Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Property firms dump fliers as rules kick in

THOUSANDS of property fliers have had to be binned due to rules aimed at stopping misleading advertising claims in the industry, which kicked in yesterday.
But some agents - particularly those advertising online - are still running ads which are against the rules.

For example, there were more than 50 by those claiming to be 'specialists' and 'experts' on the Property-Guru and Gumtree websites yesterday.

Both of these claims breach the guidelines, which were announced by the Council for Estate Agencies (CEA) in June following a rise in complaints about property ads which make exaggerated or unsubstantiated statements.

But most agents are taking the new rules seriously. Mr James Lee, who runs a property firm named after himself, has thrown out 50,000 fliers containing the word 'specialist'.

'We printed those last year and did not have the chance to distribute all of them, so it's safer to throw them away than risk it,' said the 43-year-old.

This sentiment was echoed by other firms The Straits Times spoke to, mostly smaller players. 'Over the weekend, we had to recycle about 30,000 fliers,' said agent Alan Tan, 33, who works for a boutique firm.

Besides clamping down on misleading claims, the new guidelines mean all data in ads must be traced to a credible source. And all fliers should have the agent's name, registration number and contact details, as well as those of his firm. The rules apply to print, online and cellphone ads. Agents infringing the rules can be fined up to $75,000, suspended or have their licences revoked.

Mr Derrick Lim, owner of Realtors Printing Ideas, said the changes may hit smaller firms harder, due to economies of scale. He said his firm prints more than 10 million fliers a month and caters to more than 60 per cent of Singapore's agents.

'The larger agencies can afford to have more stringent processes. How-ever, smaller firms may have a harder time dealing with wastage or ordering their agents to comply as having them leave might mean a substantial loss of manpower,' said the 43-year-old.

Yesterday, PropertyGuru, a user-generated platform which takes in up to 10,000 property listings a day, said it had called more than 200 agents to warn them against flouting the rules.

Its chief marketing officer Winnie Khoo said: 'As a platform, we do not have much authority on the matter so all we can do is notify, but the decision lies with them.'

The CEA said it conducts random checks on agents and acts on tip-offs from the public. The council, which started work last October, is part of the Government's bid to raise the professionalism of the industry through regulation and disciplinary powers.

Home hunter Maggie Ng, 29, said she is glad the rules have come into effect. 'Sometimes, fliers have such wild claims and misleading information, it makes you wonder why people bother to print them in the first place,' she added.

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