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Estate agents pull plug on proposed property panel

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Real estate agents have pulled out of the much-derided Property Services Professional panel in NSW, with the CEO of their peak body saying it would have “no capacity to deliver meaningful change” as long as the Department of Fair Trading remained the regulator.

According to a story in the Sydney Morning Herald, Real Estate Institute of NSW chief executive Tim McKibbin says the proposed expert panel to advise the government on the industry is a “ruse” offering little consumer protection and involving “pointless engagement.”

“We are serious about reform and can therefore not assist the minister to perpetuate the ruse of consumer protection which he falsely claims the panel (and commissioner) delivers,” he said.

“The panel meets for two hours every two months and is the epitome of pointless engagement, as ever, Fair Trading sets the agenda and as ever, nothing changes.”

However Kevin Anderson, Minister for Better Regulation and Innovation (the Fair Trading Mothership), has said the new commissioner “will sit independently of Fair Trading”, while reporting directly to him.

“They will work directly with the property services expert panel, made up of industry bodies and associations from across the industry with the goal of improving the interaction between Fair Trading and the sector,” he said.

Apart from Mr McKibbin, the inaugural panel is to be chaired by Chris Duggan of the Strata Community Association (strata managers’ professional organisation) and include: Sadhana Smiles, Real Estate Industry Partners; Adrian Carr, PICA Group (strata and building facilities managers); David Ferraz, Australian Institute of Business Brokers; Trevor Rawnsley, Australian Resident Accommodation Manager’s Association (short-term rentals hosts); Sasha Boe, Real Estate Training Solutions; Peter Baldwin, Australian Livestock and Property Agents Association; Bryan Wilcox, Real Estate Employers Federation; Michael Wright, Australian Wool and Pastoral Agency; Sylvia Cortez, Estate Agents Co-operative; Chris Mourd, McGrath (real estate agents) and John Gilmovich, Property Owners Association (private landlords’ association).

It has been noted that there is no room on this property services panel for either apartment owners or tenants’ representative.

Shooters, Fishers and Farmers MP Philip Donato, who introduced a bill to the NSW  lower house last Tuesday, calling for a commissioner independent of Fair Trading told the SMH there was “a lot of politics being played” after the government opposed the bill in the Upper House.

“It is curious that in the last week or so an advertisement for this position of property services commissioner has been posted by the government,” Mr Donato said. “So they’re going to create this position, and take credit for it (after it was proposed by others).”

Owners Corporation Network (OCN) executive officer Karen Stiles said she supported the idea of a commissioner, as per the proposed Shooters Bill, but not the minister’s expert panel.

“There’s no consumer representation on the panel,” Ms Stiles said.  OCN is the  peak body for apartment owners and strata committees. “The Minister’s office said it wasn’t required, however, the Wool Growers are represented, one can only speculate why.”

“(But) I’m surprised to see a property services commissioner job ad already indicating they will work for NSW Fair Trading,” Ms Stiles added. “That’s a new definition of ‘independent’ I’d like explained.”

The first cracks in the property panel proposals appeared last week when real estate agents were accused of selling apartments without telling potential purchasers that serious problems had been identified and even that occupancy certificates might be withheld by the Building Commissioner.

In response, agents said it was impossible to find out which buildings have been sanctioned in this way on Fair Trading’s websites.

NSW Fair Trading had “repeatedly demonstrated its inability to protect consumers and support industry,” Mr McKibbin said.

Proposed chair of the expert panel, Chris Duggan, told the SMH he agreed Fair Trading was imperfect but said it was improving.

“No one is shying away from the fact that Fair Trading needs a shake-up,” Mr Duggan said. “But a standalone commission is not broadly supported by industry.”

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