If it ain't broke...

There’s little reason for real estate agents to be licensed nationally, writes Stockdale & Leggo CEO, Peter Thomas


“An equally untenable option would be to systemise real estate laws across the country in what would become a federally-regulated industry”

THE FEDERAL government’s proposal to shake up the industry via a national agent licensing scheme is of great concern. While it has a nice ring to it and implies improved industry standards and greater consumer benefit and protection, quite the opposite is true. The current state-specific system works exceedingly well. In contrast, this radical one-fits-all approach brings little benefit to anyone. Instead, it opens a Pandora’s box of problems.

Namely, states’ education requirements for licensing currently vary between Diploma and Certificate IV levels. Not only would educational standards go backwards in the likely event that the lowest common denominator were adopted, further study in relation to state-specific laws would also be required.

An equally untenable option would be to systemise real estate laws across the country in what would become a federally-regulated industry. It simply wouldn’t work. Australia’s diversity and each state’s unique property market at any given time require suitably designed, responsive laws that best serve consumers, the industry, and the country.

At the most basic level, even the nation’s extremes in climate and risk of natural disasters demand a unique approach, not only in regard to building legislation, but also in terms of both responsive and proactive government incentives to either support or stimulate certain sectors. States’ varying industries, economies, and shifting trends also preclude a blanket approach to property legislation.

Streamlining laws is impractical. We already see plenty of division between politicians in the one party room in the one state. How, then, would the various Liberal and Labor state governments agree on one set of real estate laws? Each state, too, has its own Consumer Affairs Department. It’s a very messy picture with no significant benefit to anyone.

While a national licensing program would make it easier for agents moving interstate, do we really have sufficient numbers of agents on the move to make it worthwhile? And is that benefit sufficient to warrant such an upheaval to an industry already challenged by the weaker economy of recent times?

As for consumer benefit, again, there is little if any apparent under the current proposal. In the unlikely event that national licensing saw the implementation of systemised national property laws, the latter would make moving, buying and selling property interstate a little simpler, as stamp duty, cooling off periods, government incentives and so on would be uniform across all states and territories. However, in digging deep in the search for benefits, it seems we are really clutching at straws.

A more likely scenario is that consumers could be worse off. Firstly, a lowering of education standards to facilitate the implementation of a national licensing program would be detrimental to both consumers and the Australian property industry.

We should be moving forwards, with our focus firmly fixed on the acquisition of better and better skills, ongoing professional development and ever-improving industry standards.

Secondly, the proposed national licensing laws suggest removing  licensing requirements for those selling non-residential real estate, including commercial properties and farms. As pointed out by the Real Estate Institute of Victoria (REIV), such a move increases consumer risk by stripping buyers and sellers of non-residential properties of the level of protection they get by using a licensed real estate agent.   

The current system works well and isn’t creating any apparent problems. The introduction of national licensing would create more problems than it solves. There are many pressing matters the government may wish to focus its attention on, such as helping first home buyers get into the market before ‘the great Australian dream of home ownership’ turns into the great Australian society of renters.

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