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Property agent suspended, fined S$30,000 for faking offers to get bigger commission

[SINGAPORE] A property agent has been fined S$30,000 and suspended for 12 months for faking offers and counteroffers in a private property transaction in a bid to get a bigger commission for himself at the expense of his client.

It is the highest sentence meted out so far to a property agent by the Council for Estate Agencies (CEA), the statutory board that regulates the real estate agency industry.

In a statement on Monday, the CEA said Ngu Ping Chuan James Ethan of PropNex Realty behaved unprofessionally and unethically while facilitating the purchase of a condominium unit in the eastern part of Singapore between 2016 and 2017.

The 39-year-old failed to represent his client's best interest and instead prioritised his own profit from commissions, the CEA said.

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"Ngu's wrongful conduct caused his client to suffer a loss or disadvantage of about S$20,000 to S$30,000."

In 2016, Ngu was engaged by a client to look for a condominium unit in the eastern part of Singapore that is more than 800 sq ft in size with a selling price of about S$900,000.

They viewed a unit in March 2017 that had a price tag of S$1.04 million.

The seller's agent told Ngu that the seller was willing to let go of the property at S$1.02 million, but Ngu did not tell his client about the offer because he wanted a commission of 2.5 to 3 per cent and the seller was willing to pay only 1 per cent commission to him.

Instead, Ngu told his client that the property was valued at S$1.18 million and asked the client to make an offer of S$1.06 million. The client did not make the offer.

Subsequently, he lied to his client that the seller had made a counteroffer of S$1.04 million. Ngu also lied to the seller's agent that his client had offered to buy the property for S$1.04 million and asked for a higher commission for himself.

Both the offer and counteroffer were made up by Ngu himself.

The seller's agent lowered the price tag to S$1.01 million and asked Ngu to get his commission from his client instead, but Ngu did not tell his client of the lower price.

Instead, Ngu advised his client not to proceed with the property purchase because of the high price when the real reason was that he had failed to negotiate for a higher commission of 3 per cent of the sale price for himself, the CEA said.

Ngu's client only found out about his wrongful behaviour when he contacted the seller's agent directly to offer to buy the condo for S$1.04 million, which was accepted.

The CEA said that under its code of ethics, Ngu should have declared in writing to his client the conflict of interest in getting a commission from the seller.

A higher price means a bigger commission for the buyer's agent, but this may be disadvantageous to the buyer.

During the CEA disciplinary committee hearing, Ngu pleaded guilty to two charges of failing to convey offers from the seller to his client, and one charge of continuing to act on behalf of his client and failing to declare in writing his conflict of interest.

Another five charges, including conveying false offers, were taken into account for his punishment.

He was originally suspended for 14 months, which was lowered to 12 months after he appealed.

The CEA advised consumers to report agents whom they suspect to be unethical or unprofessional via feedback@cea.gov.sg or by calling 1800-643-2555.

THE STRAITS TIMES