More real estate agencies, agents taken to task

MORE warnings and fines were meted out to errant real estate agencies and agents as the Council for Estate Agencies (CEA) clamped down on unprofessional behaviour, according to the industry watchdog’s annual report released yesterday.

In the 12 months to March 31 this year, 644 letters of advice or warnings were issued to agencies and individual agents – more than double the 287 issued the year before.

There were 32 composition fines meted out, up from six before.

More errant agencies and agents were also taken to court or disciplined. The number of disciplinary actions jumped despite the fact that fewer complaints were received last year.

There were 751 complaints, of which 42 per cent were in relation to advertisements and fliers.

This is down from 880 complaints a year before, when 36 per cent had to do with advertisements and fliers.

“CEA has been stepping up its regulatory investigation efforts,” said the council in response to queries. In addition, some cases ending in the recent financial year had begun in the previous one.

CEA added that it “took firmer action in the more serious cases, such as cases that involved unlicensed moneylending and referrals to moneylenders, to ensure that such offences are appropriately addressed and to prevent similar future occurrences”.

Mr Chris Koh, director of estate agency Chris International, said that the rise in enforcement might be partly due to “a backlog being cleared” as the council was formed only in October 2010.

Institute of Estate Agents president Jeffhery Foo said that the figures may not mean that agents’ behaviour has worsened. Letters of advice are issued over “grey areas” and could be seen as constructive criticism, he said.

Asked if the sluggish property market might have changed agents’ behaviour, he replied: “Some might be over-zealous in closing deals.” But they would be a small minority, he added.

Fewer homes have been changing hands. For the period covered by the annual report, private resale transactions fell from 2,077 in the second quarter of last year to 899 in the first quarter of this year. Quarterly Housing Board resale deals fell from 5,235 to 3,781 over the same period.

Against the backdrop of a weaker property market, there were fewer new estate agencies, which include sole proprietors, partnerships and firms.

Of 1,449 licensed estate agencies, only 81 were new. A year before, there were 1,495 agencies, including 235 new entrants.

But the number of registered individual property agents rose to 33,498 from 32,982 a year ago. Only 3,061 joined the industry, down from 4,289 the year before.

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