Strike worries estate agents

AS THE Estate Agency Affairs Board lurches from crisis to crisis, estate agents fear that they will not be issued with Fidelity Fund certificates in the new year.

About half the administrative staff at the board, the regulatory body for the real estate industry, went on strike on Friday over a salary dispute, leaving many estate agents wondering whether the rest of the staff would be equipped to process Fidelity Fund certificates for the 65000 agents registered with the board.

Without Fidelity Fund certificates estate agents cannot legally earn commission. The statutory body, with which all real estate agents must register, also administers the Fidelity Fund, which compensates consumers for losses caused by estate agents.

Estate Agency Affairs Board employees belonging to the National Education, Health and Allied Workers Union are demanding a 10% salary increase for the board’s administrative staff and are threatening an “indefinite” strike unless the matter is resolved.

The board is also undergoing an overhaul after a forensic audit this year found financial irregularities and contraventions of corporate governance and public finance rules. Five board members resigned in the wake of the audit report.

Bill Rawson, president of the Institute of Estate Agents of SA, a voluntary association with 6500 members, says the Estate Agency Affairs Board is in “crisis”.

“We now as an industry are terrified that come January 1 we won’t get our Fidelity Fund certificates. Fifty percent of staff are striking and we don’t know if that 50% are staff who are meant to be issuing our Fidelity Fund certificates and our renewal of membership notifications,” says Rawson.

He says there are only three working weeks in December, which does not give much time to process the certificates and renewal of membership notifications. But Rawson is not holding his breath as he has not received a renewal of membership notice yet.

“These notices should have been sent out on October 1 and licence fees should have been paid (by registered estate agents) by October 31,” says Rawson.

Rawson is also critical of the Estate Agency Affairs Board’s structure, saying it is “structurally flawed”. He says a new board is appointed every three years.

“Only five members come from the industry and the trade and industry department chooses who it wants to put on the board,” he says. “We have so-called representation which is not accountable to the industry.”

Rawson says another problem is continuity of leadership. He says that in their first year in office, the new board appointees study how the estate agency industry functions and, in their second year, start drawing up a business plan.

“In the third year they start trying to implement a business plan and in the fourth year they’ll all be out and a new batch comes in. The whole cycle begins again,” says Rawson.

Estate Agency Affairs Board CEO Nomonde Mapetla says the staff involved in issuing Fidelity Fund certificates are not involved in the strike action.

Mapetla says membership renewal notifications were sent out two weeks ago. “All the renewals that are legitimate in our books have been issued.”

On the issue of the board’s structure, Mapetla says that whenever board members are retired, some remain on to ensure leadership continuity. She says there is no company board that stays in power “ad infinitum”.

Ronald Ennik, chief operating officer for Pam Golding Properties, says he is aware there is a problem with the issuing of renewals and Fidelity Fund certificates on time.

But Ennik says Pam Golding Properties have “anticipated this” and have been working on the problem. “And we are getting our renewals on time,” he says.

Lew Geffen, chairman of Sotheby’s International Realty SA, says all estate agents “suffer from the same blight”.

“If Bill (Rawson) doesn’t get his certificate neither will we. There is a huge problem at the Estate Agency Affairs Board at the moment,” says Geffen.

He says board CEO Mapetla is “highly competent” but “saddled with the problems created by her predecessors”.

Article by: Nick Wilson - www.businessday.co.za