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Professionalism, self-regulation, and the problem of dual agency : the residential real estate industry in British Columbia Gee, Karen

Abstract

This paper contributes to the discussion about reforming the legislation governing real estate marketing in British Columbia. In March 2003, the government announced its proposals to amend the existing Real Estate Act with the objective of protecting the public and preserving its confidence in the real estate sector by providing a "least cost" regime, promoting competition among participants, and providing a flexible, accountable regulatory framework. Interested parties were invited to comment on a proposed direction for reform. A recent public opinion survey conducted by the British Columbia Real Estate Association indicated significant concern about realtors acting for both a purchaser and a vendor of the same property. Those with concerns feared possible conflicts of interest between realtors and their clients. Despite these results, the real estate industry did not address these concerns. Instead, the industry endorsed dual agency - the practice of acting for both a purchaser and a vendor in a single transaction - and claimed that to ensure professionalism for realtors, the industry had to be self-regulating. In May 2004, the government passed the Real Estate Services Act granting self-regulation to the industry. This paper questions the appropriateness of the government's grant of self-regulation to the industry. It reviews the literature on professionalism and the conditions under which it is appropriate to grant self-regulation to an occupational group. It discusses how the real estate industry has attempted to gain recognition as a profession and the problems that the practice of dual agency poses to consumers i f the industry is to be self-regulating. This paper concludes that the paramount purpose of occupational regulation should be to protect the public from harm, not to benefit or to reward practitioners. Self-regulation should only be granted to an occupational group with a genuine and demonstrated willingness to act in the public interest. Recommendations are offered to the government to reconsider its actions and to consider abolishing the practice of dual agency and adopting reforms that favour consumer interests in residential real estate transactions.

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