HDB cautions property agents against misuse of flat portal amid rise in HFE letter applications

Jun 7, 2024

THE Housing Board has warned property agents against approaching flat sellers through its resale listing portal to offer their services, amid a rise in the number of agents applying for HDB Flat Eligibility (HFE) letters.

Prospective buyers need a HFE letter – which indicates their eligibility to buy a flat, receive grants and financing options – to schedule viewings of units listed on HDB’s resale flat listing (RFL) service, which was officially launched on May 30.

Property agents who are not appointed by a buyer would not be able to contact sellers on the portal, unless they have a HFE letter.

In an e-mail to property agents seen by The Straits Times, one real estate firm said HDB has informed the agency that there has been an increase in the number of agents applying for a HFE letter.

“Salespersons are not allowed to approach flat sellers through the HDB RFL services, for example, being able to approach flat sellers because they have a HFE,” the e-mail noted.

The agency said HDB will take firm action against errant property agents, including banning them from the HDB Flat Portal and reporting the matter to the Council for Estate Agencies (CEA) for further investigation.

HDB will also monitor if agents who apply for HFE letters end up buying flats during the validity period of the letter, which is nine months (*see amendment note).

ST has contacted HDB for comment.

HDB’s resale flat listing service allows owners or their property agents to list their homes for sale directly on the Flat Portal on its website. The service is currently free.

Sellers have the option to manage their listings independently or appoint property agents. Agents who are not representing any buyer, but had obtained a HFE letter to solicit business on the portal, could have potentially breached the terms and conditions of using the resale flat listing service.

HDB states on its website that property agents should only use the portal to manage their clients’ sale or purchase of flats.

A CEA spokesman said it has not received any feedback of agents misusing HDB’s service to solicit business from flat sellers.

Property agencies and agents who fail to comply with CEA’s Code of Ethics and Professional Client Care may be subject to disciplinary action, the spokesman said.

Agents who breach these laws could be fined up to S$100,000 and have their licence suspended or revoked.

Eugene Lim, key executive officer of ERA Realty Network, told ST the agency received an e-mail from HDB on Jun 3 and has informed all agents to comply.

When contacted, PropNex Realty’s key executive officer Lim Yong Hock said the agency has not been informed of any misuse cases by its agents, but will not hesitate to refer such cases to CEA.

Mark Yip, chief executive of Huttons Asia, said the agency has conducted training for its agents on using HDB’s resale service, and “shared about the dos and don’ts including approaching direct sellers”.

He noted that the rise in HFE applications by property agents may not indicate misuse.

With a Build-to-Order (BTO) launch coming up in June, there may be genuine cases of agents who want to buy HDB flats, Yip said.

Property agent Susan Mariam of OrangeTee Group said she is not aware of agents applying for HFE letters to solicit business on the HDB portal.

She acknowledged, however, that agents are losing clients to HDB’s resale listing service, which she said helps buyers and sellers who want to transact on their own.

Another property agent, who wanted to be known as only Wee, said there is a possibility of some agents exploiting the “loophole” and soliciting business after applying for a HFE letter.

“It’s wrong, but some agents lack a strong value system,” she said. “For me, my licence is crucial. Losing it means losing my livelihood. It really depends on how much an agent values their career and livelihood.”

She added that “with the market slowing down, agents who struggle to close deals may resort to desperate measures”.

Lim of PropNex said the agency has not received any feedback from agents that the HDB listing service has negatively affected them, noting that it is one of various channels available to market flats.

He added that agents will be able to offer a range of value-added services, including marketing the property on various platforms like social media, reaching a wider pool of potential buyers and planning the transaction timeline, which may be complex. THE STRAITS TIMES

*Amendment note: An earlier version of this story stated that HFE letter is valid for six months when it should be nine months. The article has been amended to reflect this.