Top gripe about estate agents: Junk mail

This story was first published in The Straits Times on Nov 2, 2013

After years of complaining about the unprofessional behaviour by real estate agents, Singaporeans now have a new rant against them: junk mail.

Unwanted fliers or advertisements with misleading information have overtaken poor service as the top complaint about realtors, according to the industry watchdog's latest annual report.

The Council for Estate Agencies (CEA) said 36 per cent, or 319, of the complaints it received in the 12 months up to March this year were about advertisements.

This is a sharp rise, compared with the 16 per cent in the previous 18 months.

The offending ads had misleading information, left out pertinent facts or were posted without the prior consent of home owners.

For example, some fliers marketed industrial properties for other uses, which is not allowed.

Salespersons and agents also cannot advertise or offer any gifts, including cash and vouchers, to lure customers.

The CEA issued two letters in June and August last year specifically to remind its members not to contravene both guidelines.

Complaints about ads could have been caused by miscommunication or overzealous agents, said Mr Chris Koh, director of property company Chris International.

In the 2010 Estate Agent Act, realtors must get the consent of owners before marketing their properties. "Sometimes the salesperson goes around making cold calls or knocking on doors. The owner might tell him, if you have a buyer, just bring him," said Mr Koh. "But the salesperson thinks this implies permission has been granted to advertise the property for sale - even though it hasn't."

Complaints could also be about "improperly distributed" fliers, said PropNex chief executive Mohamed Ismail.

These refer to fliers not slotted fully under a door. "If fliers accumulate, it's a sign that no one's home. Those who complain worry this may compromise the safety of their home," said Mr Ismail.

To deal with the problem, the CEA did 221 checks of ads and more proactively monitored the industry, said the report.

As for unprofessional behaviour, the complaints about agents giving wrong advice, not being punctual or not following proper procedures slipped from 44 per cent to 29 per cent of all the complaints received, or from 729 to 255. Another 16 per cent of complaints were of agents using threatening words, harassing people or misrepresenting facts.

In total, the CEA received 880 complaints. Of these, 164 were found to be substantiated.

It brought seven individuals to court and issued letters of warning to another 150. The report also said the pool of agents has stayed about the same.

There were 1,495 licensed estate agents and 32,982 registered salespersons as at end-March, compared with 1,493 and 31,769 the year before. But agency bosses expect fewer agents next year.

Said Mr Ismail: "The market conditions (last year) weren't as bad as now... agents who are not very serious will drop out."

This story was first published in The Straits Times on Nov 2, 2013

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