Enhancing agents’ standards for two decades

Ms. Ruby Hon Yuen-ping
Chief Executive of Estate Agents Authority

Estate Agents Authority (EAA) was established in 1997 when the property market was at its peak. During the past 20 years, the market has experienced ups and downs, and the role of the authority for agents and consumers has evolved along the way. EAA Chief Executive Ms. Ruby Hon Yuen-ping expresses in an interview with us that from its inception, EAA's role was controversial, but now it has become a partner of the industry. As the internet blooms and flourishes, it is now a trend to use the internet extensively as a promotional platform in the industry. To this aspect, EAA has done a lot of work to educate the agents and issued a practice circular as a guideline.

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Ruby Hon explains that the major functions of EAA are to regulate the practices of estate agency, to raise the ethics and conduct of the trade, and to encourage practitioners to take part in on-the-job training. “At the beginning of its establishment, EAA focused on regulating the practice of estate agencies since there was a lack of standards of practice. Over the years, we have issued various practice circulars to raise the competence of estate agents continuously,” says Ruby. “In a joint effort, now we have become a working partner of the estate agency industry. The trade understands that with good governance it can improve their community status, image, professional status and so on.”

Ruby continues that there are many channels to communicate with the industry, such as the EAA practice circulars, to understand its operation and to formulate practical guidance. EAA aims at striking a balance between the trade and the public to create a win-win situation, in which agents can enhance their professional standard while consumers can be well-protected. In the future, EAA will follow this format to form a base which allows the trade to reach a new level.

Educating consumers

“EAA values education to consumers because if consumers know how to protect their rights, they will help to push the trade to a higher standard,” says Ruby. The EAA has attempted to educate the public through a series of activities including short promotional videos on TV, publications, MTR road shows and open seminars. For example, last year, EAA published pamphlets on Key Information of Residential Properties to remind consumers to obtain key information from real estate agents. The EAA has also just launched the Be Smart in Appointing Estate Agent website to provide consumers with comprehensive information about buying property.

In fact, many estate agencies are now promoting their products online. Ruby believes that no matter how agents promote or advertise their properties, they are all under the governance of the Guide to the Estate Agents Ordinance, its subsidiary legislation, and practice circulars. The ordinance states that an estate agent has to obtain written consent from the vendor, conduct a proper land search and publish the license number while advertising online. In addition, it is advised that agents shall not, because of convenience, use the same photos to illustrate two units that are - within the same apartment block, the same size, or on different floors but facing the same direction - as he may be in violation of providing inaccurate and misleading information.

There is also practice circular guiding the promotional activities of first sale residential property. All advertisements, leaflets, and booklets have to be endorsed and approved by the developer to ensure accuracy before publishing them online, in newspapers or outdoor billboards.

The trend of online advertising

Last year, EAA received 39 complaints on non-compliant advertisement, and among them, 32 cases involved online advertising. During regular inspection, EAA has discovered 47 non-compliant advertisements, and among them, 25 of them were published online (these cases are still being investigated). Given the trend of online advertising, EAA has strengthened its publicity and investigation online. Last year, EAA carried out 660 investigations on online advertisement and 369 investigations on online advertising platforms aiming to verify the legitimacy of these real estate agencies.

According to an online surrey announced by earlier this year, 45% of participants interviewed say that the performance of their estate agents vary and is not impressive.  40% interviewees say that their estate agents can complete the task with expected result. Ruby says that the result is a mix of good and bad and believes that the trade has room for improvement. She explains that the turnover and mobility of the industry are so high that it 's hard to ensure quality, so the trade has to work hard to deal with the ever-changing market.

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