The T&T real estate industry has seen an uptick in activity, mostly in residential properties between $1.5 million and $3 million. This was confirmed by Mark Edghill, the immediate past president of the Association of Real Estate Agents (AREA), during an interview with the Sunday Business Guardian last week.
Edghill, who has served as AREA president for the past eight years, said the increase in activity is due to attractive interest rates and job security in the middle-income bracket as well as the flexibility of property prices.
He noted that the pandemic affected spending power and saw an increase in inventory competing for the same buyers/tenants.
“If it is a first-time homeowner, you have the stamp duty exemption, which is a significant benefit and saving, which makes it more affordable,” Edghill highlighted.
Also, he said something that affected the real estate industry, is people who were approved for mortgages before the pandemic, because of the loss of employment or their change in job stability, their mortgage offer from the bank fell through, so the sale of the property was terminated.
While the inventory for retail spaces is still prevalent on the market, Edghill said new businesses are not taking the risk of occupying big spaces.
In June, the T&T Police Service reported an increase in land fraud and for the year there were 35 reports of land fraud with a total amount of $9,874,283.36 compared to last year’s figure of $4,459,525.
The police noted that fraudsters not only use forged documents from state agencies but sometimes pose as legitimate property owners to lure potential victims.
AREA’s immediate past president said, in order to protect the 200 plus members of the association, it held workshops with the Financial Intelligence Unit of Trinidad and Tobago (“the FIUTT”) and the Fraud Squad to educate the agents on how to be vigilant and on how to identify possible fraud.
“In terms of land fraud, it comes back to the same type of activity that will take place with a property, where people are using fraudulent identification. They will take their ID and change the name on it to match the name on the title of a property or deed. Not only agents can get caught but lawyers as well, because everything looks legitimate when the person presents the ID and documents,” Edghill explained.
He said it was important for agents to conduct due diligence and scrutinise documents and identification that look abnormal.
“You always have scenarios that do not match, which is a red flag and then you must take the time to further investigate what is happening.
“Sometimes in the fraud aspect, you are looking at things like if people are looking to receive the money on a transaction, but giving you multiple places to deposit it, or they want cash. Agents have many checks and balances available through the banking system,” Edghill outlined.
The former AREA president also addressed the issue of the Real Estate Agents Bill 2020.
He said after decades of work, AREA succeeded in 2017 in forging a partnership with the Ministry of Legal Affairs to draft a bill that passed through Parliament on June 1, 2020.
Describing the bill as half a step forward, Edghill said the legislation now awaits proclamation by the President.
“Several amendments were recommended, and AREA is waiting on a response from the Ministry of Legal Affairs, on whether those amendments would be accepted, to enable the act to be better functional. We are also waiting on information on the operationalisation from the Registrar General, which would give us all the relevant criteria for qualifying and maintaining a license as a real estate agent,” he remarked.
Getting the legislation to be laid in Parliament, Edghill said, was a major achievement for AREA.
Edghill underscored that the bill defines what a real estate business is and is not, who can legally engage in real estate business. It proposes new guidelines for real estate agents, developers, and property managers.
The bill on the Parliament’s website states that both brokers and sales associates must be licensed and listed in public and private registers so key information about their operations is immediately known to the public and the authorities.
Clause 80 of the bill empowers the Minister of Legal Affairs, a portfolio held by the Attorney General, to establish a code of ethics for real estate agents.
Touching on the increase in the number of agents in the industry, the immediate past president stated that one of the main challenges is that not everyone is seeking to do it the right way or professionally.
“We have people who would go through the ROYTEC training programme and get the basic understanding of how to operate real estate, but instead of going and working with an experienced real estate broker to gain the practical knowledge and on-the-ground experience they will open their brokerage, and then decide to offer services to people with absolutely no experience and therefore mislead people.
This could lead to people entering into bad agreements and some customers lose deposits, he emphasised.
AREA now has a new president Sally Singh who was elected during the association’s annual meeting, which was held on July 26.
Edghill said after serving as president for the past eight years he believes it’s time he steps down together to focus on his business Key West Real Estate.
“When I took up responsibility at AREA, I took it very seriously, and as a result with a lot of people depending on me to lead, it took precedence over my business. I will also now be expanding into consulting business development, as well as other business ventures,” he expressed.
However, Edghill said he will still be representing AREA as it falls under the 56 services sectors that Trinidad and Tobago Coalition of Services Industries (TTCSI). He has been the president of the TTCSI for the past two and a half years.
Asked what he want to see within the industry in the future, the immediate past president of AREA said more foreign investment, construction, more hotels, and the development of the tourism sector for vacation homes.