Sunday, February 8, 2009

License all agents, say experts

The Consumers Association of Singapore wants an accreditation scheme to be put in place for the property industry.

Its executive director, Mr Seah Seng Choon, said that he has been in talks with various government agencies over the last six months to work on this.

‘The industry is very disorganised and it is really in need of proper regulation to ensure that buyers’ and sellers’ interests are protected,’ he said yesterday.

The accreditation scheme should hold companies responsible for their agents’ conduct. ‘Currently, many say that the agents are their associates and they are not responsible for their conduct. The scheme will put the agents’ conduct under their purview so they can’t deny responsibility.’

He hopes to put the scheme in place after talks with the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore (Iras), the Housing Board, the Institute of Estate Agents (IEA) and the Singapore Accredited Estate Agencies (SAEA) are completed.

The number of complaints against property agents has been on the rise. Consumers lodged 1,113 complaints related to the property industry in 2007, up from 991 in 2006 and 672 the year before.

Currently, anyone who wants to broker a property deal need only join one of about 1,700 agencies here. No minimum qualifications are needed.

Although agencies may have some form of in-house training, some agents broker deals before they complete the course.

At present, only agencies are licensed by the Iras. Agents operating under them are not. There are an estimated 30,000 agents in the industry.

Mr Jeff Foo, president of the IEA, wants individual agents to be licensed so that they are accountable for their actions.

Errant agents fired from an agency can now simply ‘waltz into another licensed agency to continue his bad practice’, he said.

‘It’s time for a top-down approach to legislate agents so that the market will correct itself. If not, there will still be cowboys.’

Mr Seah agrees that agents should be licensed, and urged the Iras to issue individual licences.
Besides also calling for the licensing of individual agents, the SAEA wants the Common Examination for Salesperson (CES) to be made a compulsory entry qualification.

Currently, agencies have their own in-house training courses. SAEA also conducts a Common Examination for House Agents and the CES for interested agents.

But industry experts said the problem is that there are too many schemes and none is mandatory.

The IEA also has a central register that displays on its website the names of more than 20,000 agents. This allows the public to verify if someone is employed by an agency he claims to represent.

The registry also alerts bosses if an agent is working for more than one company and if he had been blacklisted before.

But it is not compulsory for agents to sign up with the registry. Said Mr Peter Koh, chairman of the SAEA: ‘At this point we need the authorities to come in. If they don’t, it’s hard for the industry to self-regulate.’

Source: Straits Times - 8 Feb 2009

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