February 9, 2009 Monday

Undue emphasis on certificate for property agents

DOES a Common Examination for House Agents (Ceha) certificate make a property agent a better service provider than one without? I doubt so as anyone can sign up for the Ceha course and sit for the exam without any experience. It is a purely academic, memory-mapping exam and just a piece of paper.

One might work in a property agency, attend its training course, have hands-on practical experience - but sit for the Ceha exam and fail it.

As a private property owner, I attended the entire Ceha course for personal knowledge, but did not sit for the exam. I encountered a handful of property agents and property agency owners with the Ceha certificate. They are aggressive in trying to obtain exclusiveness in selling or leasing owners' properties, adopting unethical tactics, making unrealistic promises and refusing to co-broke. Some without the certificate adopt the same tactics, but they are fewer.

In September last year, the Institute of Estate Agents (IEA) removed the commission guideline structure to pave the way for industrial players and estate agents to set their own.

Such 'free-for-all' practices create more undercutting of commissions. This results in property agents using unscrupulous and unethical tactics and property owners are the ones who suffer. There is no criterion that owners can rely on.

In 1996, HDB stipulated a guideline that the minimum criterion for a housing agent to be qualified for admission to a listed housing agency under the Listed Housing Agents Scheme must be the Ceha certificate, the only one recognised by the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore.

Those with the Ceha certificate also enjoy priority in processing HDB resale applications. This criterion should be abolished as it is unfair to those without the certificate who are capable of serving HDB owners and lessees.

I suggest that property agents without the certificate but with experience be allowed to register with the IEA. This will allow them to make a living but hold them accountable for any malpractice.

A good property agent puts his client's interests first, is sincere, has integrity, and provides honest advice and information. I am confident that one without the Ceha certificate but with such qualities, experience and ability in handling sellers, buyers and lessees will provide better service than one with just the certificate.

Michael Yeo