Direc­tHome cash­back of­fer un­der scru­tiny

Reg­u­la­tor looks into por­tal af­ter com­plaints from prop­erty agents that it breaks rules

The Straits Times - - HOME - Rachel Au-Yong Hous­ing Cor­re­spon­dent

A prop­erty-list­ing por­tal has come un­der scru­tiny for of­fer­ing half the com­mis­sion earned by agents back to the buy­ers.

The Coun­cil for Es­tate Agen­cies (CEA) is look­ing into home-grown site Direc­tHome, af­ter com­plaints from prop­erty agents al­leg­ing that the firm breaks ex­ist­ing rules by promis­ing 50 per cent cash­back of a typ­i­cal com­mis­sion on a new con­do­minium unit to en­tice buy­ers to use its ser­vice.

A CEA spokesman told The Straits Times that whether the com­pany flouts any laws un­der the Es­tate Agents Act “de­pends on the ac­tual facts and cir­cum­stances, such as how Direc­tHome and/or prop­erty agents are in­volved in the trans- ac­tions, and the source and flow of the monies for cash­backs”.

Ap­pro­pri­ate ac­tion will be taken against Direc­tHome if it is found to have con­ducted un­li­censed es­tate agency work, she added.

On Thurs­day, the reg­u­la­tor is­sued a cir­cu­lar to prop­erty agen­cies, re­mind­ing them that the giv­ing of di­rect or in­di­rect ben­e­fits as a way of ob­tain­ing clients is “dis­rep­utable and tar­nishes the pro­fes­sional im­age of the real es­tate agency in­dus­try”.

Hous­ing agents who work with or use such third-party plat­forms to of­fer such ben­e­fits would be in breach of the rules, the CEA added. It named Direc­tHome as an ex­am­ple of a third party giv­ing such ben­e­fits.

Direc­tHome founder and hous­ing agent Kie­gan Chia, 37, said the com­pany it­self has not crossed any lines, “as we are not an es­tate agency”.

He added that the firm, which has about 10 peo­ple, does not di­rectly em­ploy any hous­ing agents.

The two-year-old firm, which claims to have 130,000 users, was high­lighted by the CEA last year for its do-it-your­self por­tal, as an ex­am­ple of a prop­erty firm cap­i­tal­is­ing on tech­nol­ogy.

In re­cent years, the au­thor­i­ties have pushed for more pro­duc­tiv­ity in an in­dus­try that ob­servers said is sat­u­rated with too many agents.

In its reply, the CEA said it wel­comes dis­rup­tions and new busi­ness mod­els “if they of­fer valueadded ser­vices and more op­tions for con­sumers, as well as con­trib­ute to rais­ing the pro­fes­sion­al­ism and pro­duc­tiv­ity of the in­dus­try”.

Mr Chia said his firm helps cus­tomers get more value out of a prop­erty trans­ac­tion. He said: “There’s a huge dis­par­ity be­tween the amount of com­mis­sion a prop­erty agent gets and the ac­tual work he does, which is not that much.”

He added: “We re­ceive a lot of hate mail from agents. But not a sin­gle one has been from a mem­ber of the pub­lic.”

In­ter­na­tional Prop­erty Ad­vi­sor chief ex­ec­u­tive Ku Swee Yong urged the CEA to take ac­tion, as other prop­erty agents lose out on deals by not be­ing able to of­fer cash­back. “The mes­sage be­ing sent out is: If you’re eth­i­cal and fol­low the rules, you’ll end up los­ing some busi­ness,” he said.

ST PHOTO: LEE JIA WEN

All Hong Kah Sec­ondary School stu­dent Teoh Yu Yun (in spec­ta­cles) was given was a bro­ken fan.

For over an hour, the 15-year-old worked with her group mem­bers, Kelly Choy Mun Yee (far left) and Ra­mamoor­thi Gopika, to turn the fan into a wa­ter sen­sor that can alert plant own­ers when­ever their plants need wa­ter.

She was among more than 800 stu­dents from Pri­mary 5 to Sec­ondary 3 from 17 schools who took part in the Cal­tex Fuel Your School – Tech Jam 2018 learn­ing jour­ney pro­gramme ear­lier this week.

Dur­ing the ses­sions at the Sci­ence Cen­tre Sin­ga­pore, the stu­dents learnt how to repur­pose e-waste into some­thing use­ful.

Said Yu Yun, a Sec­ondary 3 stu­dent: “The ses­sions helped me un­der­stand more about e-waste and how I can help the en­vi­ron­ment. I hope more Sin­ga­pore­ans can learn how to repur­pose e-waste.”

Stu­dents who showed ap­ti­tude and in­ter­est have been in­vited to take part in a hackathon in Novem­ber.

The Sci­ence Cen­tre is hold­ing pub­lic ses­sions this week­end to teach chil­dren how to cre­ate a robot from e-waste.

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