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Why qualified agents are working (and earning) as interns

In April of this year an estate agency approached us to inform us of difficulties and frustrations related to the process of certification and registration of intern estate agents after they’ve completed the NQF Level 4 real estate qualification (Further Education and Training Certificate: Real Estate).

According to this lead there is currently only one Services SETA (SSETA) verifier available to moderate, assess and mark submitted files. The frustration is that it can, reportedly, take up to 18 months for some of these cases to be resolved.

Clive Ashpol, from the Education and Training Department at the Estate Agency Affairs Board (EAAB), confirms that the South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA) appointed SSETA as the quality assurer of the NQF 4 course, adding that any results and findings by a SSETA-accredited real estate education provider must first be verified and confirmed by the SSETA before that qualification can be uploaded to the national learner registration database which is maintained by SAQA and before a certificate of competence is issued by SSETA to the intern estate agent.

“The EAAB is, however, neither mandated nor able to speak on behalf of the SSETA regarding either the implementation of their verification process or the length of time that these may take to be completed,” says Ashpol, directing us to Thabani Gula, the quality assurance manager of the SSETA for clarity on this issue.

Where’s the gap?professional-facing-a-problem

We have e-mails spanning more than three weeks in attempted contact with Gula, to no response. After finding e-mail communication ineffective we tried contacting Gula via a telephone number confirmed by Ashpol as working, also to no avail… And meanwhile many young professionals, and the real estate agent profession at large is suffering a disservice as a result of the time taken to get interns qualified as estate agents.

An agent we spoke to confirms that cases of it taking up to 18 months are not isolated. “The entire industry is being impacted. It’s everywhere,” he says. “I’ve worked with a woman who did her NQF 5 (to become a principal) she submitted her file in June last year and has not had feedback. I submitted my NQF4 requirements in March and nothing yet.”

In order for an agent to enroll for the Professional Designation Examination for non-principal agents (PDE 4), the intern agent has to complete the mandatory twelve-month internship period as well as the certification process, which is moderated by SSETA.

“Only once an intern agent has passed the PDE 4 is that person able to be granted a status upgrade to professional practitioner in real estate,” explains Ashpol. “Failure by the SSETA to timeously to complete the verification process in respect of the NQF Level 4 real estate qualification has a knock-on effect in that it results in the person concerned not being able to enrol for the PDE 4 which unnecessarily extends the internship period, with possible negative earning and status consequences for the affected intern estate agent.”

Ashpol further adds that the biggest concern relates to the fact that no person may be registered as an intern estate agent for a period exceeding 24 months.

RE/MAX of Southern Africa says that even though they don’t have experience with the stage of external moderation and certification, they have experienced issues in various other departments.

According to RE/MAX there are delays in payment of bursaries, mentor fees, and stipends, unreasonable delays in getting feedback from SSETA on various queries, and administrative delays in learner uploads due to a system backlog.

It seems that the biggest issue here is a lack of resources from the SSETA’s side. If the rumours of only one moderator is indeed accurate then it explains this lack of service. It is completely impossible for one person to manage this process across the country.

So what is the EAAB doing to assist the industry?angry-businessmen-resize

According to Ashpol, the EAAB continues to receive complaints from affected agents. “The EAAB holds no jurisdiction where certification against the NQF real estate qualification is concerned,” he explains. “However, in response to the complaints we have, on numerous occasions, respectfully requested that the SSETA’s verification process be expedited.”

The EAAB has also agreed to accept a letter from the SSETA-accredited real estate education providers confirming that competency findings made have been verified and confirmed by the SSETA without waiting either for the SSETA to issue a Certificate of Competence to the learner concerned or to register the qualification on the national learner registration database.

With regards to the two-year cap put on the time any person can remain an intern agent, Ashpol says that the EAAB has made provisions not to prejudice intern estate agents as a result of factors beyond their control. This means that an intern agent could possibly be permitted to remain an intern for a period exceeding two years, if that agent has completed the NQF 4 course and internship requirement, but has been forced to wait for an extended period of time for the verification process to be completed.

“This is, of course, not a satisfactory situation but does assist affected intern estate agents,” he adds.

The problem is that, despite the concessions made by the EAAB to make the lives of agents easier and essentially reduce some of the flack on SSETA, you still have a case of qualified estate agents forced to practice as intern agents.

In many cases these agents are having to accept a lower level of income due to their status as intern agents and cannot, legally, do all the tasks required from them to oversee a transaction. Setting their careers back as well as their earning potential. All the while e-mails and phone calls to the SSETA go unanswered.


Mariette Steynberg is a qualified economist with a post-graduate diploma in financial planning. She has enjoyed working on holistic financial plans for clients in various stages of life, as well as a development economist assessing the socioeconomic impacts of new developments. When she is not working, Mariette enjoys parenting her quirky, delightful toddler girl. Cloth diapering, Eskimo kisses and the importance of reading to your child are all causes close to her heart. Mariette is passionate about financial education and hopes to use the experience she has gained to share knowledge with HomeTimes’ readership. Her goal is to provide information that is implementable by everyone.

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