Published on Sep 4, 2011

Property agents in deed but not in name

By Daryl Chin

If someone acts and talks like a real estate agent, does that make him or her one?

The watchdog body here, the Council for Estate Agencies (CEA), is looking into so-called 'rental coordinators' doing the work of accredited agents - who need to first clear exams to do the job - as well as the property firms recruiting them.

The lure being dangled by some property firms is attractive commission earnings of up to $10,000 a month.

Once recruited, such coordinators are asked to call prospective tenants and arrange for viewings - in effect, acting like agents.

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

It has become aware that, in recent months, hundreds of recruitment advertisements have been appearing on online classified websites such as and

One such ad read: 'Rental Coordinator acts the same role as a Real Estate Agent. Why do people prefer to be a Rental Coordinator instead of a Real Estate Agent? The answer is simply as a Rental Agent, you do not need to undergo any Real Estate Examination...'

One former property agent, who wanted to be known only as Zack, found the lure of easy money tempting, but he did not bite.

In July, the 38-year-old attended a two-hour course conducted by a property firm.

He was told to contact prospective tenants, arrange viewings and act as a middleman. Every successful transaction at which he was present would earn him half the agent's commission. So for a co-brokered property that costs $4,000 a month to rent under a two-year contract, the coordinator could take home $1,000.

Zack's share would be cut to 20 per cent if he was not present at the viewing.

'Instantly, I thought something was fishy as I know how the industry works. Basically, we end up doing the agents' job and they just turn up to collect commission, simply because they passed the exams,' he said.

Among the 20 others who attended the same course was a 25-year-old who wanted to be known only as Mei.

'Each of us paid $200 after the talk for a set of names and numbers to call. What worries me more is that, currently, some of the agents have gone uncontactable,' she said.

In a statement to The Sunday Times, the CEA said that, based on the job scope, what rental coordinators are asked to do may infringe the Estate Agents Act, which came out last year.

The watchdog said it would be contacting certain property firms and investigating further.

Since Jan 1, all property agents have to be registered with the CEA to conduct real estate work.

They must have passed existing industry examinations, or brokered at least three deals in the past two years. The latter group has until the end of the year to pass the exams. If they pass, they can carry on working as agents.

Agents infringing these rules may be fined up to $75,000, or face a jail term of up to three years.

Property experts felt that the issue of coordinators needed further scrutiny.

PropNex chief executive Mohamed Ismail said: 'It's not wrong to hire a helper but the role must be very clear. Agents should not find ways and means to be creative. If they do real estate work, they need to pass the exams.'

Dennis Wee director Chris Koh added that coordinators were a thing of the past.

He said his agents used to have coordinators who planned their itineraries, but they have been erring on the side of caution since last year.

'When the coordinator makes the call about a property, it's very easy to start talking about its price or facilities, but that's an agent's job.'