19 Oct, 2009
Poor service is top grouse against real estate agents
By Jessica Cheam
UNSATISFACTORY service from property agents is the top complaint consumers have about them, says the Consumers Association of Singapore (Case).
New figures released to The Straits Times show about four out of 10 complaints in the past three years were due to agents failing to give proper advice or to carry out duties for consumers, such as submitting relevant documents.
The next most common type of complaint was failure to honour agreements. This made up 15per cent of complaints from January to September - up from just 3per cent of complaints in 2007.
Misrepresentation of facts forms about 7 to 8per cent of cases each year.
Other grouses from home buyers and sellers include agents overcharging for commission fees, misleading sales tactics and refunds, said Case executive director Seah Seng Choon.
Unclassified generic enquiries made up 16 to 29per cent of cases since 2007.
'Most of the time, we see cases where the agent failed to provide the necessary information, in one way or another, for consumers to make an informed choice,' said Mr Seah.
Such information, collected by Case since 2007, gives an insight into the nature of complaints about agents - a timely move, considering public feedback is being sought by the Government on a new plan to revamp the industry.
The Ministry of National Development (MND) announced proposals last week to improve the industry's professionalism, including setting up a new regulatory authority, an accredited industry body and an independent tribunal for dispute resolution.
The real estate sector has come under scrutiny after earning a 'cowboy' reputation in recent years for an increasing number of complaints against rogue agents, which has occurred in tandem with Singapore's property market boom.
Case received 1,100 complaints last year and 1,055 cases in 2007, compared with just 379 cases in 2002 and 447 in 2003.
Some specific examples of unsatisfactory services rendered included agents not truthfully explaining the sales process, leaving out important documents such as valuation reports, or 'playing off' the buyer and seller for commissions, said Mr Seah.
In one case, a seller was asked to pay commission to a buyer's agent in addition to his own agent, because the buyer's agent claimed he had forfeited his commission in order to get the buyer to agree to pay a higher price. The seller later found out the agent received commission from both the seller and the buyer.
In another case, one seller, Ms Joanna Mak, a manager in her 30s, discovered that an agent had posed as a buyer and had requested a longer than usual period to exercise the option to purchase for the purpose of 'flipping' the property.
Another major complaint that falls under unsatisfactory service or misrepresentation: agents who represent both buyers and sellers, often seen in the HDB resale market.
The practice means the seller's agent often gets a commission from the buyer as well and may refuse to sell to a certain buyer if no commission can be paid.
This presents a conflict of interest and is so rampant that MND has proposed banning it.
But agents are defending their industry.
OrangeTee assistant associate director Monika Fischer, 50, says clients are sometimes to blame when disputes arise.
Ms Fischer, who specialises in rental homes, said that there are landlords who do not honour contracts signed and in some cases, refuse to pay commissions even after agents find a tenant.
'Clients also have to honour their contracts. And perhaps we should put a quota on the number of agents allowed in Singapore. Because it is so competitive, agents undercut themselves on fees and resort to unethical behaviour to survive,' she said.
Martin Koh/ Sherry Tang