May 2023 - 4 min read
If you are a real estate salesperson (RES) who has or intends to engage a personal assistant to support you with administrative tasks such as scheduling viewings and handling marketing calls, do note that your assistant is not your substitute or representative. You must supervise your assistant closely to ensure that they do not unwittingly conduct estate agency work while carrying out their duties.
The conduct of estate agency work includes:
- Referring or introducing a client who wishes to purchase a property to a third party (or their RES) who wishes to dispose of a property;
- Introducing a client who wishes to sell or rent a property to a third party (or their RES) who wishes to purchase or take a lease of the property;
- Negotiating a property transaction on behalf of a client.
In this case study, we review the actions of a personal assistant who posed as a registered RES.
In 2019, Pang Jun Yong, then a registered RES with PropNex Realty Pte Ltd, engaged a personal assistant to assist him to schedule property viewings and search for prospective properties for rental or sale transactions. Sometime in April 2019, Pang, who owned a paid subscription account on a property listing portal, gave his user ID and password to the personal assistant. His account details were also amended to reflect the personal assistant’s name and contact number.
During this time, the personal assistant began posting property rental advertisements on the online portal on Pang’s instructions. In these advertisements, the personal assistant represented himself as a RES. Pang’s case came to light when another RES alerted the Council for Estate Agencies (CEA) that the personal assistant had contacted her to co-broke room rental transactions even though he was not a registered RES. Upon CEA’s investigations, it was discovered that the personal assistant had held himself out as a RES on multiple occasions and had even successfully facilitated a lease transaction when he was not a registered RES.
Pang faced a total of seven charges for having abetted by intentionally aiding the personal assistant to hold out to the public as an estate agent, in contravention of Section 28(1)(c) of the Estate Agents Act read with Section 109 of the Penal Code. In June 2022, Pang was convicted of two charges, with the remaining charges taken into consideration for the purposes of sentencing, and sentenced to a total fine of $12,000 (in default 60 days imprisonment).
As for the personal assistant, he faced a total of ten charges for, among others, holding out to the public as an estate agent and holding out and acting as a salesperson. He was convicted of three charges, with the remaining charges taken into consideration for the purposes of sentencing, and sentenced to a total fine of $20,000 (in default 70 days’ imprisonment).
By Francis Tan
Exco Member, Singapore Estate Agents Association
This case brings to light the implication of the Estate Agents Act (EAA), particularly in the area of RES registration during the undertaking of any real estate agency work. However, it is more important to understand the policy intent of Sections 28 and 29 of the EAA, and how it stems from the basic premise of consumer protection.
In this case, the personal assistant, acting on the instruction of his employer, Pang Jun Yong, was clearly and repeatedly holding out as a registered RES. Having the personal assistant’s name and contact on the advertisement portal is another clear indication that there was no attempt to clarify that he was in fact the personal assistant. Whether or not he was under the direct instruction of Pang is immaterial. It is a clear contravention of Section 28 of the EAA.
On the surface, the line between a RES, i.e. Pang, and his personal assistant seems to be a rather faint one. However, in the area of consumer protection, this is where the policy intent of Sections 28 and 29 of the EAA becomes evident.
Under CEA’s practice circular PC 01-17 issued to all Key Executive Officers (KEOs) in May 2017, KEOs are to ensure that there is adequate coverage of the Professional Indemnity Insurance (PII) for their RESs, and that it should cover ALL aspects of agency work conducted by the estate agent (EA), from leasing, sale to en bloc sales.
An analogy can be drawn with that of the driving licensing framework. All road-going vehicles have to be covered by a valid 3rd party liability insurance policy at all times. However, the key requirement of being insured is that the driver must possess a valid driving license at the material time; this is the linchpin.
The PII framework was designed to protect consumers and RESs such that any liability arising from any wrongdoing or misrepresentation could be wholly or partly defrayed by the PII. In this case, the personal assistant who was holding himself out as a RES or estate agent was clearly not covered under the PII of any EA since he was neither registered nor licenced. Should the consumer suffer any loss as a result of the representations of the personal assistant, there is sadly no redress for the consumer except to go through the lengthy process of a civil case against the personal assistant in a court of law.
Sections 28 and 29 of the EAA ensure that any individual conducting estate agency work is duly registered or licenced and hence equipped with the proper knowledge, and sufficiently covered by a PII policy, to handle the increasingly complex legal and regulatory aspects of estate agency work in Singapore.
Information accurate as at 8 May 2023