Online ratings of property agents will now be standardised across the real estate industry in Singapore following the launch of a new guide by the Council for Estate Agencies (CEA).

Currently, real estate agencies determine the standards for consumer ratings but the guide aims to introduce consistent standards, such as the key attributes on which agents should be rated.

Now the ratings will reflect whether the agent provided services above and beyond the client’s expectations, such as using digital calculators, and whether the agent was open, honest and reliable, or had the necessary skills to facilitate a favourable deal for his client.

On Thursday (Oct 22), Minister of State in the Prime Minister’s Office and Ministry of National Development Tan Kiat How said it is a necessary step to help consumers find agents that suit them when conducting their searches online.

“With these key categories in place and a standard way of assessing, collecting and displaying these attributes we can make sure that comparisons are fair, credible and consistent across the board,” said Mr Tan.

He was speaking at CEA’s virtual celebration of its 10th anniversary, which was attended by industry leaders.

The guide also includes recommended safeguards to verify the authenticity of the transaction and client’s identity to prevent false ratings, said Mr Tan.

This initiative is part of the real estate industry transformation map, which was launched by MND and CEA in 2018 to help the industry meet future challenges.

It is developed by the Ratings of Property Agents Workgroup in partnership with key players from the real estate agency industry, consumer association and property portal industry.

Three property agencies – ERA Realty Network, OrangeTee & Tie and Huttons Asia – along with Singapore Estate Agents Association and property portal PropertyGuru have committed to adopting the guide in their online rating portals.

Together, they cover about 80 per cent of property agents in the industry.

There are around 1,200 property agencies and 30,000 agents in Singapore.

On Thursday, Mr Tan noted that a property purchase is often the biggest financial commitment for many Singaporeans and that agents should remind consumers to assess their own financial circumstances before committing to any property purchases.

“Even as the industry explores new ways of marketing properties and reaching out to consumers online, we must continue to pay special attention to ensure advice rendered is accurate, measured and takes into consideration the overall economic outlook,” said Mr Tan.

Since the CEA was established as a statutory board under the MND in October 2010, the number of complaints against property agencies and agents have declined from 1,170 cases in 2011 to 777 cases last year.

Cases involving misrepresentation have declined 98 per cent since 2011, from more than 400 cases to 10 cases last year.

There were only two cases of dual representation last year, compared to almost 60 cases in 2011.

Handling clients’ transaction monies, a serious offence under the Estate Agents Act, dropped by 80 per cent, from 20 cases in 2011 to four cases last year.

CEA’s executive director Lim Chee Hwee said: “This is an excellent opportunity for the industry to be more resilient and progressive, and CEA will be most keen to partner the property agencies and industry associations to further transform the industry.”

Originally published in The Straits Times.