More controls to keep real estate agents in line

Real estate agents may be accredited under a new scheme, if the Ministry of Finance (MOF) gives the go-ahead.

Two industry watchdogs – the Institute of Estate Agents (IEA) and Consumers Association of Singapore (CASE) – are joining hands to start a new accreditation scheme and they plan to submit a proposal to MOF in the middle of the year.

They believe compulsory guidelines will help improve the professionalism of the real estate industry.

James Chua had planned to buy a 4-room HDB flat, in the Admiralty area, valued at about S$260,000. He was willing to pay only S$12,000 in cash over valuation (COV).

But he was told that another buyer had already made a similar offer, and that was when his agent came up with a “suggestion”.

“She (property agent) said if (I am) willing to pay S$10,000 COV and S$2,000 commission to the selling agent, then (I) can still buy the flat. I was taken a back. Isn’t that not representing the best interests of the seller? I find that highly unethical and lacking integrity. I said I won’t do it but my buying agent said if you are still paying S$12,000, then what’s the big deal. That was when I started to suspect that they are in this deal together,” said Chua.

Chua had since bought another flat through a new agent. But he had reported the incident to the Inland Revenue Authority, which is the licensing body for real estate agencies. Chua hopes more can be done to better regulate the industry.

Last year, over 1,000 complaints were filed against property agents.

The IEA said this is about 40 percent more than 2006, partly due to the property boom.

Said Jeff Foo, president of the Institute of Estate Agents: “All these years, we hear consumers complaining about unethical agents, agents not knowing their job. And at the end of the day, nothing is done about it. The agents get away with it scot-free, because they are not regulated.

“The best thing is to legislate. If taxi drivers and security guards are all licensed, why not real estate agents? Real estate agents deal with about the largest investment of some consumers.”

IEA said it can only take disciplinary action against agents who are its members. If found guilty, rogue agents will be blacklisted and will not be able to work for another real estate agency.

It estimated that there are some 30,000 real estate agents in Singapore, and only 1,500 of them are IEA members.

Under the new proposed accreditation scheme, new agents must be trained under the National Skills Recognition System (NSRS).

NSRS is a national framework for establishing work performance standards and certifying skills acquisition, implemented by the Singapore Workforce Development Agency.

Existing agents are expected to upgrade themselves and pass the Common Examination of House Agents. There will also be provisions to punish errant property agents.

For now, the onus is on consumers to do their homework. They can run a check on their agents on IEA’s Central Registry System, or ask to see the agent’s Practicing Certificate.

From May, agents will have to submit the checklist to HDB, together with the resale application. This is to ensure all procedures are transparent. – CNA /ls

Source : Channel NewsAsia – 15 Apr 2008

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