Bahamian realtors must apply Know Your Customer (KYC) due diligence to real estate buyers or face fines that are “no laughing matter”, the industry has been warned.
The Bahamas Real Estate Association’s (BREA) annual general meeting was told that plans to update the 20 year-old Real Estate (Brokers and Salesmen) Act had been placed on hold so that the industry could focus attention on the implications of the new Financial Transactions Reporting Act (FTRA).
The FTRA reforms, designed to address deficiencies in The Bahamas’ anti-financial crime defences, mean that before turning over a key and collecting a commission every sales associate must be sure their firm’s broker has all necessary KYC information available on the buyer, bringing the real estate industry and developers in line with what is expected of banks and law firms.
In meetings with government officials, BREA has argued that all finances go through law firms that already have – or should have – all required KYC and financial information on their clients.
The association’s position is that asking the client to re-submit extensive background information to yet another source - realtors - creates an undue and onerous burden on both parties.
David Morley, president of Morley Real Estate and chairman of the BREA compliance committee, said: “Regardless of whether you touch the money, the new regulations make all licensed brokers gatekeepers.”
He told developers and brokers they had more than five years to prepare, adding: “The legislation stems from guidelines set by the FATF (Financial Action Task Force) in 2012. The Bahamas waited until 2018. What is being asked of us is not unique to us in this country, and it is not as onerous as it is in other countries.”
In some jurisdictions, brokers are required to file KYC background information before leasing. In The Bahamas, it only applies to sales. Brokers who fail to comply can be fined $5,000 a day. Brokers are also required to hold that information on record for five years before they destroy it. If records are held longer than five years, the fines can reach $20,000.
“The fines in this legislation are no laughing matter,” said Mr Morley, who was thanked for studying the 100+page Act, reviewing with legal authorities and reporting.
“This has been another interesting year with many obstacles and challenges,” Christine Wallace-Whitfield, BREA’s president, told a packed AGM at the Nassau Yacht Club.
BREA stepped up its education and ethics efforts in 2018, and offered an advanced course in luxury property sales marketing by the American-based National Association of Realtors (NAR) leading to NAR certification. The course, which was three years in the planning under sales associate Laura Kimble, drew a record 35 persons. BREA plans an appraisal course later this year, and intends to strengthen its basic entry level curriculum. It also wants to re-charge interest in Family Island branches.
Its other goal is to end the practice of foreign sales agents and brokers coming to the Bahamas to sell property without going through a Bahamian real estate firm, a practice that is against the law but is challenging to enforce without evidence of the transaction having taken place and the foreign agent being paid. Mrs Wallace-Whitfield said BREA is working closely with officials to build awareness and ramp-up enforcement.
Sales associates, brokers and developers who attended the meeting returned BREA’s full slate of officers, and elected new directors. Officers include Christine Wallace-Whitfield, president; Heather Peterson, vice-president; Cara Christie, secretary; Sara Callender, treasurer. Directors include Lana Rademaker; Mike Lightbourne; Sally Hutcheson; Hartman Longley; Helen Dupuch; Elbert Thompson; Jolika Buckner’; James Bernard; Kirk Ingraham; and Kim Kikivarakis-Dillet.