CEOs of property groups have written to the NSW premier requesting that the government move towards allowing real estate agents to regulate themselves, but the government says the proposal is not in the “public interest”.
The six groups, including the Real Estate Institute of NSW (REINSW), the Property Owners' Association of NSW and the Real Estate Buyers Agents Association of Australia, argued in a letter sent to Gladys Berejiklian last Monday that the government should take the property services industry out of NSW Fair Trading’s remit, and instead create an Office of the Commissioner for the Property Services Industry that could work with the industry.
"The industry sees its relationship with its regulatory authority as a partnership, where both government and the industry work constructively and cooperatively together," the letter said.
REINSW CEO Tim McKibbin told BuzzFeed News that real estate agents were aiming to be regulated like lawyers, with a body like the Law Society made up of representatives from the profession working in tandem with an independent commissioner.
But the minister for better regulation Matt Kean does not support the proposal, telling BuzzFeed News that although there are many honest and hard working real estate agents in NSW, agents "are among the least trusted professions in NSW".
"With issues such as underquoting still plaguing the industry, it is not in the public interest for real estate agents to regulate themselves," he said.
The letter follows mounting tensions between REINSW and the government over the treatment of the real estate industry. Last month REINSW resigned from the government’s Real Estate Reference Group, which was established in 2015 to consult on real estate reform.
Head of campaigns and policy at consumer group CHOICE, Sarah Agar, told BuzzFeed News that the proposed name, Commissioner for the Property Services Industry, "raises alarm bells"”. The name "suggests the focus is on the industry itself and not the people that rely on that industry to give them a safe roof over their heads", she said.
As with REINSW’s letter resigning from the reference group, the joint letter to the premier was critical of Fair Trading, saying the body does "not possess the requisite knowledge, skills or experience" and has “misguided philosophical beliefs".
“The property services industry is trapped in a cycle of incompetent and inadequate support, and while Fair Trading claws for market respectability the door to continued chaos is left wide open," the CEOs wrote.
Kean described Fair Trading as a "professional regulator that is holding real estate agents who do the wrong thing to account". He pointed to this year's "underquoting blitz", in which Fair Trading issued more than $100,000 in fines to real estate agents.
"It's disappointing that the CEO of REINSW is still playing games, rather than acting in the interests of the NSW public or his members who are doing the right thing," Kean said.
McKibbin said that Fair Trading was putting the consumer at risk, criticising its focus on competition and what he described as limited experience in property. REINSW is concerned about the education requirements to become a registered real estate agent, which McKibbin says are not rigorous enough. McKibbin also criticised Fair Trading’s approach to safety as well as licensing requirements for auctioneers.
“Unless you understand the industry that you’re regulating, then you are dangerous,” he said.
Fair Trading declined to comment.