Thursday, December 30, 2010

27,800 property agents make the cut with watchdog

ONE applicant was once jailed for seven years for having sex with a child. Others had histories of drug trafficking, illegal money-lending, stealing and fraud-related offences.

Of the estimated 32,800 existing property agents who applied for registration with the Council for Estate Agencies (CEA) earlier this year, about 27,800 passed muster.

So far, CEA said it has rejected 210 applicants based on their past convictions or involvement in court cases, while others might have dropped out because of tightening regulations.

From Saturday, all new and existing agents have to be registered. It is part of the Government's first foray into regulating and disciplining agents in the real estate industry - the sixth most-complained-about sector last year.

Those who made the cut will have their details displayed for the public on CEA's website. Only these agents are allowed to work. The council has the authority to fine, suspend or revoke the licences of those who break the rules.

The public register will display the agent's name, licence number and a recent photo. It will also show information on the 1,190 estate agency businesses.

Agents who have passed a recognised industry exam, such as the Common Examination for House Agents, have had their registrations approved.

CEA will also register those who have done at least three property deals over the last two years. But these agents will be granted only a one-year provisional licence and need to pass the Real Estate Salesperson (RES) exam by Dec 31 next year if they want to continue practising.

CEA is also launching a dispute resolution scheme next month.

This process aims to provide a means of resolving issues such as contractual disputes between consumers and agents. The agent involved will be compelled to participate in it.

Barely two months after it started operating, CEA has already received 228 complaints - about 114 a month.

Real estate agents and home buyers interviewed by The Straits Times welcomed the tightening of regulations.

Prospective home buyer Vanessa Chew, 26, said: 'Many of us, either rightly or wrongly, look to real estate agents for guidance and information. The new regulations will hopefully ensure that real estate agents are in a better position to assist us and minimise any potential conflicts of interests.'

Dennis Wee Group (DWG) director Chris Koh said a 'substantial' number of agents still made the cut. He said measures like the standardisation of buyer and seller agreements will help improve the industry. Almost all the 2,400 agents DWG submitted to CEA qualified.

Mr Koh added: 'The public registry will boost consumer confidence... buyers will know they are working with bona fide personnel.'

PropNex also had most of its 4,000 agents qualify. But spokesman Adam Tan said Singapore's total number of CEA-registered agents is likely to drop, in part because of the difficulty agents possessing provisional licences might have with passing the required exams.

About 6,000 property agents have a one-year provisional licence.

Mr Tan added: 'People who want to join the real estate industry now will have to be serious about it as a career.'

CEA said property developers and estate agents marketing land banking products are not affected by the new rules.

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