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Can PAs double up as agents?

In December 2016, the CEA took disciplinary action against two former property agents. Although they were no longer registered through a licensed property agency, they presented themselves as otherwise, and continued to conduct estate agency work.

We hope to share some learning points from these two cases to enhance the professional standing and ethical standards within the real estate agency sector.

To get us started, let us first do a quick recap of the basics.

Under the Estate Agents Act, “estate agency work” includes:

  • Referring or introducing a client who wishes to purchase property to a third party (or their property agent) who wishes to dispose of property;
  • Introducing a client who wishes to sell/rent a property to a third party (or their property agent) who wishes to purchase or take a lease of the property;
  • Negotiating a property transaction on behalf of a client.

To conduct estate agency work in Singapore, all property agencies must first be licensed and property agents must be registered with the CEA through their property agencies. Licenced agencies and registered agents are listed on the Public Register. It is an offence for a person to perform or accept fees for estate agency work without being licensed or registered with the CEA.

Case 1: Personal assistant who posed as an agent

In December 2016, Ng Boon Hai was fined $68,000, in default 32 weeks’ imprisonment, for unregistered agent offences. He was convicted for holding himself out as a registered agent when he wasn’t one and for holding himself out as entitled to perform estate agency work for his previous agency without a written agreement authorising him to do so.

Ng was a registered agent with a property agency from October 2010 to December 2014. He was convicted in November 2014 for some offences and was imprisoned for a month. His agent registration expired in end December 2014 and he applied to re-join the industry in early 2015. His application was rejected as he failed to declare the conviction.

Ng subsequently became a personal assistant of a Senior Vice President in his previous agency. Ng was supposed to help with administrative work. However, in April 2015, he responded to an advertisement placed by another agent and tried to arrange for a viewing of the property. He also posted 15 advertisements on an online portal using his account to market 13 properties for sale. In these advertisements, he represented himself as a registered agent and Associate Director of the agency.

Learning points:

  • If you are hiring someone to help with administrative work related to the properties you are marketing, ensure that the duties assigned to your assistants do not fall under the scope of estate agency work.
  • You should also check in with your assistants regularly to ensure that they are not breaching any of CEA’s regulations. Your assistants should not lead others to believe that they are registered agents, be it through their SMSes or advertisements. Also, they should not be involved in price negotiations.
  • Ng’s case came to light when a registered agent alerted the CEA about his actions. You can do your part to enhance the industry’s standing by alerting CEA if you come across individuals carrying out estate agency work without being registered.
  • Property agencies must ensure that they provide their registered agents with written agreements authorising them to conduct estate agency work through them.

Case 2: $215,000 fine for conducting unlicensed estate agency work

In December 2016, a property management company and its sole director were convicted in Court for unlawfully conducting estate agency work without being licensed by the CEA.

Franks Property was fined $115,000, while its sole director, Lim Koon Heng, was fined $100,000. This is the heaviest fine meted out by the Court for unlicensed estate agency work.

Prior to the CEA’s formation, Lim and/or Franks Property held a House Agent Licence issued by the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore. However, they did not comply with the licensing and registration requirements after the CEA was formed in October 2010 and was not licensed by CEA.

Learning points:

  • If you were registered under the CEA framework previously but your registration has lapsed, submit a fresh application through a licensed property agency to us.
  • Under the Estate Agents Act, an officer of a company may be guilty of the same offence committed by the company if the offence was committed with the officer’s consent.

In the above case, the offences were committed by Franks Property with Lim’s consent. Both Lim and Franks Property were therefore charged. We would like to remind key appointment holders in property agencies to supervise their agents diligently to avoid situations in which they may inadvertently support their agents’ breaches.