Real estate authority swamped with calls
By KATIE CHAPMAN - The Dominion Post
Last updated 05:00 09/01/2010

About 70 complaints are being followed up by the new real estate industry watchdog, less than two months after its launch.

The Real Estate Agents Authority opened for business on November 17 and has been inundated with calls.

It received up to 700 calls a week from the public and licence holders in the first weeks. That has now levelled off to about 200 a week, authority chairwoman Kristy McDonald said yesterday.

Seventy complaints needing further inquiry had been identified. It was too early to reveal the nature of the complaints, but the whole gamut of problems faced by the industry has been covered, she said. "The complaints received so far cover a broad range of issues and it is too early to determine any trends."

They could include concerns about agents failing to disclose information, or the practice of "flipping" houses in which a house is sold for a low price to people known to the agent, allowing the house to be on-sold for a profit soon after.

Both those practices have landed agents in hot water. In 2004, an agent was censured for selling a house to a couple without mentioning an apartment block being built next door.

In 2006, the High Court at Auckland found Premium Real Estate in Takapuna had engaged in misleading and deceptive conduct when a couple sold their North Shore house for $2.5 million, only to see it resold five months later for $3.2m. Each complaint must now go before the Complaints Assessment Committee to determine if it warrants further investigation.

The committee held its first meeting before Christmas, and several investigations were now being carried out, Ms McDonald said.

The authority was launched as part of a shake-up of the industry, amid concerns the previous self-governing system was providing a feeding ground for "land sharks".

As well as handling complaints and enforcing punishments, which include a maximum fine of $10,000 for individuals or $20,000 for a company, the authority also deals with licensing and runs a public register of all real estate salespeople and agents.

From here.