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Singapore property agents urged to give accurate advice; new guide on ratings launched

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The best-practice guide rolled out by the Council for Estate Agencies on its Web site has a facility for consumers to rate agents.

PROPERTY agents in Singapore should be ethical, build trust with consumers and "pay special attention to ensure advice rendered is accurate, measured and takes into consideration the overall economic outlook".

This is even as the industry is exploring new ways of marketing properties and reaching out to consumers online, said Tan Kiat How, Minister of State, Ministry of National Development and Prime Minister’s Office.

A best-practice guide for consumer ratings of property agents has also been launched.

Speaking at the Council for Estate Agencies’ (CEA) 10th anniversary virtual celebration on Thursday, Mr Tan noted that property purchases are the highest-value financial commitment for many Singaporeans.

Thus, agents have a responsibility to remind consumers to make sound assessments of their own financial circumstances before they commit to any purchases.

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He urged the industry to put time and consistent effort into fostering stronger trust with clients, and to recalibrate and raise the bar for professional and service standards.

"We must not allow the unprofessional and unethical conduct of a small handful to tarnish the overall image of the industry. I therefore seek your commitment to continue to uphold the highest levels of professionalism as you serve your customers," Mr Tan said.

Earlier this month, The Business Times reported that some agents have been channelling a chunk of the commissions received from developers to buyers, to boost their chances of clinching sales.

This is sometimes done under the guise of "referral fees", with these inducements being passed on to buyers indirectly - through a third party - to avoid detection. Such payments are in breach of CEA's guidelines, but market observers have said it is challenging for CEA to find evidence to nab these errant agents.

The Urban Redevelopment Authority last month also curbed private housing developers from re-issuing options to purchase to the same buyers of the same unit, amid worries that financial discipline was slackening despite the recession.

On Thursday, CEA rolled out a best-practice guide - available on the council’s website - on consumer ratings of agents.

This comes as property agencies, property portals and other stakeholders may develop their own online or digital rating platforms.

The guide thus recommends best practices when rating agents on such platforms, including the key attributes each individual should be rated on.

For instance, agents should be rated on whether they provided services above and beyond the client's expectations, such as by using digital calculators.

They should also be rated on whether they were open, honest and reliable, or whether they had the marketing or negotiation skills to facilitate a favourable deal for their clients.

"With these key categories in place and a standard way of assessing, collecting and displaying these attributes, we can make sure that comparisons are fair and credible," Mr Tan said.

Consumers will thus be able to better compare the ratings of agents across different rating platforms. This is a necessary step to help them find suitable agents when they conduct searches online.

The guide also includes recommended safeguards to verify that the transactions and clients' identities are authentic, to guard against false ratings and abuse of the system.

So far, those that have adopted the guide include three property agencies - ERA Realty Network, OrangeTee & Tie and Huttons Asia - along with the Singapore Estate Agents Association and real estate portal PropertyGuru.

In a statement, ERA said it will align its agent-review platform, FindPropertyAgent.sg, with the new guidelines. In the three years since the launch of the initiative, it has collected reviews from more than 10,300 clients, the agency said on Thursday.

ERA added that it will enhance the rating system to improve transparency to the public.

Agencies can also sign an Estate Agents Pledge, available on CEA's website, to show their commitment to raise professionalism and deliver trusted service.

Having more agencies commit to this pledge will build a professional and trusted industry that acts in its customers' best interests, is supportive of agents' professional development, and conducts estate agency work responsibly, Mr Tan said.

Of late, the industry has moved much of its operations online, ranging from small virtual home tours to large-scale virtual roadshows, to overcome the physical restrictions put in place during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Mr Tan noted that consumers in Singapore have also become more discerning and tech-savvy in that they do their own research and make greater use of digital tools such as virtual viewings and digital signing.

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