Real estate agents under investigation in NT as industry strives for ‘professional’ status
Becoming a real estate agent only takes a few weeks in some parts of the country. (Supplied: Pexels)
If there’s one house a real estate agent would rather steer clear of, it’s this one.
- Six agents are currently subject to investigation under the Agents Licensing Act in the NT
- The qualifications required to become a real estate agent vary widely between each state and territory
- One real estate agent believes these should be standardised, raising the bar to enter the profession
Yet throughout November they piled into the Darwin courthouse to watch as one of their industry’s most recognisable figures, Chris Deutrom, was found guilty of fraud and eventually sentenced to five years in jail.
Although his case was the most high-profile, he was not the only Northern Territory real estate agent to land in hot water last year.
Currently there are six Top End agents under investigation by the Agents Licensing Board.
Last month one Darwin real estate industry worker had her licence suspended and another, who previously had her licence suspended in April 2017, had hers cancelled.
Despite this handful of transgressions, the industry is planning to make steps nationally to see it awarded “professional status” in coming years, a ranking most commonly reserved for accountants and lawyers.
But some believe before that happens, changes need to be made across the country to raise the bar for those wanting to enter the industry.
Five cases referred to board in 2018
During the past three years, the NT Agents Licensing Board has recorded the disciplinary action against six agents on its website, with one disciplined twice.
In 2018, five cases were referred to the board, with some matters involving more than one agent.
Most recently it took action against NT Property Specialists’ Lisa Cummings, a licensed real estate agent, and Kathryn Alison Staite, an agent’s representative, for breaching the agent’s licensing act under a number of provisions.
From December 14 Ms Cumming’s licences was suspended for three months, while Ms Staite’s registration was cancelled.
She is allowed to apply for registration again in a year, if she completes two educational courses.
It was the second time Ms Staite had appeared in front of the board, after her licence was suspended for six months in April 2017.
Among the other listed cases was that of Brenda Kulatunga, who in 2016 had her conveyancing services licence revoked for failing to remit more than $310,000 in stamp duty.
In 2015 Manolis Karpasitis had his real estate licence and the licence of his business revoked for illegally withdrawing $66,440 from a trust fund, some of which was for his “personal entertainments”.
Due to variances in employment numbers and regulatory controls, it is difficult to compare how the real estate sector breaches compare to other industries.
In June last year, the NT Builders Practitioners Board was investigating two matters, and in March fined two builders for non-compliance.
At the same time, the Electrical Licensing Board was investigating one complaint referred by NT Worksafe for alleged non-compliant work
The NT Architects Board, the Plumbers and Drainers Licensing Board and the Surveyors Board had not revoked any licences in the past three years nor were any complaints or breaches under investigation as of June last year.
‘We are failing the consumer’
Manolis Karpasitis, the agent who illegally withdrew thousands from a trust fund, obtained his real estate licence via a two-week course in Brisbane.
He then was able to register in the Northern Territory through a mutual recognition scheme, which allows a person who becomes a real estate agent in one state to have their qualifications recognised across other jurisdictions.
But these qualification standards vary widely across states and territories.
In most jurisdictions, qualifications are based around the certificate four in property services (real estate), with prospective real estate agents having to complete a set number of core competencies before they can register.
In the Northern Territory, 24 units of competencies have to be completed, although a person can secure an “interim registration” after completing two.
In Queensland, a real estate agent can register after completing seven of these competencies.
In New South Wales, only four units need to be completed before an agent can register, which takes less than a week in many instances.
The standards to run a real estate agency differ again.
Real Estate Institute of New South Wales chief executive Tim McKibbin said the low entry standard had led to an 80 per cent churn in the profession, with many agents “grossly inadequately educated”.
“We are failing the consumer and we are failing the people who want to have real estate as a career,” Mr McKibbin said.
He said the problem lay with the state-based regulators, who set the industry standard.
“They just do not understand what it is to be a competent real estate agent,” he said.
“The regulator has absolutely no idea about what a competent real estate agent needs by way of education, by way of training and for that reason they design a system that simply doesn’t work.”
Darwin real estate agent Glenn Grantham agreed the qualification standards should be lifted, and standardised across the nation.
“There needs to be a standardisation at a very high level for entry into this industry. And that’s not there at the moment,” he said.
The NT Attorney-General has been contacted for comment about the standards set for Territory real estate agents.
The NT real estate sector plans to take a step towards “professional status” this year. (Supplied: HC Blechynden)
A push for ‘professional’ status
Quentin Killian hopes to see the real estate industry one day awarded professional status, which would hold those in the industry to elevated standards, similarly to lawyers or accountants.
It is a push driven nationally by the Real Estate Institute of Australia.
“We need to have a reputation for providing a high level of service and behaving ethically and honestly,” REIA professionalism committee chair John Cunningham states on its website.
“[We’ve been working with stakeholders] over the last couple of years to map out our path to being formally recognised as a profession.”
Mr Killian, the Real Estate Institute of the Northern Territory president, said he hoped a national accreditation system set to be trialled in Western Australia this year could serve as a stepping stone to professionalism.
“We’re going to base the Northern Territory accreditation on how theirs evolves out over the next six months or so. That’s the first step,” Mr Killian said.
“That will mean if an agent does the accreditation, and gets that accreditation, whether it’s in sales or property management or auctioneering, it shows that not only are they a real estate professional who have done all of their courses and their training, but they’ve taken the time to do this additional work, which has lifted them above and beyond the others in that area.
“The longer-term goal is to hopefully have that [professional status], well within the next few years.”
While you’re here… are you feeling curious?