Anyone who accepts a job as a leasing officer for a property developer will soon become an expert in the forces which drive the local economy. The role provides unique insights into market trends and a chance to see first-hand the factors affecting major investment decisions.
With nine years' experience in leasing, Albert Wong has already witnessed a number of highs and lows, but has come to regard all of them as good learning experience. He believes that by analysing the prevailing economic conditions behind each significant change in the market, he can gain a better understanding of the industry both in Hong Kong and further afield.
After first working for a trading company for a couple of years, Mr Wong switched to property leasing in 1997, when the market was near its peak and many jobs were available. He spent seven years with a blue-chip developer, including two years in Shanghai, before joining Chinese Estates Holdings Limited in 2004. He now acts as the company's senior leasing manager, overseeing various transactions in the commercial, industrial, retail and residential sectors.
The major responsibility for any leasing officer is to find suitable tenants, either through agents or by direct sales. The developer gives the authority to negotiate terms and conclude leasing agreements, a process which involves close liaison with other internal departments to get the property ready and meet specific client requirements.
Depending on what is needed and the relative strength of the market, negotiating the lease can take anywhere from two days to over a month. "For example, it usually takes longer to find an office for a multinational, or a premium shop location for a major brand," Mr Wong explains. "They will want to carry out detailed research and do a thorough evaluation of the site and the location." In such cases, the leasing officer may need to provide more facts and figures about such things as public transport connections or estimated pedestrian traffic, to prove the value and viability of the property.
In the commercial and residential markets, you must know about the competition in other districts
In contrast, when dealing with transactions for the retail market, the priority may be to find reliable interior designers and contractors who can meet the precise needs of clients. Mr Wong has found that things usually move quickest when working with small shop owners. They are very clear about exactly what they want and are ready to make decisions.
Overall, though, arranging leases for new retail developments is the most challenging part of the job. "You have to understand the expected mix of major and emerging brands, as well as the underlying market trends," says Mr Wong. "It is then necessary to work closely with the property management and marketing teams to organise promotional campaigns which will attract more tenants and visitors to the shopping mall, creating a good atmosphere and extra business."
Leasing for the office market requires good language and presentation skills. These are essential for negotiating with the senior managers of major corporate clients, who may be looking for extensive space and long-term arrangements. Therefore, while leasing officers have performance targets, they are also encouraged to build strong relationships and are remunerated with a salary plus bonus, rather than on a commission only basis.
For potential recruits, a degree in real estate or surveying is a definite advantage, but is not a prerequisite for doing well in the sector. Since much of the day-to-day work involves talking to clients and preparing proposals or correspondence, good language and communication skills are vital. A pleasant, outgoing, proactive personality and a diligent approach to the job are also expected.
Mr Wong expects the leasing market to remain healthy in the foreseeable future. He notes, in particular, that all the major developers are upgrading their properties and services in order to sustain profits and maintain high occupancy rates. With this happening, the biggest challenge is keeping abreast of the many changes and knowing what is now available for the different types of tenant.
"In the commercial and residential markets, you must know about the competition in other districts," says Mr Wong. "For example, you can't just focus on Hong Kong Island if you're responsible for that area; you have to understand the supply and demand situation in Kowloon as well."