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The New Paper
23 September 2017
In a landmark case, a property agent has been fined and suspended for failing to conduct work with due diligence and care for a vulnerable client.
Mr Ng Ser Leong, 44, whose registered name with the Council for Estate Agents (CEA) is Power James, had failed to ascertain if the elderly female co-owner of a Housing Board flat was fully aware of the consequences of the sale despite being informed that she was "senile".
The CEA, a statutory board that regulates the real estate agency industry, said in a statement yesterday that the PropNex associate branch director had been fined $6,000 and suspended for seven months from Oct 19.
Mr Ng pleaded guilty to two charges of breaching the CEA's Code of Ethics and Professional Client Care, with four other charges taken into consideration.
One was for failing in conscientious service by meeting the woman only once and not updating her on the sale thereafter.
The other three charges were for failing to give her copies of the three documents she had endorsed.
A CEA spokesman said Mr Ng is the first agent to be taken to task by its Disciplinary Committee for these offences.
In August 2015, Mr Ng was approached by a friend of the woman's husband to handle the sale of their flat.
The husband was living in the flat, but his illiterate wife, who is in her 80s and suffers from an advanced state of dementia, had been in an old folks' home in Pasir Ris for the past decade.
To sell the flat, Mr Ng had to get the signatures or thumbprints of the couple.
He visited the old folks' home and approached an employee to help him get the woman's thumbprint on the transaction documents.
Key information, including the flat's address, purchase price and buyer's name, was left blank on the documents.
The flat was listed for sale online on Aug 13. The next day, a potential buyer responded to the listing, and eventually agreed to purchase the flat for $360,000.
Mr Ng filled in the transaction forms that had the woman's thumbprint, and her husband signed the documents on Aug 17.
When the elderly man was hospitalised for a fall on Sept 1, his children found out about the sale.
Questioned by the son, Ng admitted he knew the woman was "senile". The potential buyer was informed of the situation the next day, and the sale was subsequently aborted.
The CEA received separate complaints against Mr Ng from the buyer and the couple's son.
Its spokesman said cases involving breaches of the code of ethics and professional client care and the code of practice are heard by its Disciplinary Committee, while cases involving offences such as individuals conducting estate agency work without a licence, or individuals engaging in dual representation in a transaction will be heard in court. (See tables.)
When contacted, PropNex chief executive Ismail Gafoor said Mr Ng, who has been with the company since 2004, had concluded more than 500 HDB transactions.
He said of the CEA verdict: "PropNex takes a serious view on professionalism in the real estate industry, and we are committed to continuously train our salespersons to be aligned with the stipulated rules and guidelines."
Lawyer Joel Loh of Chiu Cheong LLC said such cases are not common, with lawyers for the sellers usually acting as gatekeepers.
"The proper procedure would have been to get the court to appoint someone as deputy if there is no lasting power of attorney," Mr Loh said.
"It is advisable to get a lasting power of attorney done when one is still mentally sound for about $200, instead of having to get a court order later, which would cost about $4,000."