PROPERTY NEWS - Tony Clarke, managing director of the national property group, Rawson Properties, has raised a red flag of "concern" regarding the recent proclamation by SA President, Jacob Zuma. This transfers the "administration powers and functions" of the Estate Agency Affairs Act from the Minister of Trade and Industry to the Minister of Human Settlements with immediate effect.
"This is," said Clarke, "a radical move and one which will have a far reaching impact. We who work in the estate agency sector are obviously concerned that the body now controlling us has other agendas and other foci. Human Settlements' task is affordable and sub-economic housing.
The question now being asked is, "Are they equipped to deal with the issues that affect the formal, basically middle class housing development buying and selling industry. It is worrying that this big change has been made without, so far as I know, any consultation with the leading figures of our industry."
Despite this criticism, said Clarke, the change may be beneficial in the long term.
"Tokyo Sexwale, who controls Human Settlements, has a well-earned reputation as a mover and shaker, a leader who accomplishes things. He may be what we need. If the truth be told, few of us in this sector have been satisfied with the way in which the Department of Trade and Industry and its Estate Agency Affairs Board have administered us."
For years, said Clarke, the EAAB had been "ineffective". Although they had garnered credit for the new training/educational initiatives now compulsory in the sector, they had not, he said, been nearly as involved here as they should have been.
"The government's stated policy is to foster and encourage entrepreneurs. How, therefore, do they reconcile this with the inordinate time lags in the agents' training? It now takes a full year for a rookie agent to qualify (and during that time he has to share his commissions with his mentor) and it takes even highly competent agency principals three years before they can legally operate on their own. This seriously hampers transformation in our industry."
Furthermore, said Clarke, the problems caused to estate agents by the EAAB's late and non-delivery year after year of Fidelity Fund Certificates had resulted in many agents having to operate without these - which in fact meant that they were operating illegally.
Clarke also said that there is now a fear that the Fidelity Fund might be drawn on by Human Settlements for other purposes. It must, he said, be kept solely as a compensatory safety net for people who had suffered from crooked or inefficient estate agents.
Asked what he recommends as a follow-up step in this saga, Clarke said that the Minister of Human Settlements should, as a matter of urgency, convene a meeting with the leading stakeholders in this sector to discuss the road ahead.
"It is," he said, "sometimes forgotten that the middle and upper class housing sector is responsible for 9% of South Africa's GDP. This is a major industry which should be better governed and better assisted to function optimally."