A MOVE to nationalise the licensing of residential real estate agents has drawn wide criticism from the local sector amid fears new, national regulations could water-down training and professional development requirements for real estate agents in Western Australia.
The licensing proposal is part of the Council of Australian Government’s (COAG) national occupational licensing system reforms, which are focused on creating national licensing regimes for a range of occupations, including real estate agents, electricians, plumbers and gas-fitters.
The new national licensing systems were originally expected to take effect from July next year, but the state government has deferred any further debate on their introduction until after the release of draft regulations in October and a period for public comment.
Finance Minister Simon O’Brien said he was aware of concerns expressed by the Real Estate Institute of WA, and the government would not determine its position until it was clear what the final regulations would look like and all stakeholders’ views had been taken into account.
“While we are committed to the principle of national occupational licensing we are also committed to ensuring national uniformity respects WA’s sovereignty and the interests of WA businesses and consumers,” Mr O’Brien said.
WA’s real estate sector has been rocked by a series of scams emanating from Nigeria during the past 12 months, whereby homes were sold without the knowledge of the owners.
These high-profile scams attracted a lot of media attention and inevitably the spotlight fell on the real estate profession and the training of residential agents.
In this environment, any move to reduce the training and compliance of real estate agents is likely to attract headlines for all the wrong reasons, but there is also a strong sentiment in the sector that WA shouldn’t reduce its licensing regulations simply to comply with a national system.
The Real Estate Institute of WA is broadly supportive of national licensing but has concerns about any reduction in the training and professional development requirements for agents.
Chief executive Anne Arnold said the principle of a portable national licence that could be used across the country was a good ideal.
“What seems to have gone wrong in the three or four years of negotiations through COAG to get it to happen is that it’s resulted in a lowest common denominator approach,” Ms Arnold told WA Business News.
“Whichever jurisdiction that has the lowest requirement appears to be the one that has been adopted across the board.”
If it were adopted in its current form, the training for real estate agents in WA would be reduced from a diploma to a certificate four.
“We are the ones, as a professional body, saying we need to have our standards as high as we can possibly get them and in order to achieve one objective we are actually reducing, we would argue, consumer protection,” Ms Arnold said.
REIWA is also concerned that ongoing professional development requirements that are an important part of the ongoing training of agents in WA will be scrapped under the national regime.
WA real estate agents currently have to undertake 10 hours of professional development each year.
Seven of these 10 hours are elective, meaning the agent can choose what area they want to focus on, but three hours are mandatory and funded through the Department of Commerce.
By mandating part of the professional development requirement for real estate agents, the state government was able to address specific industry issues as they arose each year.
Jackie Crank’s West Coast Property Training is one of the businesses in WA that provides continuing professional development (CPD) to the real estate sector.
Ms Crank estimates it provides about half the professional development work for the residential real estate sector in WA.
The national licensing system could eradicate the CPD requirement for real estate agents and put considerable pressure on Ms Crank’s business.
But as a former real estate agent her key concern is to safeguard the professional standards of the industry.
“It’s so important that we don’t compromise the standards for the WA consumer,” Ms Crank said.
“When you feel like you’re making a difference on a consumer level, on an ethical level and all of a sudden the very people that set it up stand to pull the rug out from under you, it’s very frustrating.”