Fri | Sep 17, 2021

Realtors knock REB - Technology hiccups spark blame game

Published:Sunday | November 29, 2020 | 12:06 AMKarena Bennett - Business Reporter
Sandra Garick, CEO of the Rea Estate Board.
Sandra Garick, CEO of the Rea Estate Board.

Realtor Deborah Cumming, Century 21 Heave-Ho Properties.
Realtor Deborah Cumming, Century 21 Heave-Ho Properties.

The technological shift to online delivery of services brought on by the pandemic has placed the Real Estate Board of Jamaica, REB, and the realtors its serves at odds over improper records and the impact it is having on the market.

The situation has got to a point where realtors are speaking out publicly, out of frustration. But the head of the REB, while taking some blame, is also pushing back, saying applicants for licences are not adhering fully to new procedures.

Century 21’s seasoned real estate agent Deborah Cumming who, in describing the REB’s operation to the Financial Gleaner, said the operation was “disorganised” and “disenfranchising” to newcomers in the industry.

Manual processes used by the REB over the years were already a headache for Cumming, but tensions with the REB heightened after an agent attached to Century 21 was temporarily barred from practising, following a mishap with an electronic payment.

“I have agents who have paid their fees but the Real Estate Board is saying they have not paid. And so these persons are left without income until that is rectified. To make matters worse, they are being asked to pay a late fee, even though the issue is no fault of theirs.

“The message from the Real Estate Board is that persons should visit their website to know who is licensed or unlicensed, but the problem is that the board itself is not keeping good records,” Cummings said.

But in the REB’s defence, CEO Sandra Garrick, while confirming that there have been some hiccups with payments for licensing following the governing body’s switch to more electronic-based services, says the transition requires cooperation from the agents and salesmen.

Prior to COVID-19, payments for licensing and registration were conducted in the REB’s office, but since the onset of the coronavirus, Garrick said the board has put measures in place for all payments and fees to be done electronically.

In an attempt to easily distinguish real estate agents, salesmen and developers, all of whom are governed by the REB, the board also made arrangements for each payment to be done through the use of a voucher system.

“We insisted that, once the voucher is used, there is a cash consolidated plan number on each payment. And once you are a dealer, it would say one number and, if you are salesmen or paying for a corporation, you’d be assigned other numbers,” Garrick told the Financial Gleaner.

“That was intended to help us track persons. But then, people would photocopy that same voucher with numbers that we might have assigned to them, and give it to others, resulting in sometimes four payments coming in with the same number. It’s creating a challenge for us,” she said.

In other cases, Garrick said, industry individuals have been providing proof of payment that does not match data on the REB’s accounting records.

“Payments have been made from an account held by two persons and, upon payment, only the primary account holder’s name – who has no dealings with the REB – appeared on the receipt,” said the agency head.

“These are some of the challenges that we are facing, and we have a small staff who had to be working overtime to ensure that everything was in place to meet the deadline, to avoid the agents incurring any late fees,” she said.

But Cummings has also called out the REB on its slow start to the introduction of online classes to meet demand from the growing industry.

Real estate dealers and salesmen are required to participate in 20 hours of Continuing Professional Development or CPD courses every two years, aimed at ensuring that practitioners maintain international best practices, skills and competence in the industry.

The 24 courses offered under the continuing professional development programme include: the Real Estate Act, anti-money laundering workshop, building code of Jamaica, land laws and timeshare legislation, and also commenced its first Strata & Community Management course in September.

But, before the outbreak of COVID-19, all the classes were offered in face-to-face or classroom format only.

“We’ve had complaints from agents who have grown weary of waiting to take the courses, because the classes were always full, some have decided to leave the industry out of frustration,” Cummings said.

Since March, Garrick said the REB has conducted 11 of the 24 courses the REB has moved online, and is looking to improve its online schooling service with on-demand classes through partnerships.

The REB normally has 1,045 spaces available for the 11 classes. REB got 756 registrations for the classes “but only 571 turned up”, Garrick said. “So it cannot be a case where people are waiting to take courses, because they are all offered online now,” she asserted.

In 2017, Cabinet gave approval for the merger of the Real Estate Board, the Commission of Strata Corporations and the Registrar of Timeshare into a single Real Estate Authority of Jamaica. The merger left the REB governing the operations of real estate dealers, salesmen and developers.

But with gated or shared communities and town houses set to be the latest regulated housing arrangement under the portfolio of the REB, in addition to deepening its involvement in technology, Garrick says the governing agency is looking to incorporate a client management system in its operation, to further minimise errors and automate administrative processes.

The system, which will be rolled out in two phases, will in the first instance allow real estate agents and salesmen to complete registration forms online, and will also facilitate payments. The second phase will bring on board developers and will collate data for greater ease in the issuance of licences.

“We are very far advanced in this, and the invitation to tender will be advertised shortly. It will enhance our efficiency and, even more importantly, it will use less staffing. And that’s important for us,” Garrick said.

The REB, which has a staff complement of 42, governs some 3,000 dealers and salesmen, of which 1,334 are active.