The Consumer Council of Fiji has released its official submission to Government’s National Budget, highlighting that more market intervention was necessary to ensure that any reductions in duties, tax or Value Added Tax are passed onto consumers.
In particular, the Council has requested more powers towards the Real Estate Agents Licensing Board (REALB).
“This year, the Council has requested the Government to expand the powers of the Real Estate Agents Licensing Board beyond its current function of licensing the real estate agents,” stated Council CEO, Premila Kumar.
“The Council has reason to believe that certain players in the industry manipulate prices of properties and even do not disclose the prices of properties put on sale. In one of its studies on real estate practices, the Council noted that quite a considerable number of properties out in the market did not have a stated price. Real estate agents are either asking for price offers or calling for auctions.
“In other cases, properties are simply advertised with no disclosure of price or price range. How can consumers make an offer when they don’t even know the price of the property sold in that suburb, to make a reasonable offer? It is also a concern that properties are put on auction but there is no disclosure on date and time for these auctions. There is lack of transparency in the manner the auctions are conducted.”
Kumar said such practices pushed prices and contributed to making housing further out of reach for ordinary Fijians.
“Further, in attempts to prevent price exploitation, the price or the price range of properties on sale needs to be made available to the public. If an auction is called for, then the property must be registered and monitored by the Real Estate Agents Licensing Board.”
The Consumer Council is calling for policy changes that will allow the REALB a public registry of all properties listed by real estate agents alongside records of the actual prices that the properties sell for in different suburbs or regions.
“Such information will assist consumers to make offers.”
REALB chairman, Dr Abdul Hassan said the Board supported the concerns raised by the Consumer Council.
“We are in the process of formulating a policy whereby the manner of buying and selling of properties remains transparent to the public,” he said.
“Currently, certain agents are engaged in practices that may not allow the buyers and sellers to know the property market. This is because the whole process goes through a dubious manner. The final transaction price is only known when the transfers are registered at the stamp duties’ office,” Dr Hassan added.
“The Board has the power under Section 59 (1) to inspect the records of all transactions undertaken by the real estate agents on the course of carrying on the business.”
Dr Hassan confirmed that the REALB would soon appoint a research and statistical officer to check and monitor all real estate transactions in the country.
“Another way of maintaining a fair price on properties is to make it mandatory for the party to obtain an independent valuation before it is advertised for sale.”
He said that in this manner, property prices could remain consistent in the open market.
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