Thursday, June 30, 2011

No more property 'specialists' from Aug 1

PROPERTY agents will no longer be allowed to make grandiose advertising claims when new guidelines come into force in a month's time.
They will be banned from giving themselves misleading titles such as 'specialist' or 'expert'.

All figures in their publicity materials will have to be properly sourced and they will no longer be able to promise that HDB flat sellers will receive a certain cash premium.

The guidelines, which kick in on Aug 1, follow a rising number of complaints about misleading property advertisements which make exaggerated or unsubstantiated claims.

The Council for Estate Agencies (CEA) announced the new guidelines in a statement yesterday.

They apply to print, online and mobile phone advertisements. Agents who infringe the rules can be fined up to $75,000, suspended or have their licences revoked.

CEA's director of regulatory control Lee Say Kee said: 'The guidelines will provide clarity on the dos and don'ts of advertising, thereby raising professional and ethical standards in the industry.'

Some guidelines had already been spelt out in the Estate Agents Act last year, but the latest measures flesh them out in more detail.

Larger property firms told The Straits Times the move will help make sure members of the public are not misled.

Dennis Wee Group director Chris Koh said: 'The previous guidelines were still vague, and some of my agents have approached me for clarification.

'Now at least, they can refer to the official set of rules. It's also good to do away with terms like 'specialists' as there is no clear definition of it.'

PropNex chief executive Mohamed Ismail said the firm took steps in April to ensure the existing rules were followed to the letter.

We hired more staff to vet new marketing materials and also organised talks to educate the agents,' he added.

Bosses of smaller firms also welcomed the new guidelines.

Ms Janice Chan, director of Asia Breeze, said: 'It's obvious hogwash when people promise a guaranteed sale, so this is a step in the right direction.

'Now the question lies in how these rules are enforced.'

Mr Lee said the CEA will conduct random checks on publicity materials put up by property firms and their agents, and act on tip-offs from the public.

Some websites are already taking steps to make sure agents are really who they claim to be.

An iProperty spokesman said the company has made it compulsory for agents to display their registration numbers on its online advertisements.

The site has about 74,000 property listings from more than 14,000 agents.

House hunter Melanie Khoo, a 25-year-old creative executive, said the new guidelines could not have come at a better time as she is looking to buy a house this year.

'The more honest the ads are, the less time I need to sift through them and check if they are legitimate. I can also make better buying decisions then,' she said.

As well as advertising, the guidelines touch on the sale, purchase and lease of residential properties.

Since Jan 1, all property agents have had to be registered with the CEA, and since March 1, they have had to carry an Estate Agent Card which displays their name and licence number and recent photograph.

The CEA, which started work in October last year, is part of the Government's bid to raise the industry's professionalism through regulation and disciplinary powers.

So far, it has issued 23 letters of advice, which carry no penalty, to property firms and agents after receiving more than 100 complaints relating to misleading ads.

It took its first unregistered property agent to court earlier this month.

According to the latest published figures, there are 1,515 licensed property firms and 32,221 registered property agents in Singapore.

Anyone with information on property agents who break the rules can visit www.cea.gov.sg to file their complaints.

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