Tuesday, October 9, 2007

THE property boom is offering disadvantaged youth a new lease on life.

THE property boom is offering disadvantaged youth a new lease on life.

Under a programme called Project Youth Regeneration, seven young people who are at risk or physically disabled are soon to become real estate agents.

Among them is Miss Zaina Tahir, whose life was tumultuous for several years before she turned 21. At 16, she had been sent to a girls’ home for drug abuse and truancy.

But finally deciding she did not want her life ‘to be corrupted like this’, she approached Mr Adrian Lim of ERA for help in March.

He oversees training, and says that while the money is good, learning the ropes is, in fact, ‘extremely difficult’.

‘It is a long process to teach many of these youth to understand what integrity, responsibility and honesty is,’ said the 43-year-old.

‘We started off with 60 youth, only seven have pulled through.’

But the apprentices who have made it are reaping rewards already.

They handle telemarketing to source for sellers and buyers, then arrange for viewings and, with an agent-mentor, learn to close deals.

Of a real estate agent’s commission of 2 per cent for each sale or tenancy deal, these recruits then get a 15 per cent cut - or about $900 and up.

That, as well as renewed confidence and direction.

Institute of Technical Education graduate Ivan Lin’s severe limp due to cerebral palsy has become less of an issue for him in the months since he joined the programme in January.

The 20-year-old said: ‘Sometimes when I meet a client face-to-face I can tell they are shocked to see I am disabled… but I can overcome my disabilities.’

Joanne Tan, 17, whose left spastic hemiparesis condition weakened her left arm and made it difficult for her to focus, is enthusiastic, too.

‘I am willing to learn. I am so glad I got this chance and started early,’ said the N-level holder. ‘I used to be scared to take phone calls, and now I am not. That’s progress!’

After they prove themselves, ERA will then register them as full-fledged agents who are entitled to their full commission, said Mr Lim.

He was so convinced about the project, he even quit his five-figure-salary job to work on it. He and his partner, 77th Street retail chain owner Elim Chew, even put in about $150,000 of their own money to the cause.

‘Real estate is perfect for those who are not highly qualified but have great interpersonal skills,’ he said.

Pundits agree. The project won a non-profit organisation contest, The Pitch, by the National Volunteer & Philanthropy Centre in June last year, which came with an award of $50,000 from UBS bank.

The President of the Institute of Estate Agents (IEA), Mr Jeff Foo, also believes the industry is a level playing field for those who do not have paper qualifications.

‘There are no entrance requirements apart from age,’ he pointed out.

In fact, IEA’s estimates are that 60 per cent of Singapore’s 19,500 agents hold O-level or lower qualifications.

‘That means almost anybody can be a real estate agent if the person has the aptitude. With proper training and mentorship, they have an equal shot at success.’

For Miss Zaina, an N-level holder who just two years ago thought she was a no-hoper, it means a second chance.

She currently works part-time at a factory while she understudies ERA agents, and boards with a friend’s family for $150 a month.

But not for long, she hopes.

‘I know I can do it this time. Now I really want to. I want to have a good life and earn a decent salary.’

Source : Straits Times - 8 Oct 2007

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