are electronically linked. It is no longer a one stop service but a non stop service that is 24 x 7 service. And this points towards virtual globalization.

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