Although Real Estate agents must be registered and are responsible not only to the company which they represent but also to the Real Estate Agents Authority (REAA) and the Real Estate Institute of New Zealand, there have been increasing number of incidents of dissatisfaction and disappointment among vendors and purchasers of properties.
First-time homebuyers and those with little or no experience are especially vulnerable and many of them suffer in silence, for fear of being ‘chastised’ by some real estate agents.
Despite significant developments and well-established systems and procedures, many believe that the industry lacks transparency and accountability.
With the property market still maintaining its heat and with house prices continuing to remain solid, there is a growing need to make real estate agents accountable. While most operators such as property developers, real estate agents and other players in the market are known for their honesty, integrity and self-discipline, a few need to be regulated.
An online service that promises anonymity and total safety, launched about two months ago, could be a boon to people.
Called, ‘How’s My Agent?’ this service comes free and takes no more than a few minutes to rate any real estate agent operating anywhere in New Zealand. Its simplicity and confidentiality are reassuring – all that the company needs is to raise awareness among New Zealanders.
Established by five people of varied ethnicity – Hans Vellara, Robert Ng, Akilesh Gokul (Optometry colleagues and academics), Prabhat Gokul and Bruce Nicholson (Computer Science graduates), the start-up company has the potential to grow as the Watchdog of the real estate industry in New Zealand.
Like other rating websites such as ‘Yelp’ for restaurants and ‘TripAdvisor’ for the travel trade, www.howsmyagent.co.nz allows people to review a service or a product of a real estate agent.
Mr Vellara said that he and his colleagues observed several negative reports against real estate agents which media attention.
“This service comes with guarantee of safety, security and confidentiality. People accessing our website can also exercise their choice of being anonymous. We will not provide information to anyone, in the case of people who choose to enter their names and contact details,” he said.
The objective is to promote good practice standards within the real estate industry and to give consumers a voice about their experiences, he added.
No room for bias
Mr Vellara said that there could be instances of someone giving vent to their personal bias or dislike, the rating process works well in general in most industries.
“The Law of Averages works well in every review and rating process. If there are several negative reviews that have a common theme, then perhaps those reviewers have a legitimate concern against a real estate agent. So, the public can then make their own informed decision, based on their fellow consumers’ experiences. New Zealanders work in a collaborative and mutual trust environment,” he said.
Mr Vellara said ‘How’s My Agent?’ has built-in measures to prevent abusive, foul language, hate and illegitimate reviews.
“All reviews can be flagged by the public and further investigated by our staff and possibly removed,” he said.
Real Estate Agents can exercise the option of having a ‘Basic Real Estate Agent’ for a ‘Platinum Real Estate Agent Account,’ with several additional facilities such as the ability to direct potential clients to their other listings.
No legal mandate
Companies such as ‘How’s My Agent?’ have no legal mandate to take action against erring real estate agents.
“That is the job of the REAA. This platform fills a niche where it may not be appropriate to approach the regulatory authority. This need is bridged by howsmyagent.co.nz. There are people frustrated by the practicing standards of some real estate agents,” Mr Vellar said.
He said that the REAA ensures minimum standards of practice but does not necessarily recognise or reward exceptional practice. They mainly deal with complaints where there has been serious misconduct.
“Our Company aims to promote good practicing standards in the real estate industry,” Mr Vellara said.