Property agent fined, suspended for misconduct when dealing with elderly clients

PropNex Realty property agent Ng Ser Leong (standing) has been sentenced by the Council for Estate Agencies' disciplinary committee for breaching its Code of Ethics and Professional Client Care. PHOTO: FACEBOOK/ PROPNEX

SINGAPORE - PropNex Realty property agent Ng Ser Leong, 44, has been sentenced by the Council for Estate Agencies' (CEA) disciplinary committee for two charges of breaching its Code of Ethics and Professional Client Care (CEPCC) while representing an elderly couple in their 80s in selling their Housing and Development Board flat.

Ng was fined $6,000 and banned from conducting estate agency work for seven months and four months, for the respective charges.

The suspension will run concurrently from Oct 19, CEA said in a press release on Friday (Sept 22).

Investigations by the CEA revealed that Ng had not ascertained if the elderly female seller was aware of what was going on before proceeding with the sale.

She is illiterate, has advanced-stage dementia and stays in a purpose-built home for people with dementia.

Despite knowing that she is senile, Ng still went to the home and obtained her thumbprints to facilitate the sale.

It only came to light when the couple's children found out about the sale after the elderly man had a fall and was hospitalised.

He has problems hearing and speaks mainly Cantonese.

The sale was later aborted.

Ng pleaded guilty to a charge under paragraph 5(1) of the CEPCC, which states that "estate agents and salespersons shall conduct their business and work with due diligence, despatch and care, and in compliance with all laws including statutory and regulatory requirements, and practice circulars and guidelines".

He also pleaded guilty to another charge under paragraph 9(2)(d), which says property agencies and agents "must not ask or procure anyone to sign an agreement in which essential or material terms or information such as the property address, price, dates, names, and commission payable have been omitted or the relevant space for such terms or information is left blank or unfilled".

PropNex Realty chief executive Ismail Gafoor said Ng will not be involved in real-estate activities with the company during his suspension.

As to whether Ng will continue to work for the firm after that, Mr Ismail said this was under review.

"The management will review the severity of the case and counsel him. After his suspension, he will have undertake that he will be in compliance with all guidelines moving forward. We are prepared to give him a second chance," he said.

Mr Ismail said the CEA's actions serve as a "clear signal" to every agent that any breach will be dealt with.

Ng has been with Propnex for 13 years and has concluded more than 500 HDB transactions, said Mr Ismail, and he has not given the firm any problems to date.

"We are continually committed to training our salespersons to be aligned (with the rules), and to our customers' satisfaction," he added.

Ng declined comment when contacted by The Straits Times, saying that he was not authorised to speak to the media without PropNex's permission.

In response to queries, CEA said this was the first case where an agent was taken to task by its disciplinary committee for a "failure to conduct work with due diligence and care for a vulnerable client".

A CEA spokesman added that for cases of misconduct, it may issue letters of advice, impose fines on errant agencies and agents, subject them to disciplinary action, or prosecute them in court. Disciplinary actions meted out have included financial penalties or suspension for agents. Some had their licenses revoked.

CEA saw 16 disciplinary committee cases in 2015, 17 in 2016 and 15 this year so far. Meanwhile, it had 12 court cases in 2015, 18 last year, and 11 this year.

The CEA advises consumers not to sign transaction documents that are incomplete and have sections left blank, and to seek legal advice if the need arises.

Consumers are also encouraged to use the estate agency agreement as it formalises the contract with the agent, sets out his or her scope of work and duties, along with the terms and conditions.

The family members, relatives, and caregivers of vulnerable individuals who want to sell or rent their property, should play an proactive role supporting them in the process.

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