Is the jig up for rogue agents?

The game could be up soon for rogue real estate agents.

The Ministry of National Development (MND) plans to set up a statutory board, the Council of Estate Agencies (CEA), to professionalise the real estate industry.

Among the measures: Tighter licensing conditions for estate agencies and their agents, a code of ethics and professional conduct for estate agents, a discipline and dispute resolution mechanism, and public education.

CEA will take over the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore’s (Iras) role of licensing real estate agencies.

But why a statutory board? Why not an industry association or one governed by a statute like The Law Society of Singapore?

“Complaints against estate agents have increased in recent years. However, the licensing regime does not empower Iras to investigate into these complaints and deal with errant agents,” MND said.

Noting that the actions of “errant agents can have serious consequences, especially for lower-income and less-educated buyers and sellers who rely on them for advice”, there was a need for the Government to take a more “proactive” role in regulating the industry to better safeguard consumer interest.

“Setting up a new statutory board will allow us to give greater focus to our enhanced regulatory efforts,” MND added.

The move did not come as a surprise to deputy chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for National Development Lee Bee Wah, given the negative feedback on agents. A number of residents had complained to her of being ill-advised by agents, she told MediaCorp.

“Some in financial difficulty were told by their agents to sell their flat and approach their MP for a rental flat, when, in fact, they may not qualify for one. Others were told to take a bank loan when in fact they qualified for a Housing Board loan,” said Ms Lee.

Real estate firm PropNex’s chief executive Mohammed Ismail, said the formation of the CEA was “long overdue”, adding: “Singapore’s real estate has matured where deals are worth $500 million to multi-millions, and any ill advice will have an impact.”


The new rules will make agencies more responsible for their agents, he said.

As part of the new registration requirements, estate agents will need to pass a mandatory industry examination, and undertake mandatory continuing professional development of six hours a year. This will be increased over time. To help consumers seek redress on disputes and contractual matters, estate agencies and agents will be required to participate in a dedicated dispute resolution process.

The process will tap on existing dispute resolution facilities such as the Consumers Association of Singapore and the Singapore Mediation Centre.

A public registry of real estate agencies and agents will be set up to provide a comprehensive listing of all licensed agencies and registered agents to allow consumers to check on the particular agency or agent they are engaging.

Associate director of ERA Asia-Pacific Eugene Lim welcomed the mandatory registration that will be applied to all agents. He said this will ensure that agents are more responsible for their actions as they can be tracked.

Bringing all agents under a central body would also eliminate the problem of “bad hats in the industry who carry multiple name cards – the ‘double’ or ‘triple agents’,” he said.

The MND will introduce a Bill in Parliament in the second half of this year to set up the new council and to establish the new regulatory framework.

Source : Today – 7 May 2010

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