SINGAPORE : One of Singapore's biggest real estate agencies, PropNex Realty, is firing more than one-third of its agents. According to its CEO, the move is aimed at cleaning up the profession.

PropNex is firing those who have been with them for over a year, but have yet to submit a single transaction. About 2,800 agents currently on its list will be affected.

The agents were first given a choice to remain as PropNex agents by signing up for Professional Indemnity Insurance as well as a refresher course.

This group is seen as the riskiest for consumers as they may not be as updated on industry changes. There is also the possibility that this group may not be declaring their transactions, which poses a problem when consumers consult the agency and find that there are no records of the deal.

Mohamed Ismail, CEO of PropNex Realty, said: "Consumers are not protected in terms of professional standards provided by the agent. There's a lot of concern and a call for industry to be regulated.

"This did not happen in the last couple of years, so now the initiative should be for big players to self-regulate and move forward."

A lack of direct and stiff regulation for housing agents has allowed the existence of what some industry players call "cowboy" agents, who profit by flouting rules, and leaving customers and their agencies to deal with lapses.

So industry players said it is time the agencies do something about it.

"It would be forward-looking for any agency (to) ensure that their agents are properly trained, ... professional, ethical and exercise some kind of control," said Low Swee Kim, Vice President at the Institute of Estate Agents.

The industry first tried to regulate agents with a qualification examination, called the Common Examination for House Agents. But since it was not mandatory, it did not have the desired impact of setting a minimun standard for housing agents.

The Institute of Estate Agents (IEA) has also been pushing for second-tier licensing, but to no avail. Currently, only agencies are licensed.

A housing agent database pioneered by the IEA has also fallen short so far, because not all real estate agents have opted in.

Industry players compare this situation to that of the insurance industry, where agents are guided by tough regulations by the Monetary Authority of Singapore.

It is estimated that only one third of real estate agents are properly qualified.

"There's no educational barrier to entry, so anyone can join the industry. Typically, training is only provided if the agent joins a relatively big company where there is some structure in place," said Eugene Lim, Associate Director of ERA Asia Pacific.

As a major realty agency, ERA said it has training systems in place for its agents.

PropNex's CEO said this is just the start of an entire overhaul.

Ismail said: "At the moment, PropNex is at the drawing board working out some policies and programme. If the authorities are not prepared to regulate the industry, some of the big players (like) ourselves, we would like to self-regulate.

"We have to just move and take the lead role to make a difference. And doing that, I think (others) will follow.

"We are in the planning stage and (soon),... we should be able to reveal some of our new policies and procedures that will put a check on all our agents, in terms of their conduct and responsibility."

PropNex is also looking at creating avenues to give redress to consumers who have problems with their agents. - CNA /ls