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Transforming the estate agency industry

Singapore’s property transactions amount to tens of billions of dollars a year. For many Singaporeans, purchasing a home is probably the largest single investment they will ever make and hence, it is important that they are given the right advice and service when making such investments.

Since its inception in October 2010 to raise the professionalism of the real estate agency, the Council for Estate Agencies (CEA) has stepped up efforts to protect consumers looking to enter the property market. They have put in place enhanced licensing conditions for estate agents, having salespersons registered, regulating the way estate agency work is conducted, and carrying out disciplinary actions.

Since 1 January 2011, all real estate agents and salespersons are required to pass regulatory examinations and obtain a licence or registration before they are allowed to conduct any real estate agency work. The CEA will take enforcement action against agents or salespersons who do not meet this requirement. Industry professionals are also required to complete six hours of training annually through CEA’s Continuing Professional Development scheme to keep abreast of the latest trends in real estate.

Besides these, the CEA has come up with services and materials to help consumers. Chief among them is a public register of licensed estate agents and registered salespersons so that home buyers can check if the individuals they are dealing with are, for example, registered with the CEA. Forms or agreements used for the sale or lease of residential properties were also standardised to protect the interests of both consumers and salespersons.

The CEA has also released a guide offering tips to home buyers on how to deal with real estate salespersons. The guide clearly charts out the responsibilities of each party, as well as actions to take when a dispute arises.

Collective efforts

The CEA and URA work very closely as both agencies have some complementary objectives such as enhancing the efficiency of the real estate sector. When the CEA introduced the Practice Guidelines on Ethical Advertising in June 2011, both agencies coordinated their regulatory policies and enforcement action for greater synergy. As part of the new guidelines, salespersons could no longer include terms like “specialist” or “experts” in their publicity materials, or make cold calls and send messages to consumers from 10.00 pm to 9.00 am.

URA participates in CEA’s industry platforms to update on policies related to the private, commercial and industry property sectors. At the CEA’s inaugural Key Executive Officer Seminar in October 2011, the URA shared on the topic of enhancing transparency in the private residential market. Earlier this year, it conducted a seminar advising salespersons on the dos and don’ts while applying to change the use of a certain property.

The latest collaboration was the CEA-URA joint circular issued in June 2012 to remind both estate agents and developers or building owners of their responsibilities in providing accurate information on the use of the properties to prospective buyers. It underlines the allowable uses of industrial space, duties of estate agents or salespersons in respect of advertisements, role of developers, and actions against estate agents or salespersons and unauthorised uses.

Vibrancy in the real estate sector

A vibrant real estate sector relies on the integrity and professionalism of multiple parties, including estate agents and salespersons. By working closely together, all stakeholders contribute to the development of the industry and instilling stronger public confidence in it. Home buyers can only stand to gain from more transparency in the market and active involvement by the URA and CEA to empower them with information to make judicious investments.

 

Skyline is a bi-monthly publication by the Urban Redevelopment Authority.