SINGAPORE - Would-be Housing Board flat buyers and sellers can now find out about their property agent's track record with the click of a button.
On Friday (Jan 4), the Council for Estate Agencies (CEA) launched the Property Agents' Transaction Records Initiative, which publishes the records of residential transactions facilitated by realtors here in the last two years.
The first phase of the initiative has seen the CEA's website updated to include information on completed Housing Board resale transactions.
This includes when the flat changed hands, where it is located, and whether the agent represented the buyer or seller.
"The additional information can provide consumers with a clearer understanding of the agent's experience in terms of how active he or she has been in the last two years in closing HDB resale transactions, in which HDB towns, and whether he or she was acting for the buyer or the seller," the CEA said.
The records will keep only transactions that took place in the last 24 months, to ensure consumers are up-to-date with agents' most recent deals. Older records are available at data.gov.sg
Previously the website only contained information confirming whether an agent had registered with the agency.
The initiative, aimed at making information more transparent and fostering trust between client and realtor, was among those recommended in the Real Estate Industry Transformation Map last February.
The CEA added: "Property agents will be able to provide verified records of their experience in closing residential transactions, which will help them build and sustain consumer trust."
Prospective sellers were divided on how useful the new addition would be.
Housewife Amy Soh, 56, who hopes to sell her Jurong East flat in the next six months, said: "My mailbox is always full of agents' flyers, but that only means they are good at promoting themselves, not necessarily that they are effective sellers. With the website, I can check if they are really that 'seh' (powerful)."
Another potential seller, a 44-year-old tutor who only wanted to be known as Mrs Lim, said it would be "much more intuitive" to host the agents' records on the HDB website, so that users do not have to "flit from one site to another."
She added that existing real estate agency websites show "much more detail" than the updated CEA one.
ERA Realty key executive officer Eugene Lim said his firm's website, FindPropertyAgent.sg, launched two years ago, lets consumers check what properties, training and awards the 6,490 realtors under its wings have garnered.
Some customers have also left reviews.
"In providing more information, the customer is better able to shortlist agents with the relevant knowledge and skills to serve his needs," he said.
However, National University of Singapore real estate professor Sing Tien Foo said the CEA system gives "objective information" about an agent.
Having to maintain a frequent track record would put pressure on inactive agents, he said, adding that the information given "lets customers have the right idea about an agent's expertise by housing type and location."
While it remains to be seen whether buyers would rely solely on past performance in selecting agents, Prof Sing felt that "the CEA system is independent, transparent and fair, and will not have selection bias like some review portals".
Ms Ismail Gafoor, chief executive of the largest property agency PropNex, said not every consumer looks at past transactions as the starting pointing in engaging an agent.
But for those who do, having the information available will help them make a better choice.
"Everyone claims to be good - looking at the track record is a good way to help customers narrow down and choose an agent with a specialisation, say someone familiar in their estate," he said.
In the next phase, which will begin at the end of the year, the CEA plans to make available agents' history in renting out HDB flats, as well as selling private residential homes.
The CEA also gave an update on the number of licensed property agencies and registered agents.
As of Jan 1, there were 29,146 realtors - about 2 per cent more than the 28,571 agents 12 months earlier. There were also 1,229 licensed agencies, about 3.2 per cent fewer than last year's 1,269 firms.
The CEA added that it issued 57 new property agency licences and 1,198 new property agent registrations throughout 2018. Meanwhile, a total of 59 property agency licences and 2,091 property agent registrations lapsed from Dec 31, 2018.
The CEA's director for policy and licensing Chia I-Ling said the industry continues to face a challenging road with rising consumer expectations and technological disruption.
"In order to remain relevant, it is vital that the real estate agency industry keeps up its efforts to transform itself and enhance its professionalism," she said.
Observers have said that a more sustainable number of realtors would be closer to 15,000 to 20,000 active agents who use technology to be more productive.
The records can be found under each agent's name at: www.cea.gov.sg/public-register
This article was first published in The Straits Times. Permission required for reproduction.