$5,000 fine for agent who put up fake listing of semi-detached house as marketing tactic

Property agent Terrence Lin is the first person to be prosecuted for providing false information under the Estate Agents Act. PHOTO: COUNCIL FOR ESTATE AGENCIES

SINGAPORE - As a marketing tactic, an ERA property agent created a fake listing for a semi-detached house and lied to the Council for Estate Agencies (CEA) when questioned.

On Friday, Terrence Lin, 37, became the first person prosecuted for providing false information under the Estate Agents Act. He was fined $5,000 for his offences. 

Between September and October 2020, Lin was engaged by the owners of a house at Whitley Residences, a development in Whitley Road which comprises 61 semi-detached units, to sell their property.

The owners also engaged another property agent, known only as Gideon, to market their property for sale. 

In October 2020, Lin placed an advertisement on real estate portal PropertyGuru for the property at an asking price of $4.8 million. This was subsequently lowered to $4.6 million in November 2020 due to a lack of response. 

Later that month, Lin placed a fake advertisement on PropertyGuru, purportedly for another unit at Whitley Residences. The unit was listed at a lower, more attractive asking price of $4.38 million. 

Lin did so because he wanted to test the response of house hunters to the unit.

He said: “This listing was created by me to direct (potential buyers) to (the) developer’s units after I (had) seen zero response for the $4.6 million listing. It worked and I (had) seen a couple of inquiries.”

In November 2020, Lin saw that another property agent, known only as Denise, had copied his fake listing to market the property.

When he confronted her on Nov 15, 2020, she said the contents of her listing had been provided by Gideon. 

Lin lodged a complaint with CEA against Denise, alleging she had copied his listing without his consent. 

However, while recording a statement as part of the investigations, Lin provided false information to the council.

Mr Gavin Ng and Ms Magdelene Sim, prosecuting officers for CEA, said Lin claimed that he had two resale units at Whitley Residences.

Lin said the “owners” of the unit that was listed for $4.38 million had verbally given him consent to market the property. He added that the “owners” were not willing to reveal too much information because they did not want the neighbours to know they were selling the unit at the lowest price in the whole development. 

On Jan 21, 2021, three days after he recorded the statement, Lin wrote an e-mail to CEA confessing he was not authorised to sell the unit.

He said in his e-mail: “After much consideration, I’ve decided to come clean with the details. I (acknowledge) that I’ve given inaccurate information (in) the statement and am aware of the consequences... and truly (regret) it.”

He added: “This story was made up by me to get away from the recording officer in probing further on this matter.”

In mitigation, Lin’s lawyer, Mr Justin Ng from Kalco Law, said: “As the Covid-19 pandemic came into full force in early 2020 and lasted for more than two years, the property market was significantly affected.

“The accused struggled to make ends meet as a budding estate agent in what was already a highly competitive industry. It was under these circumstances that the accused resorted to creating a fake listing on the PropertyGuru website.” 

In response to queries from The Straits Times, CEA said it will commence the process to revoke Lin’s property agent registration.

An ERA spokesman said: “We expect our agents to uphold themselves to the highest standards of ethics and professionalism when carrying out their jobs as real estate agents. We do not condone behaviours that go against the code of ethics.”

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