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Turning lemons into lemonade: American expat's journey to becoming a Real Estate Agent in Singapore

Gigi Wang at the Galerie 5 by Sol Luminaire, a 3-storey shophouse she rented out for the landlord. (Picture: Albert Chua/The Edge Singapore)

A common question I get asked frequently from co-brokes, landlords, expats and locals when they first speak to me on the  phone or meet me in person is, "Are you Singaporean? I didn't think you were from your accent. Why did you move to Singapore?" It's funny because I don't believe I have an accent, but I guess I do have an accent!

The first 40 years in one chapter 

My name is Gigi Wang and I am an American Chinese expatriate who relocated from New York City (NYC) to Singapore in  2013. In NYC, I received my Bachelor’s degree in Design Marketing at Parsons School of Design. After I graduated, I worked in the fashion industry for three years before going into the family business of selling wholesale silver jewellery. I  then went on to start my own wholesale jewellery business online. Being a business owner for more than 10 years definitely taught me to quickly learn how to be independent and to multi-task. Running your own business and being a one-woman show forces you to learn how to structure your time so that everything gets done. I definitely believe the pros outweigh the cons of working for yourself. Be proud of what you do and do it passionately!

But when life throws us lemons (sometimes more than once), what do we do with them? You take the lemons, keep them (process what has happened), and with time pull yourself together, take a leap of faith and move onto the next chapter of your life. And in time, those lemons will turn into lemonade. Who knows, the lemonade may even turn out sweeter than you could have imagined!

I travelled a lot to Asia during my childhood, visiting my dad and relatives. Then in my adult life, I travelled to Thailand and Hong Kong for work. I always felt comfortable with Southeast Asian culture. When the opportunity came for my husband and me to move to Singapore in 2013, we were both ready to take a leap of faith and make the move together with our eight year-old Vizsla dog. Arriving in Singapore was definitely exciting yet daunting, because it was my first time living abroad. I was fortunate to have the freedom to explore and enjoy the country in the first couple of years after we moved here. I took the time to properly mourn for my mom who had passed away from cancer in 2012 and I also took time to learn about myself. I made many good friends, travelled, and felt very at home here in Singapore.

(Picture: Gigi Wang)

Travelling is one of my passions. I have travelled to many spectacular places while living here in Singapore, but one destination that truly awed and surprised me was our trip to Beijing in October 2015. I am not one to take typical tours and I love to explore less travelled areas, so during our stay in Beijing, I had booked a private guide to take us for a hike to the unrestored parts of the Great Wall of China. The feeling I got when we reached the top on that beautiful autumn day was unforgettable! The vastness and tranquillity were breathtaking, as were the clear blue skies we were so lucky to have that day. It was absolutely amazing to walk the Great Wall of China for hours, seeing it in its natural state, unrestored but still magnificent. The feeling I left with was priceless.

Unrestored parts of the Great Wall of China, Autumn 2015 (Picture: Gigi Wang)

Then life threw a few more lemons my way. Married for over a decade, it was unfortunate when our marriage ended in divorce. People change over time as they age, they grow apart or in different directions, everything takes effort and nothing in life is permanent. That is what I have learned from this chapter of my life.

Second life 

I call the next chapter my "second life", becoming a Real Estate Agent in Singapore and unexpectedly meeting my incredible partner. While I was going through my divorce, I knew that I loved living in Singapore and did not want to move back to the US. A friend of mine suggested I become a Real Estate Agent. I have always found real estate and architecture interesting, so I figured it would be a good time for a career change! The path to becoming a Real Estate Agent was not an easy journey for me as an expat. Studying, attending courses and taking the Real Estate Salesperson (RES) exam multiple times, I got my RES licence in 2021. I am not embarrassed to share with people that it took me three years to get my RES licence, I tell people because I think they should believe in themselves and fulfill their goals in life. Getting the licence was a goal I needed to achieve to stay in Singapore. So I needed to be really focused on how to achieve that goal and sacrificed a lot of time to achieve it. In this case, persistence; believing in myself; the support of my partner, my close friends in Singapore, my family/ friends overseas; and most importantly, the dedication and guidance of my RES revision instructor, were the keys to  unlocking this achievement.

Becoming a Real Estate Agent was just the first step in this career journey. Finding the right real estate agency and mentor was another obstacle for me because I didn’t know anyone in the industry. At this point in my life, I realised that life throws us lemons to push us off the path we’re currently on because it no longer serves us (for me, it was my relationship and career). Then it guides us onto a different path, which leads us in the direction we are supposed to go.

Gigi Wang with James Yeow, Rainmakers Commercial Mentor (Picture: Gigi Wang)

Curious about the history and interior decor of the colourful shophouses that line the streets of Singapore, I quickly embraced the opportunity, when it was presented to me, to work with commercial shophouses shortly after becoming a Real  Estate Agent. This opportunity was given to me by James Yeow, who is one of the mentors (the other being Vivian Chong). I  am grateful to have both mentors guiding me on this journey and I truly believe that people cross our paths for a reason. I have a team of amazing colleagues who are now good friends of mine in the RealTeam under Navis | Huttons Asia. I work with supportive commercial shophouse landlords, shophouse management representatives, and have clients from so many different industries.

With Vivian Chong, RealTeam Mentor (Picture: Gigi Wang)


The lemonade is sweeter than I could have ever imagined 

I am very fortunate to have established strong business partnerships with commercial shophouse landlords and management companies over the last couple of years. These partnerships have resulted in mutual trust and respect on both sides, and have given me the opportunity to continuously receive quality commercial shophouses for rent and for sale. When I receive enquiries from prospects or co-brokes, I always make sure the prospects’ criteria match what my shophouse unit has to offer. Everyone’s time is valuable and I am not here to just open doors for showings. I believe my job as a commercial Real Estate Agent who represents the landlords, is to find suitable tenants for the landlords’ units, and for the tenants to feel comfortable in the spaces they are renting. Seeing the transformation after tenants renovate the shophouse space is most exciting. One in particular that I love, is a 3 story shophouse on Craig Road that I rented for the landlord in 2021. The new tenant Sol Luminaire renovated the 3,800 sq ft shophouse office space into a gorgeous lighting showroom, Galerie 5 by Sol Luminaire.

Another common question I get asked is, "Has being an expat Real Estate Agent been challenging in terms of the culture or language?" My thoughts on that are, yes, just being a Real Estate Agent in itself is challenging, and being an expat can add to these challenges, but I am fortunate that in Singapore most people speak English and there are apps that assist with translations. Being professional and respectful are two natural characteristics of mine. I think those are two aspects that most cultures have in common when trying to form a successful business partnership or closing a deal, so this has worked in my favour. In comparison to the vastness and blue skies I saw that day on the Great Wall of China, I believe the sky is the limit when it comes to the opportunities and achievements you can reach being a Real Estate Agent.

Every day, I meet new people and try to challenge myself to do something out of my comfort zone to grow as a person and learn. Every time I walk into a commercial shophouse to do a showing, for sale or for rent, I present the space with pride and a positive mindset because I am so grateful to be part of this niche segment of the real estate industry here in Singapore.

RealTeam, Navis | Huttons Gala 2023 (Picture: Gigi Wang)

For foreigners who are interested in becoming a Real Estate Salesperson, you can check out the Council for Estate Agencies website for more information. Shophouse Space was created to give people a better understanding of the current commercial shophouse real estate market in Singapore.

Tip: One of the requirements is that you must be a Singaporean, permanent resident or foreigner (with an Employment Pass) to register for the Real Estate Salesperson course prior to taking the Real Estate Salesperson exam.

For more information,

Contact Gigi Wang | 88203988



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