Monday, January 10, 2011

125 estate agents' application forms missing

THE Council for Estate Agencies (CEA) yesterday said it has misplaced 125 application forms due to an administrative oversight.

It is working with these estate agents to get them registered as soon as possible. Meanwhile, the agents have been issued provisional registrations and are allowed to practise.

The CEA also said that 'as a gesture of goodwill', 813 of 1,736 property agents whose applications are pending approval can act provisionally till the end of this month.

These agents either submitted their application forms after the Nov 30, 2010 deadline, or did not have their forms in order.

Another 923 agents' applications are pending approval, but this group will not get the grace period. These are people who either did not declare criminal convictions or who gave inaccurate information on their bankruptcy status. They can re-apply or appeal to be registered.

The government agency acknowledged problems such as missing forms and registration delays, and apologised for the inconvenience caused.

The CEA was set up in October last year to police real estate agents and agencies following long-running complaints about unethical practices. It has a staff of 33 and started operations on Jan 1.

Addressing recent news reports that it was unable to cope with the workload, Ms Purnima Shantilal, CEA's director of licensing and investigations, said a large part of the bottleneck stems from agents going to the office themselves, rather than letting their agencies handle the applications.

A total of 1,401 estate agencies have applied for registration as of Jan 7. Of these, 1,288, or 92 per cent, were approved.

Three were rejected and 48 had incomplete applications. The applications of 62 agencies are pending approval because they were submitted late.

As for individual agents, CEA received 31,288 applications, of which 28,766, or 92 per cent, were approved.

A total of 786 people were rejected for various reasons. Most had not taken CEA-endorsed exams or completed at least three property transactions over the last two years.

The rest did not meet CEA's 'fit and proper' criteria. They include people with serious criminal convictions, including fraud and dishonesty, 'in the recent past'.

CEA clarified that it considers applications from people with previous criminal convictions carefully and on a case-by-case basis.

It added that undischarged bankrupts are not automatically disqualified. Again, applications are assessed on a case-by-case basis and it has accepted the registration of undischarged bankrupts with the relevant supporting documents.

While estate agents and agency bosses were relieved that there is some reprieve for those who have not been registered, they wondered why there are still delays.

Mr Jimmy Ng, director of Premiere Realty, said his company had not been placed on CEA's public register last week.

'After chasing CEA and going down to their offices a few times, my company finally appeared on the website on Sunday,' he said. 'But the delay has caused some of my 30 agents to not be able to clinch their deals.'

Ms Janice Chan, director of Asia Breeze housing agency, said: 'There is always a long waiting time for its hotline, and some of the staff do not seem adequately briefed.'

Others were more sympathetic, and attributed the problems to teething issues. Dennis Wee Group director Chris Koh said the one-month extension should help clear the backlog.

Mr Eugene Lim, associate director at ERA Asia Pacific, the firm with the biggest number of registered agents, said it bodes well for the industry that CEA has acknowledged that it has problems and is working quickly to resolve them.

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