Industry body wants at least 1 in 2 agents here accredited by year end
THE real estate industry is stepping up efforts to train and certify property agents in Singapore, after the Government expressed concern over the unscrupulous practices of rogue agents, highlighted in a recent spate of unsavoury incidents.
Singapore Accredited Estate Agencies (SAEA) said yesterday it aims to see at least half of the 30,000 or so agents here accredited by the year-end - a tough goal as the tally to date is only 6,000.
As an incentive, SAEA has persuaded the Workforce Development Agency (WDA) to subsidise most of the course fees for one of the exams till December.
Agents will be tested on property law, ethics and sales processes. The goal is to ensure that property buyers and sellers are able to engage only accredited agents trained in such transactions, said SAEA chief Tan Tee Khoon yesterday.
The Institute of Estate Agents said yesterday it would introduce in September a six-week entrance course for all new property agents. No such course is offered currently, so basic training is left to individual property agencies.
Accreditation is voluntary, as the Government has always said it prefers the sector to be self-regulated. There is no law requiring property agents in Singapore to be licensed or qualified. They are regulated by the agencies they work for.
However, this has led to some instances of buyers and sellers being cheated by unethical rogue agents or misled by ignorant ones. In February, a couple successfully sued estate agency ERA Realty Network because its agents had made a profit out of 'flipping' an apartment they were supposed to sell for the couple.
Following this, National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan said the current regulatory regime was not tenable, so the Government was considering tightening the rules governing agents.
In response, SAEA yesterday unveiled several steps to raise industry standards.
The first is to encourage more agents to obtain accreditation. To do so, they must pass an exam and belong to one of the 300 agencies accredited by SAEA.
They can take either the Common Examination for Housing Agents (CEHA) or the lower-level Common Examination for Salespersons (CES).
CEHA, which costs $315 and was introduced in 1996, is recognised by the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore as a qualification for agents who want to start their own real estate firms.
CES, which costs $200 and consists of multiple-choice questions, was created last year for agents keen on simply buying and selling properties. This group makes up about two-thirds of agents here.
Yesterday, SAEA said WDA will subsidise 80 to 90 per cent of the course fees for CES takers until the end of the year.
Nine of the largest SAEA-accredited agencies - including PropNex, ERA, HSR and Dennis Wee - have pledged to get all their active agents to take the exams by the year-end. These agents do deals regularly and make up about half of all agents here. ERA associate director Eugene Lim, for instance, said the firm will send 50 to 80 agents to take the exams every month.
For agents keen to get further qualifications, SAEA is also tying up with Ngee Ann Polytechnic to introduce a new Certificate in Real Estate Marketing. The six-month course will cost about $1,500 and is slated to start in November.
In addition, SAEA is taking steps to improve its complaint procedures. Buyers and sellers who are unhappy with their accredited agents can lodge complaints with SAEA, which receives about 70 such complaints a year. Previously, the process was not made public, and there was no structured procedure to handle dispute resolution, said Dr Tan. Now, SAEA will provide greater transparency when dealing with complaints.
Dr Tan said these moves are a push by the industry to raise the competence and improve the conduct of real estate agents, but that help from the Government would also be appreciated.
'I hope that some time next year, we will see an announcement by the Government on making accreditation compulsory for those who want to practise.'Source: Straits Times, 18 July 2009