ANALYSIS - Save our standards

Agent training and education standards are under threat if national licensing proceeds in its current guise, warns industry leaders. And it’s less than 12 months away, reports Real Estate Business’ Simon Parker

National licensing is the biggest issue facing the real estate agent industry, and the government must appreciate the need for a fair and equitable system that mandates high standards of education and ongoing professional training, Real Estate Institute of Australia CEO Amanda Lynch  has claimed.

“This is a fabulous opportunity to set a benchmark that’s high, and that can add to the industry’s reputation and protect consumers at the same time,” she told Real Estate Business.

Ms Lynch said while draft legislation was yet to be completed, the industry had concerns the government may remove the requirement for ongoing education and training.

This would undermine existing education requirements, she said.

Ms Lynch said some agents were already unhappy with the standard of education provided by independent training companies.

“One agent in Queensland sent us an example of a real estate training organisation that is running courses and supplying answers to students in advance,” she said. “There was a survey done recently where 84 per cent of [real estate agent] respondents said they are concerned the industry profession is under threat from [some] training providers that run short courses.”

Compulsory continuing education, which is not a requirement in South Australia, may not form part of the new licensing regime.

Greg Troughton, CEO of the Real Estate Institute of South Australia (REISA), said his organisation, which provides its own training programs, would welcome an ongoing training requirement, a point reinforced by REIA acting president Pam Bennett recently.

“Whilst it is important to have a high level of initial training, it is equally important that agents are kept up to date with changes in the industry, including government requirements and the regulatory environment that agents operate within,” she said.

“Real estate agents can only keep their knowledge and skills current if compulsory professional development is required,” added Ms Bennett.

Mr Troughton said the monitoring of registered training companies (RTOs) was critical under any ongoing training system.

Like Ms Lynch, he had received feedback about poorly run courses being offered in some states, and he considered these a threat to any national licensing system. Under national licensing each state and territory would still be responsible for implementing and monitoring agents, and as such, agents looking for “quick, cheap and easy” courses could simply travel to another state to secure their annual training requirements, he said.

KAPLAN national manager sales Brian Knight told Real Estate Business in July that a national licensing framework would ultimately lift industry-wide professionalism and standards.

“Once you have national regulation and national standards it’s much easier to ensure you get evenness and equality across all suppliers.”

Mr Troughton said the entry level requirements in South Australia, which he regarded as the highest in Australia, could be under threat by the move to national licensing.

To become a real estate agent in South Australia applicants must complete a Certificate IV in Property (Real Estate), which can be undertaken full time over six weeks, part time over seven months, or as a 12-month traineeship. Based on feedback Mr Troughton had received, entry level requirements could be dramatically undermined by the new system.

CEOs from the Real Estate Industry (REI) state and federal bodies were actively seeking out government ministers to ensure the industry’s views were being heard.

“We’re all working to inform our states and the federal government about our concerns and to ensure that the real estate profession itself is aware of these big changes,” said Ms Lynch.

She added that national licensing was the perfect opportunity to maintain and, where applicable, raise industry standards. Moreover, she continued, commercial real estate agents should be included in the national licensing scheme.

Mr Troughton agreed. “One morning, you can wake up and say, I’m going to call myself a commercial sales agent. And you know what, under national licensing, you can.”

At the time of writing, the Regulation Impact Statement (RIS), or draft legislation, was due out for review in September. This document, developed by the federal and state/territory governments, should encompass the following elements of a national licensing policy: licence categories; licence types; scopes of work; qualifications and other eligibility requirements, and; other licence characteristics (such as exemptions, endorsements, restrictions and conditions).

Key real estate industry stakeholders were due to be contacted by the government once the RIS is available for review

Following the release of the draft rules, a six-week review process will follow which will include meetings that interested parties can attend in each capital city.

The new legislation, which is aimed at removing inconsistencies and overlapping laws in each state and territory, is due to commence for property-related professions on July 1, 2012.

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