The Fear of Losing Out in Life and Property Investing

By Property Soul (guest contributor)

As the whole nation was in a celebratory mood for our Jubilee National Day, I couldn’t help wondering what makes us uniquely Singaporean. TODAY conducted a street poll with 525 respondents and asked for three words that best describe the Singapore identity. As everyone would have expected, the word that was mentioned most was “kiasu”, or the Hokkien word behind “fear of losing”.

Drive along any expressway in Singapore. If you find a car hogging your left lane some distance behind, simply signal left and it will automatically speed up in a second. It works over 90 percent of the time.

The relaxed driver originally has no intention to keep pace with the car in front. But when a perceived competitor is in sight, the fear of losing immediately prompts the driver to take action. The drive comes not from the desire to win, but the uncomfortable feeling of being overtaken or losing out to a stranger.

The fear of losing starts young

In fact, Singaporeans start instilling the “kiasu” mentality to the next generation from their preschool years. The Straits Times had recently conducted a private tuition survey on 500 Singapore households. It found that 7 in 10 parents are sending their children to tuition, with 4 in 10 parents doing so for their pre-school kids as young as five.

Despite all their efforts, only 3 in 10 agree that going for tuition helped to improve grades to a noticeable extent. Then why are they still doing it? The survey found that, for many parents, it is simply because others are doing it and they want their children to keep up.

Imagine spending a few hundred bucks per month, imposing a tight schedule of tuition and private classes, and spending weekends chauffeuring the kids to learning centres – all these just for the purpose of keeping up with others to avoid losing on the starting line.

I would rather spend quality time having fun with my two little ones. Children have the right to play, explore and learn whatever subjects interest them. Help them find their niche, and they will develop confidence in life. Help them find their passion, and they will prosper in the future. Ask them to do what everyone else is doing, and they will end up being average.

It is the desire to win, not the fear of lagging behind, that drives young minds. The former builds optimism while the latter results in pessimism. Sadly, not many parents see this.

Investing in properties for fear of losing out

The same mentality applies to property investment. Many people invest in properties not because they want to make passive income, achieve financial freedom, or be a property millionaire one day.

They buy properties because they are told that money put in the bank will be eroded by inflation, that the property market is hot and they must buy now before all units are sold out, that if they don’t buy today prices will become unaffordable tomorrow …

It is a purely defensive move rather than a proactive strategy. People put their life savings into a property not because of the desire to win, but for the fear of missing out. And that fear of missing the boat sounds more horrible and painful than making a wrong investment decision.

In fact, people feel more terrible missing the opportunity to make money, compared with the consequence of being stuck with a bad investment. When the market crashes, it is common to find others who end up with the same fate. And it is a relief to know that ‘we are all in the same boat’.

Are people afraid of missing the boat and can’t wait to jump into the water? Or do they think that the sinking boat is safe provided that the majority of the people are there?

– Property Soul, No B.S. Guide to Property Investment

What history has taught us

Remember how desperate buyers queued overnight for a new launch? Remember how eager buyers gave blank cheques to their property agents for balloting just to secure a unit? Remember how new projects are all sold out on the first day of launch? Remember how speculators flipped their units like nobody’s business?

We saw this happening in 1996, 2000 and 2012-13. What happened to these projects now? Where did the prices go a year later? How did the buyers find their purchase?

Buyers flocked to the market when the government announced a new MRT line; when the industry stakeholders mentioned some property hotspot; when the media reported prices of a new project had set a new high; when property agents told everyone that industrial properties were hot; when the paper said that more are buying overseas properties now …

How many percent of these buyers truly understand what they are buying into? What proportion of buyers make their decision based on their own research?

Think before you queue

We Singaporeans are very good at queuing. If queuing is a sport, we would have won a gold medal.

We see this “national sport” practised every day at the hawker centres. We can easily spend over 10 times the time queuing in front of our favorite food stores, even though the food is barely two times tastier than another store selling the same food.

From today onwards, don’t waste your time standing at the end of a long queue. You are a unique individual and what you need is different from the others. It is meaningless to make decisions based on what others are doing. Do your own research and use your own judgment.

If you are familiar with a certain neighborhood, why waste time looking for properties in Geylang just because people say there are gems there? If your strength is in residential properties, why buy unfamiliar commercial properties just because agents say the profits are higher? If you are making good returns with Singapore properties, why the need to diversify into high risk overseas properties just because everyone says they are hot?

The pros play the property game to win. The amateurs play the property game to not lose out.

– Property Soul, No B.S. Guide to Property Investment

Kiasu buyers go for average properties. So stop copying what others are doing. When you buy what others are all buying, you will only end up being a mediocre investor. If you want to win the property game, you must have the courage to deviate from what others are buying. Find your niche and be a contrarian.

By guest contributor Property Soul, a successful property investor, blogger, and author of the No B.S. Guide to Property Investment.

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