Friday, August 21, 2009

MND regulatory framework for property agents

Ministry to launch industry and public consultation exercises from next month

(SINGAPORE) The Ministry of National Development (MND) said yesterday it will start consultations for a new regulatory framework for the real estate industry - a move that was widely welcomed.

Over the past few years, property agents here have come under fire for not having the right qualifications and for unethical practices.

In March this year, for example, Minister for National Development Mah Bow Tan said the status quo was 'not tenable' and the system was 'not satisfactory'.

To tackle the problem, MND will launch an industry consultation exercise and engage various stakeholders from next month. Parties that will be consulted include industry associations, agency directors and individual agents, the ministry said.

There are two objectives: To help consumers better safeguard their interests and to boost the professionalism of the real estate industry.

This will be followed by public consultation. The entire consultation process is expected to be completed by November and key elements of a new regulatory framework are expected to be ready by December.

'Over the past months, MND and other agencies have been studying ways to strengthen the regulatory framework, which include getting real estate agencies to take greater responsibility for the actions of their agents,' MND said in a statement.

'Other areas to be studied include qualifications and training requirements to increase professionalism, an improved dispute resolution mechanism and an enforcement framework against agencies with errant agents.'

MND's move comes even as real estate agent groups here push to improve the professionalism of property agents. The industry is now largely self-regulated, but players have said the voluntary system is no longer working.

'We have been looking forward to this consultation for a while,' said Singapore Accredited Estate Agencies (SAEA) chief executive Tan Tee Khoon. 'The real estate industry here has been fragmented and unregulated for a long time.'

He believes a basic regulatory framework from the government is essential so the industry can then use it to self-regulate. SAEA, for its part, has accredited about 7,000 of the estimated 30,000 property agents here.

But Dr Tan says more is needed. In particular, a dispute resolution system that can deal with complaints from the public and ensure that genuine complains against errant agents are addressed is essential, he said.

Property agencies also welcomed the consultation. PropNex, which employs more than 5,000 real estate agents here, said a central registry of agents - from which those with a black mark can be struck off - is a must.

'We all know that the current state of affairs is not adequate,' said PropNex chief executive Mohamed Ismail. 'Agents who have flouted the rules at one agency can just join another now. There is no way of stopping them from practising.'

In its statement, MND said that while the government works on a new regulatory framework, individual tenants and home buyers must also exercise greater care and responsibility.

'Working with other agencies, MND will look into various public education efforts to equip consumers with the knowledge to conduct their real estate transactions prudently and with due diligence,' the ministry said.

Source: Business Times, 21 Aug 2009

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