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Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Australia's Real Estate Cartel: Part I

It is astounding in Australia today to contemplate the existence of a fully functioning cartel. In fact many people would only associate cartel-like operations with oil companies or in countries where the rule of law is not at the forefront of society. So what is a cartel and how could they exist in this country? How has this situation been allowed to happen, slipping under the noses of regulatory authorities? The answer to all of these questions are extremely complex and hit at the heart of the failures of governance of all areas of real estate. The aim of this examination of the industry is to expose the issues that have been ignored for too long and put forward a set of solutions to the multi layered problem which will require co-operation between all levels of government.

The first piece in the puzzle involves the fundamental issue of power sharing between the State and Federal Governments. Every State and Territory has its own set of laws covering real estate which can vary significantly. There is not a Federal set of guidelines to govern real estate agencies or real estate agents. and there are completely different training requirements in every State and Territory. This means that in some jurisdictions it is extremely easy, taking only 3 days for a person to be qualified as a real estate agent. This person then has the legal right to advise vendors on the best method of selling their home. That means that the three days course miraculously takes you from novice to industry expert, able to give advice to clients on what is generally their largest asset.

It would seem outrageous to visit a Doctor for medical treatment knowing that all they did to get their qualification was a three day crash course in first aid. Wouldn't it be alarming to know that your Accountant had completed a three day correspondence course in company tax law - never having been formally assessed under exam conditions? How about being represented by a Barrister who had completed a 3 day course in legal practice? All of these examples would be considered totally unacceptable in almost every country in the world, however real estate seems to be the exception. Understanding that each State or Territory has it's own guidelines and that no Federal guidelines exist is the first part in piecing together the evidence of cartel-like behaviour and finding a way in which to transform the real estate industry nationally. The second part is in understanding the training requirements to become a real estate agent as it forms the base upon which every other issue within the industry is built upon.

In the next part of our examination of the Real Estate Cartel in Australia I will discuss the ramifications of the low entry standards in the industry and will start piecing together the lobby groups who actually have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo. I will talk about the groups that benefit financially from this extraordinary situation and start the process of piecing together the links between these groups and the reasons behind their co-operation. This is a must read for all those involved in real estate in any way in this country and it is only when these issues are put into the public forum for open discussion and debate that we will be able to push for change protecting both consumers and the industry as a whole. Michael Marquette

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