IT HAS been long overdue but yet it's more than welcomed, say real estate players on news that the Ministry of National Development (MND) will begin consultations for a new regulatory framework for the real estate industry from next month.
Top on the wish-list of these real estate stakeholders is to see a licensing scheme for housing agents and the formation of a formal regulatory body which has the authority to settle disputes and reprimand errant agents. Industry players also said this may mark a shift in the Government's long-held position that the industry should self-regulate.
National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan has hinted at mandatory regulations for the industry since March, calling the whole system "not satisfactory" and the status quo "not tenable" after the emergence of several unethical practices by housing agents.
"The industry review seeks to achieve two objectives: One, to enable consumers to better safeguard their interests, and two, to increase the professionalism of the real estate industry," said the MND in a press release yesterday.
On this point, vice-president of Dennis Wee Group Chris Koh said the industry has been "waiting for the Government to give directions".
To Mr Koh, the most important element in the new framework would be a "stick" to punish errant agents. "I've heard of agents who have passed examinations, but are still unethical. What happens is if they do something wrong, and I fire them, they can just join another organisation."
Another suggestion is to create an official body to regulate the industry, overseeing matters like enforcement and a national database of real estate agents. According to the MND, there are some 1,737 housing agencies licensed by the Inland Revenue of Singapore as of July this year. There are no official figures for the number of individual housing agents, but estimates are about 25,000 to 30,000.
"Today, if I'm a consumer and I have a complaint with an agent, I don't know who to go to," said president of the Institute of Estate Agents Jeff Foo.
MND said it will look at areas such as qualifications and training requirements to increase the professionalism of property agents, and an improved dispute resolution mechanism. An enforcement framework against agencies with errant agents is also being explored.
After consulting real estate professionals, MND will ask the public for feedback on its proposed new framework for the industry. The consultation process is expected to be completed by November.
Source: Today, 21 Aug 2009