“I’m delivering my second child in early March, so I need to start preparing to take time off then. I’m a serial planner, I always need to have things planned out,” Race Wong shares cheerfully over Zoom one morning. Well into her third trimester, Wong got to the office bright and early for a meeting scheduled before ours—despite a hiccup earlier in the day. “I usually leave home at a quarter past eight to send my daughter to school and then get to the office by nine. But something set Cara off today so she was screaming and crying. It was a little bit harder than usual.”
Post delivery, Wong will spend some time at home with her newborn and four-year-old daughter Cara, but it’s obvious that she has no plans to take a real break. “I love working. It’s hard to take time off—especially because I think it’s important to lead by example. I tell my team that they inspire me everyday, so I put in the effort to try and inspire them too.”
As the co-founder and chief product officer of Ohmyhome, Wong is one half of the sister-team that runs the homegrown property startup. To say that she has had an interesting career trajectory would be an understatement—she once used to be a pop-star and actress. “I moved to Hong Kong when I was 20 years old with my sister, Rosanne. We formed a band called 2R and suddenly, we had a taste of stardom. We did records, movies and TV shows, we won awards. The entire experience was really surreal,” Wong says, reflecting on a past life that eight years on, she has left completely behind. “But I always knew it was not going to be lifelong career. Eventually, I wanted to do something I had more control over.”
“We have a double bottom line. We believe that the bigger we grow, the better our impact must be on the community”
Real estate seemed like an inviting choice, especially when Wong and younger sister Rhonda noticed a glaring gap in the market back in 2016 when they first decided to start Ohmyhome. “Back then, there were no platforms where anyone other than property agents could post listings. If you wanted to rent a bedroom and weren’t able to spend on an agent or pay for a classified ad, you’d basically have to ask around. Or you could go to HDB void decks and look at bulletin boards where people pasted paper ads—not the most convenient,” she laughs.
Today, several real estate platforms allow all their users to post listings. “In these four short years, we have seen a huge transformation in the industry and it’s something we are so glad to witness. We have never wanted to dominate the industry and be the only platform doing something beneficial for the customer—we want industry-wide change.”
Here, Wong opens up to Vogue Singapore about how her company is transforming real estate in Singapore from the inside out, the joys and challenges of being a working mum, and how she learnt to leverage her own privilege to serve the community.
What inspired your career change from entertainment to real estate?
By 25, I knew that I wanted to move on and do something else over which I had more control, I just didn’t know what—so I went back to school. I got my master’s degree in business and took a job at a stock and derivative brokerage firm in Hong Kong. Then I turned 30, and wanted to come back to Singapore, where my family was. Rhonda was already in Singapore, working on real estate. It was natural for me to get back into it—I say get back, because my family has always invested in real estate and I’ve moved over 20 times in my life. Dealing with properties and serving landlords, buyers and sellers is second nature to us because we have been through that journey so many times.
Why did you then decide to set up Ohmyhome?
Before Ohmyhome, Rhonda and I founded a company called Anthill Realtors, which served high net worth clients. We did that for two to three years, but then I told Rhonda one day, “You know what, this is really not impactful. We are just helping high net worth individuals make a bit more money. It’s not going to make a difference in anyone’s lives.”
That’s when the idea for Ohmyhome emerged. We wanted to provide a simple, fast and affordable one stop shop that most importantly could serve everyone. It seems obvious now, but things were different back in 2016. You can list your properties everywhere now, even Facebook. Back then, real-estate portals like Propertyguru, for example, only allowed agents to post listings. There was this big gap in the market that we wanted to address. The core idea behind Ohmyhome is that everything you need to do to move from home to the other, you can do with us. This includes agent services, to home staging, to conveyancing and mortgage advisory. We are launching our renovation services in February, meaning that our in house interior design team can complete the entire project for you, and they can even do Feng Shui renovation.
What were some other problems in the industry that you wanted to solve with Ohmyhome?
We started as completely free platform and we remain the same today, and there’s a reason for that. The nature of the real-estate business is such that wealthy people always get the best service. As a commission driven agent, the marketing cost for each of your client’s units are roughly the same—you have to advertise, you have to reach out, you have to give out flyers. All these things have the same cost. But the money you generate from each deal is drastically different based on the property value. If one client’s property is $300,000, and another’s is $600,000, it makes sense for the agent to pay more attention and give more care to the latter.
This is why we came up with a payment model where the client pays a fixed fee starting from $2888. In most cases, this amounts to high savings compared to the average 2% commission charged elsewhere. For the flat fee, Ohmyhome handles all advertising and operations. We even have specific lawyers that we work with who can help you sort out mortgage matters. The point no matter how much their property costs, each client is going to get the same good service from us.
“I think as women we do have to work extra hard to prove ourselves. If a man in the workplace mentions that his wife is pregnant, he’ll be congratulated, but women face judgment”
Why did you find it important to solve some of the inequalities you noticed within the real estate market?
I’ve always known that we are lucky to come from a background where we had enough funds to live a comfortable life. I don’t think that everyone has the same opportunity. We have a double bottom line. We believe that the bigger we grow, the better our impact must be on the community. We will not devote our time into something that can grow bigger without helping people.
It’s also why we chose to expand to the Philippines last year. Of course, it’s a great market to invest in. But more importantly, the central ethos of our business—which is to help people transact easily—could be really useful there. In Singapore, we are talking about a first tier city—more transparent with less fraudulent activities and very clean data. In places like the Philippines, buying and selling the property can often be illegitimate. There are a lot of issues that Ohmyhome’s technology can help solve.
Given the male-dominated nature of the real estate industry, have you ever felt like you are taken less seriously because you are a woman or a mother?
My daughter was born in 2017, and we started the company in 2016. Fundraising and talking to investors can be a huge challenge when you are pregnant. I remember one day I was trying to button up a huge coat to try to conceal my belly. It sounds funny in hindsight but the truth is that people really do judge working mothers. I’ve been asked, “What are you going to do after you give birth?” I’d say that I would continue working, and they’d reply—”Oh, you know, it’s very different. A lot of woman they say that, but once they give birth and they see the baby, they’ll want to spend all their time with their child.” I think as women we do have to work extra hard to prove ourselves. If a man in the workplace mentions that his wife is pregnant, he’ll be congratulated, but women face judgment. I’m conscious of this, especially as a mother myself. When my employees go on maternity leave—it’s true, we bear the costs. But it has never stopped us from hiring the right person, and I’ve had amazing colleagues who have continued to prove to us that we were right.
What are some other parts of the company culture you have instilled at Ohmyhome that are important to you?
Making the office child-friendly was a priority, because I understand how difficult it can be to balance work and family. We have a playroom set aside, made completely out of artificial grass, soundproof, with see through walls so that employees can check on their children easily. We encourage our team to bring their kids to work when they need to—it can alleviate a lot of stress sometimes. We love having family at work parties—you can bring your spouse and your kid, or even your parents, if you are single. We also have an all-women chat room within our team, for anything it might be needed for. If I see useful videos, for example, I can forward it to them.
Women often have to pull a double shift at work and at home. How do you personally juggle your work and your personal life?
There is nothing more important than a support system. This morning, I had to ask my brother-in-law for help to send Cara to school with his son, because I realised I wasn’t going to be able to. If I didn’t have that help and tried to take my daughter to school myself, then I would’ve been late for my first meeting and my second meeting. It’s just a domino effect—and if you cannot keep your word and deliver something you said you would, you’ll lose the confidence people have in you.
When it comes to carving out time for my family, I try to understand people’s love languages and what they hold important. My daughter needs to see me face to face. So when I go on work trips, I’ll explain it to her clearly first and then get on FaceTime with her every day. With my husband, meaningful conversation is important. Even if it is close to midnight when we finally manage to be in the same place together, we’ll spend some time talking about how our days went. He’s extremely supportive of the work that I do, and we share household duties, it’s never just my job. He built his own business too, so he understands the number of hours needed. He always tells me that he respects me for working so hard.
“This morning I woke up an hour early, snuck into my daughter’s room and lay in her bed with her, so that when she woke up, she’d feel like I’d slept with her the previous night”
And is being a working mother difficult at times?
The first six months after birth are crazy—you’re sleep deprived, you are waking up at all hours to nurse. You barely have anytime to yourself, but it’s important that you take care of your own body. From there, it’s about making a few sacrifices for what’s truly important. Yesterday I was at work late, so I didn’t see my daughter to bed. So this morning I woke up an hour early, snuck into her room and lay in her bed with her, so that when she woke up, she’d feel like I’d slept with her previous night. And then we were able to spend some time together before she went for breakfast, which was precious for both of us. I’m excited for the second baby, but I have to prepare my daughter for it, make sure she’s not jealous and she understands what’s happening. I didn’t have a baby shower for my first child, nor did I have a gender reveal party. I’m not going to spend the time to throw a party for myself. There’s so much work to be done! It’s the last thing on my mind.
What is your ultimate goal for Ohmyhome and the real estate industry?
We want Ohmyhome to be the most trustworthy platform. We don’t have to be the biggest platform, but we pride ourselves on being the most reliable in taking care of our clients’ housing journeys from start to end. I don’t believe that one company can serve everyone. The goal is to drive positive change in the industry and set a high standard—if we are offering a lower fee for our clients, other platforms can do so too. If we are meeting renovation timelines, the rest of the industry can follow suit.
We ultimately want to become global players because we see a lot of scope for Ohmyhome to make a difference in the global market. I have invested in properties in different countries, like Hong Kong, Australia, Malaysia and London. London is a tier one city but you’d be surprised at how agents handle transactions there. Rental deposits are paid to agencies instead of landlords. Getting my deposit back from my landlord was so difficult and complicated that I had to engage a lawyer to sue the agency and get my money back. It shouldn’t be that way because honesty and transparency are very important. We constantly tell our content team to be very factual in their writing. When our clients ask, “What do I do as a tenant? Who do I pay my deposit to? When can I get my deposit back?”, every question should be answered clearly and correctly.