At the start of 1999, a licensing regime for the estate agency trade came into effect.
There are two licence types for individuals: an estate agent's licence, which is required to operate a related business, and a licence for a salesperson, who is only allowed to perform estate agency work for a licensed estate agent.
The industry is overseen by the Estate Agents Authority (EAA), an independent statutory body established in November 1997 under the Estate Agents Ordinance (EAO). Its principal functions are to regulate the practice of estate agency in Hong Kong, promote integrity and competence within the industry, and facilitate training for agents to enhance their standards and status.
The EAA organises qualifying examinations, issues licences to individuals and companies, handles complaints against licensees, conducts compliance inspections and hands out disciplinary sanctions to practitioners who have breached the EAO.
To be granted a salesperson's licence or an estate agent's licence (individual), an applicant must be 18 years or above, have completed Form Five or an equivalent educational level, and have passed the relevant qualifying examination in the 12 months immediately prior to applying.
Factors that could disqualify individuals would include: being an undischarged bankrupt, having a serious mental disorder, or prior criminal convictions for acting fraudulently, corruptly or dishonestly.
Rosanna Ure, the EAA's chief executive officer, believes that the existing licensing regime can help uphold trade standards as they ensure that only those who meet requirements will be allowed to practise. "The EAA strives to carry out the gate-keeping function effectively. Licence applications are vetted carefully to ensure compliance with statutory requirements," she says.
Apart from complying with the EAO and relevant subsidiary legislation, licensed agents and salespeople are also required to follow the code of ethics and the so-called practice circulars issued by the authority.
Ure says the EAA attaches great importance to fostering a culture of integrity, in addition to abiding by the law. To this end, the EAA worked with the Independent Commission Against Corruption to launch the three-year Integrity Management Programme for Estate Agency Trade in March 2011.