Sep 2, 2008 Tuesday

Self-regulation in estate agency industry

I REFER to the letters (Aug 22), 'Test ensures housing agents are more qualified' by Mr David Ong and 'Two-tier test system raises standards of estate agency industry' by the Singapore Association of Estate Agents (SAEA).

The Common Examination for House Agents (CEHA) was introduced in 1996 to raise professional standards. In 2005, an accreditation scheme was launched by the Singapore Institute of Surveyors and Valuers and the Institute of Estate Agents (IEA), with support from the Ministry of Finance and Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore, with HDB providing the HDB Resalenet for accredited agents and agencies.

Under the scheme, a target was set for Jan 1 next year, for all estate agencies in the scheme to achieve full accreditation for all their members. However, before the realisation of this target, SAEA short-cut the process by introducing a scaled-down Common Examination for Salespersons (CES). Such an exam, dubbed 'tikam-tikam' by the person who introduced it, comprises 100 multiple-choice questions and requires 50 per cent to pass. It is a watered-down standard for estate agents to be accredited.

IEA has made representations to HDB, seeking clarification. While we await HDB's response, many agents have been misled into believing CES is recognised by the Government and passing it will give agents the same standing as those who have passed CEHA - that is, be accredited to use the HDB Resalenet.

Can the professional standard of estate agents be raised when those entrusted with the duty compromise their own standards by taking short-cuts? Can those who take a 'tikam-tikam' course be on the same level as those who pass CEHA to get accredited?

To raise standards, we need to coordinate and synergise the efforts put in by experts in the relevant fields, including real estate sales, agency owners and managers, professional real estate trainers and various government departments.

It is an opportune time for the authorities to mandate a body to oversee a self-regulating process. The Central Registration Scheme introduced in 2006 has the support of more than 360 licensed agencies with the names of over 22,000 estate agents in the register. IEA has in place industry entrance criteria, comprehensive training, development courses and continuous assessment procedures to ensure all agents remain competent amid rapid societal changes and market dynamism.

IEA is ready to take the lead if the mandate is given by the authorities to move forward with industry self-regulation.

Jeff Foo
President, IEA, 6th Council