How much of a problem are unlicensed real estate agents?
A leading Wellington real estate agent says it is too difficult for agents to remember to renew their licences every year, and wants the licensing "mess" changed.
The claims from Tommy's Wellington sales director David Platt follow revelations by Stuff that a Kapiti Coast agent was unlicensed when he sold a meth-contaminated house in Waikanae to a young family.
That meant that, when Kiel and Emma Moore-Jones complained to the Real Estate Agents Authority about agent Neil Verry's behaviour, it could not investigate him.
Instead, the investigation will be into Harcourts agency Team MKH Wellington, which still employs Verry.
Platt said: "Currently the system relies on individual agents remembering to renew their own licences on the anniversary of the issue date. This makes it very difficult for the companies to monitor the status of each of their salespeople with the renewals spread over the course of a year."
The issue could be "fixed in a heartbeat" by having a single annual relicensing date, with agencies responsible for ensuring everyone was relicensed on the same day, "instead of the current relicensing mess the REAA have created".
But the Real Estate Institute of New Zealand's Wellington director, Euon Murrell, said he had no sympathy for agents who had let their licences lapse.
"It's as simple as going online – bingo. Get off your backside and apply for it, it's a 10-minute job."
REAA chief executive Kevin Lampen-Smith said unlicensed trading was a serious matter, but a single licensing date would require a legislation change.
Murrell said REINZ represented 14,000 agents, and processing them all on the same day would be a massive administrative burden.
Since the regulator was formed in 2009, eight of nine unlicensed trading prosecutions had been successful, Lampen-Smith said. "It is not a common activity, and we have no reason to believe it is widespread."
It is illegal under the Real Estate Agents Act 2008 to operate without a licence, with a penalty of up to $40,000 for an individual.
The REAA has a public register of licensed agents on its website, and Lampen-Smith urged anyone concerned about an agent's conduct to contact the authority.
Peter Thompson, managing director of Auckland agency Barfoot & Thompson, said he could see both sides of the licensing argument, but ultimately he backed the status quo.
Under a single renewal date, unethical agents could potentially leave an agency with the move going undetected, he said.