PROPERTY firms reacted with concern yesterday to news that plans to license agents will not take effect until 1996 at the earliest. Latest figures from the Consumer Council on complaints about property agents show a startling rise. There were almost as many in the first six months of this year as there were in the whole of last year. From January to June, the council received a total of 125 complaints - more than three-quarters about unscrupulous sales tactics - compared with 155 last year and 118 in 1992. The proposals, which would regulate estate agents for the first time, have yet to be turned into law and face lengthy delays in the log-jammed Legislative Council. The time lag was criticised by the directors of some of the territory's biggest estate agents. Michael Choi Ngai-min, president of the Society of Hong Kong Real Estate Agents and managing director of Land Power Property Agencies, said: ''We would like to see the whole process made faster. We will be pushing hard for the Legislative Council to pass it quickly.'' Shih Wing-ching, managing director of Centaline Property Agents, said: ''This is later than I expected. I think the Government could get this all ready by late 1995 if they put the right resources on it.'' The secretary of the group which drew up the proposals, Principal Assistant Secretary (housing policy) Planning, Environment and Lands Branch William Shiu Wai-chuen said: ''We are looking at a time frame of two years for the legislation. It will be 1996 at the earliest.'' United Democrat legislator Lee Wing-tat said the Government started to study the issue in 1990 and a six-year delay was unacceptable. Estate agents said there needed to be swift action to stop unscrupulous merchants cheating home-buyers. William Fung, managing director of Midland Realty, said: ''There are a lot of agents out there not up to standard. ''I've been in this business for 23 years, and I have noticed the quality of service deteriorating over the last few years.'' But the chief executive of the Consumer Council Pamela Chan Wong-shui, who helped draw up the proposals, said there was little risk of cowboys using the two-year delay to cheat the public. ''The estate agents will be in the limelight, and the public will be more aware of what they are doing.'' Under the proposals a new law would establish an Estate Agents Authority with powers to license and regulate the more than 4,700 estate agents in the territory. But in a controversial move, agents would still be allowed to represent both the buyer and the seller. All estate agent companies and their employees would have to be licensed. There would be two kinds of employee: estate agents with knowledge and experience of the industry, and salespeople. A company would have to have at least one licensed estate agent, but there would be no limit on the number of licensed salespeople. All employees would have to be clear of criminal convictions. Mr Chiu said the details of the licensing scheme would be decided by the authority. It would have the power to revoke licences, in effect putting the agents out of business. No licences would be issued until the law was passed and the authority set up, Mr Chiu said. But estate agents urged that stop-gap provisional licences be issued well before then. Mr Choi said a provisional authority should be set up to oversee the process.