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Flavell: Real Estate Agents Bill

Real Estate Agents Bill

Wednesday 12 December 2007; 7.45pm

Te Ururoa Flavell, Member for Waiariki

Mr Speaker, let me open with this korero by Margaret Mahy.

“These days it seems to me that when I look at the world I see many people, including politicians, television readers, real estate agents and free market financiers, librarians too at times, dressing as sharks, eating leaves and drinking out of puddles, casually taking over the powerful and dangerous images that the imagination presents, eager to exploit the fictional forms that haunt us all”.

In other words, the operation of truth is exercised with a certain amount of freedom.

As anyone who regularly has a look at the real estate magazines would know, real estate agents have a remarkable talent at being able to be enormously creative in the way they describe the state of a property.

A derelict run down shack is branded as “needing a lick of paint”.

An ugly throwback to the seventies with colours thrown together during a late-night dope session or acid trip is promoted as ‘funky’.

A house which breaches every building code under the Act, is labelled “DIY Delight”.

The reality is that disturbing mistruths; poor contractual advice; misleading representations and outright lies have all entered the environment in which we consider this Bill – a Bill to protect and promote the interests of consumers in real estate transactions.

And we say about time.

The ultimate irony of the state of the real estate industry was revealed earlier this year when Harcourts sought to honour one of their real estate agents who deliberately misled consumers.

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The Maori Party welcomes the advent of a new regulatory framework for the real estate industry for another very important reason.

The correlation between discrimination by real estate agents and limited accommodation options for Maori has long been part of the scene.

In 1991 the Mäori Women’s Housing Research Project reported that non-Maori or Pakeha families will have more choice of housing because landlords, letting agents, real estate agents and mortgage lenders will feel more comfortable interacting with them and will believe their families to be more reliable, trustworthy tenants or mortgagees.

And just two years ago in October 2005, in my electorate a Maori woman was reported to have been told by a Tauranga real estate agent from First National that the rental property did not want Maori tenants. Kelly Lovett subsequently lodged a complaint with the Human Rights Commission; and Race Relations Commissioner Joris de Bres confirmed that such discrimination was illegal.

Illegal or not, Tokoroa landlord, Walter Pellikan, quickly came out in support of taking such a stand. His view was that ‘banning Maori tenants makes good business sense and should be allowed’.

Now just to put this into some context, the Real Estate Institute of New Zealand eventually came out with a very strong statement, encouraging members to, and I quote, “actively work against racist policies by rental property owners”. They also advised that such actions went against the Institutes Code of Conduct.

And yet six months later, despite the advice of the industry leaders, another report, this time in Nelson, Tasman and Marlborough, confirmed that discrimination in the home ownership market was still being delivered from real estate agents.

The Centre for Housing Research described comments from social service organisations in Marlborough who spoke of difficulties in working with real estate agents to house Maori clients; concluding that Maori were being discriminated against by racist practices that act as barriers to Maori accessing rental housing.

Mr Speaker, I rise to give this context to provide perspective on how Maori consumers have experienced real estate agents, managers and salespeople for decades upon decades of encounters.

We are well aware that the industry’s disciplinary processes have not worked in ways which exude transparency and accountability.

The sales psychology has dominated over industry standards. Consumers have indeed faced real risks from agents who have mishandled funds, given poor contractual advice, misused information or who have undisclosed conflicts of interest.

The home truths of the industry have been far from acceptable.

And so we will support this Bill to ensure the administration of licensing, complaints, disciplinary and enforcement processes, industry standards and practice rules is able to take place, and restore the reputation of the real estate industry.

The Bill sets out the specifications by which anyone engaged in real estate agency work must be licensed and act within the scope of that licence.

That is extremely constructive and well worth supporting.

But there is one issue which we are hoping the select committee phase will advance. The Bill enables certain exemptions from the licensing processes for real estate agency work. Amongst the exemptions are Landcorp and its employees.

This issue is one which we are keen to receive further advice from – particularly in light of the issues we have been raising over the last two years regarding Landcorp sales.

We have brought to this House, and to the attention of Ministers, concerns raised by Hauraki, the Tainui waka alliance, Ngati Kahu, Tuwharetoa, the Maori Council and other iwi regarding Landcorp activities in relation to the sale of land subject to Treaty claims.

We all remember the noble advocacy put forward by Ngati Kahu to try to stop the sale of the repossessed Rangiputa Station on the Karikari Peninsula.

We remember the concerns over the sale of the Taurewa land blocks and the proposed sale of a ten million dollar block of prime Coromandel land, at Whenuakite, which should have been the subject of negotiation with the Hauraki Maori Trust Board.

And while we were pleased that in raising these issues the Minister for State Owned Enterprise eventually announced a review of Crown land disposal – a review reported back in September – we must never leave a stone unturned when considering the vital significance of whenua to tangata whenua.

So, we will be looking at the select committee process for clarity around the exemptions from the regulations proposed in this Bill; particularly of course the fact that Landcorp will be exempt from the regulations around disclosure of conflicts of interest.

We in the Maori Party believe we need robust processes for the sale of land subject to Treaty claims by Landcorp and we will be interested in the debate as it unfolds.

Finally, Mr Speaker, urgency can be long and laborious, without much let-up or moments of light relief. In thinking about where these problems came from in the recent real estate industry debacles, I came across a poem from Andrew Chiu-kit Tsang of Manukau, which I thought would add to the debate.

This poem, this waiata, this korero is called "During the Real Estate Boom", and I am sure Mr Power will be interested in this because he listened to my first waiata.

It goes something like this:

During the real estate boom

During the real estate boom
Everyone becomes a real estate agent
No wonder
There are 13000 real estate agents
8000 police
and 3000 soldiers in our country
I went to my favourite sandwich shop in Manukau
The boss wished to sell me his listing
But I only wanted a sandwich!
I went to Papatoetoe to get a fresh chicken
The boss wished to sell me her listing
But I only want a fresh chicken
I ring up my best friend in Howick hoping for a good chat
He also wish to sell me his listing
But I only want a good chat!
Some say a good man should be able to buy his own castle
Gimme a break!
I’m not yet a good man!

Food for thought, honourable members.

Tena tatou katoa.


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