Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Regulation of property agents under review

The aim is to strengthen enforcement framework and raise overall professional standards

FRESH details emerged in Parliament yesterday of a review that is now under way, which is aimed at regulating Singapore's housing agents more effectively.

The review follows a high-profile court case which highlighted the problem of unscrupulous agents.
Senior Minister of State for Finance Lim Hwee Hua told Parliament the review will cover areas such as agent qualifications and training standards.

The review will also look at putting in place a dispute resolution mechanism and an enforcement framework against agencies with errant agents, she said.

News of the review was first disclosed by National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan last week during an interview.

Mrs Lim was responding to a question from Mr Lim Biow Chuan (Marine Parade GRC), who asked if there were plans to license individual agents.

Currently, any housing agent can switch from one agency to another, even if he is sacked, Mr Lim noted.

'How does the ministry intend to deal with such rogue agents who behave in an unethical manner ... Wouldn't it be better to issue licences to individual agents instead of regulating them through agencies?' he asked.

Mrs Lim said that these were issues that 'the review will have to take into account - such as the ethical and performance standards, as well as the mode of licensing'.

The government review follows a high-profile case last month where a couple took estate agency ERA Realty Network to court after they sold their downtown apartment for $688,000 in 2007.

They eventually discovered their home was bought and resold by the wife of their agent's boss for $945,000. The couple won the case and have received the difference of $257,000 back from ERA.
Mrs Lim, who did not make any reference to the case in her reply, said yesterday that the Government agreed that the 'current state of the industry is not satisfactory'.

There have been frequent complaints against unscrupulous housing agents.

Government agencies including the National Development Ministry, the Housing Board (HDB), Ministry of Finance and the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore (Iras) are 'reviewing possible ways of strengthening the regulatory framework and raising overall professional standards', she said.

'Among other things, there is a need for greater control by the housing agencies over the conduct of their agents,' she added.

Agency bosses that The Straits Times spoke to said they welcomed the move, and felt that licensing individual agents would be the way forward, with a central agency involving the Government playing a regulatory role.

The Government said previously that it preferred to let the industry regulate itself.

The industry currently lacks a high level of accountability, transparency and professionalism, and making agents responsible for their own actions will help in these areas, said PropNex's chief executive Mohamed Ismail.

HSR Property Group executive director Eric Cheng felt that steps have to be taken to consider agents in the older age group, who might not meet new qualification standards - and not to set obstacles for entry into the industry.

ERA Asia-Pacific's associate director Eugene Lim said he was open to a new regulatory framework for the industry, but hoped the Government would consult the industry before anything was decided.

Mrs Lim said the outcome of the review will be announced when it is completed, although no date was mentioned.

Source: Straits Times, 25 Mar 2009

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