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Unlicensed, online agents under scrutiny

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Unlicensed, online agents under scrutiny

The government’s ongoing campaign to crack down on unlicensed real estate players has shifted to the online world, although whether that will be enough to clean up the sector remains to be seen, according to industry insiders.

The Ministry of Economy and Finance traditionally issues real estate licenses for individuals and property firms, but unlicensed agents have long plagued the property industry by creating unfair competition, registered agents say.

“Licensed agents have to pay tax, [but] they just take the money without paying, so the rates they charge is cheaper,” said Nguon Chhayleang, CEO of Century 21 Regent Realty. 

Although they may be cheaper, unlicensed agents are also more prone to taking part in scams and because of their unregistered status, are much harder to hold accountable.

To end this impunity, the government has been finding real estate agents’ listings online and seeing if they are registered with the government.

Keuk Narin, a local real estate analyst who runs the property website MLS Cambodia, said he had received notice from the Ministry earlier this month about unlicensed agents using his site to promote properties.

“The ministry uses my site to crack down [on] them--they can check on my website if they don’t have license and then call them,” Narin said.

“I also informed those agents who don’t have licenses from the Ministry of Commerce or the Ministry of Finance that we will inform them in advance, and inform them that the ministry will take action.”

According to Narin, the ministry said a $5,000 fine would be levied to those who disobeyed the law. 

However, he is unsure any concrete action will be taken, given the large number of unlicensed real estate agents – which he says vastly outnumber the over 100 licensed real estate firms – and a lack of resources at the ministry level.

“It will be very challenging for the government to crack down,” he said.

Kim Heang, president of Khmer Real Estate, agreed, saying the government needs to be more proactive.

“No, I do not think that the government has done their best yet. They are very reactive for this industry,” he said. 

“The government should [promote] the licensed realtors as we pay them tax, and take stronger action against unlicensed realtors to make the industry better.”

Mey Vann, director of the Department of Industry and Finance at the Ministry of Economy and Finance, said the issue was being tackled, despite some difficulties.

 “Most of the illegal operations have reduced since we started [cracking down] last year,” Vann said.

According to Vann, the Ministry works closely with the Cambodian Valuers and Estate Agents Association to push unlicensed firms and brokers to register, while it has been monitoring websites and newspapers. 

However, cracking down is rarely easy due to a lack of registered addresses, Vann conceded.

“It’s very hard to take action on the illegals, they are not a fixed-location, they are mobile. They move from place to place.”

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