Agents' role declared

THE lead taken by property agents Centaline Agencies in adopting a code of conduct when handling client property purchases and sales is to be commended.

The business of acting as an intermediate party in property transactions offers plenty of scope for conflicts of interest and customer abuse. Centaline's decision to act in a more fair way no doubt will generate a lot of publicity for the company, and business from buyers who do not want to get ripped-off.

The group's action also comes at the apparent end of a huge speculatory boom during the past two years when property prices have risen by more than 120 per cent across the board.

Following this frenetic period of asset inflation it looks as if now the Government will act to curb speculation and clean up the activities of property agents, many of whom have been major driving forces behind the property price boom.

It is in general always better for self-discipline to rule in any industry than for the heavy hand of government, the law and justice to come into play. However, in the unlikely event that Centaline's action will be followed by any of its counterparts in the sector the provision of legal protection for buyers and a framework by which agents' actions are measured seems to be inevitable.

Property buyers and sellers need to be sure of a square deal in transactions. Property agents should not be allowed to dupe buyers into paying inflated prices for property they believe is being bought from an individual seller, when in fact the agency is the actual seller. It is common practice for developers to allot many uncompleted flats to agents in so-called private sales, who often prop up prices before reselling the units to end users.

Agents need to state clearly what their role is in any given transaction involving property, at every given step in a transaction. Buyers need to know if the agent is the middle-man or the vendor.

The registration of agents is needed. Legislation should also require companies, directors and individuals involved in property transactions to accept a series of obligations, which once breached would leave them open to legal recourse by the aggrieved.

While appearing unwieldy, this type of action might act as a deterrent, avoiding serious customer abuse in the future. It also offers customers an avenue of redress should things not work out in what can be one of the most financially important and emotionally draining experiences in their lives.