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ACCREDITATION SCHEME: Plans for new group to lift standards of housing agents

A GROUP of property agencies plans to form a new association to raise standards in response to growing complaints about estate agents.

The group, which will be separate from the Institute of Estate Agents (IEA), will work closely with an ongoing accreditation scheme to lift the industry’s game.

Complaints about agents have shot up in the past two years amid a property boom, prompting disquiet amongĀ some about the sector, which remains largely self-regulated.

Unlike the IEA, which has individual agents as members, the new body will involve estate agencies, said the chairman of its interim committee, property consultant David Ong.

The new body is likely to be linked to the Singapore Accredited Estate Agencies Scheme (SAEA), which last year was reported to have vetted more than 7,000 agents out of the 30,000 or so working in the industry.

It is understood that more than 10 agencies – including HSR Property Group and KF Property Network – will be joining the group. KF Property is the agency division of Knight Frank.

More details are expected soon, but the director of KF Property, Dr Tan Tee Khoon, told The Straits Times that the new body would allow the agency heads to share information about rogue agents as well as host seminars and conferences to raise standards.

A register of agents from member agencies could also be set up.

The group could rival the efforts of the IEA, which introduced a registry in 2006. That registry lists about 350 agencies with almost 21,000 agents.

Dr Tan denied that the new group would rival IEA, saying rather that it would help curb the problem of errant agents. ‘We are really trying to cover more ground. Members of the public are free to choose whether they want to use an IEA agent or an agent with the new association,’ he said.

His firm was among a group of agencies that raised concerns about IEA’s practising certificate scheme when it was launched last year.

The certificate was given to IEA members – which number about 1,400 now – who pledged to abide by its code of conduct. The dissenting group, which included HSR, DTZ Debenham Tie Leung and Global Real Estate, felt the certificate could confuse the public and called instead for the industry to support the SAEA.

One agency chief, Mr Chris Koh from Dennis Wee Properties, said the new group could work if it united all the industry’s head honchos. But IEA’s first vice-president and the chief executive of Propnex, Mr Mohamed Ismail, felt it would divide the industry instead and spread resources too thinly.

There were 1,717 housing agencies in Singapore as at the end of last year. The largely unregulated property sector has had a bad reputation over the years. The Consumers Association of Singapore (Case) received 1,113 complaints last year, up from 991 in 2006.

Case said the complaints involved agents misrepresenting facts, failing to honour promised terms and providing unsatisfactory services, among other things.

Industry veterans say the problem lies in the fact that only agencies are licensed, so agents sacked for unethical conduct can simply practise in another firm.

The Government, however, has consistently shied away from regulating agents.

Case is working with IEA to look into setting up another accreditation system for housing agencies.


Source: The Straits Times 4 Feb 08


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