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Singapore set to introduce tougher regulations for real estate agents

The decision follows a high profile court case which highlighted the problem of lack of qualifications and training standards, particulary for older agents.

Senior Minister of State for Finance Lim Hwee Hua announced a review in Parliament and said it will look at putting a dispute resolution system in place and examine making certain qualifications and training compulsory.

Currently real estate agents in Singapore are not licensed and anyone can set up as an agent as well as moving from agency to agency even if they are sacked.

There is growing concern in the country about unethical agents, rogue agents and agents that simply lack experience in terms of coping with the modern global property market, according to National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan.

He is calling for individual real estate agents to be licensed instead of them being regulated through agencies. He also wants performance and standards to be measured.

The concerns follow a high-profile case last month where a couple took estate agency ERA Realty Network to court after they sold their downtown apartment for $688,000 in 2007.

They eventually discovered their home was bought and resold by the wife of their agent's boss for $945,000. The couple won the case and have received the difference of $257,000 back from ERA.

Lim said that the Government agreed that the 'current state of the industry is not satisfactory'. There have been frequent complaints against unscrupulous housing agents.

Government agencies including the National Development Ministry, the Housing Board, Ministry of Finance and the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore are reviewing possible ways of strengthening the regulatory framework and raising overall professional standards, she said.

'Among other things, there is a need for greater control by the housing agencies over the conduct of their agents,' she added.

Professionals in the industry welcomed the announcement and said they felt that licensing individual agents would be the way forward with a central agency involving the Government playing a regulatory role.

The industry currently lacks a high level of accountability, transparency and professionalism, and making agents responsible for their own actions will help in these areas, said PropNex's chief executive Mohamed Ismail.

Lim said the outcome of the review will be announced when it is completed, although no date has been given.