Real estate agent Christine Seeber about the real estate regulations in Austria

Beyond our borders: Austria

donderdag 21 april 2016

Austria. That unobtrusive backwater of a country in Central Europe, bordering Switzerland, Germany and Italy in the west and Slovenia, Slovakia, Hungary and the Czech Republic in the east. The country itself is virtually three times the size of Belgium in terms of land area, but only has a population of 8.5 million. Curious about the regulations and the specific features of the local market, we contacted Christine Seeber, an Austrian property agent.

Although she studied to be a translator, Christine felt herself drawn strongly to the property sector. So she went back to school again and completed the courses required in Austria to become accredited as a property agent. She has also been registered as an agent in Belgium for the past 2 years.

As is the case here in Belgium, working as a property agent in Austria is strictly regulated and has been since 1973. Having said that, there is no specific national institute for the profession. The supervision of agents is a task assigned to government departments and the Austrian Chamber of Commerce, which also has a specific department for property. But whereas our Institute was established to control the professions of property agent, building manager and land agent, in Austria, the property department of the Chamber of Commerce coordinates the professions of property agent, building manager and project developer.

Requirements

Christine Seeber explains that you don’t have to hold a higher education diploma to become a property agent. “Someone applying to become a property agent who has completed secondary or tertiary education has to spend a year gaining work experience with a property agent, as well as attend a syllabus of 17 lectures, then sit an oral and written exam. The process is rounded off by a 3-month cycle of lectures for each specialist area selected.” Ongoing training is also available, although it is not obligatory. Another important difference with the system in our country is that anyone who wants to work in a property agency as an employee also has to go on a one-year course.

Just like Belgium and despite these strict standards, in Austria there are rather a lot of property professionals per head of population. At the beginning of this year, the Chamber of Commerce had 4,356 property agents registered, as well as 1,618 building managers and 452 “Treuhaender”. This final category exercises at least two of the three activities at the same time. Exactly how many project developers there are is more difficult to define, because they only have to register when they are actually managing a property project that is underway. When we took our count, that number was 2,235.

“A strict regulation benefits the quality of real estate agents”

Few cowboys

This means that the profession has been carried out for some decades already by professionals and, according to Christine Seeber, the market only has a few property cowboys. “Most property agents conduct themselves correctly,” she says. Just like the BIV, the Chamber of Commerce has established a code of ethics that applies to all of its members. If a member does not comply with the rules, a sanction may be imposed by the relevant government body. In extreme cases, of course, a member can be expelled.

Multiple certificates

Christine Seeber also believes that the way the property profession is conducted in Austria is effectively very similar to what we know in Belgium. “As a member of the European Union, Austria is obliged to incorporate a whole series of European directives and guidelines in its legislation, such as improving consumer protection. The result is what you would expect: Austrian property agents are also required to present increasing numbers of certificates to demonstrate their knowledge. About energy performance, the conformity of the electrical system, soil quality and town planning regulations – to name but a few.”

“Most Austrian real estate agents conduct themselves correctly”

Strong property market

The Austrian property market is very strong and is travelling well, with figures that are comparable with the average for Europe. Christine Seeber believes that at least two dwellings in every three are sold through property agents. Of course, there are also major differences in prices and movements in prices from region to region, and depending on the market segment. Some regions also have a number of specific characteristics: Austria is a federal state, just like Belgium, with individual state territories or Bundesländer. In one of these Bundesländer, Tyrol, the policy on residential building is extremely strict. This is because only 13% of the total land area in the state is eligible to be built on. And only 8% of the dwellings in a particular municipality can be sold as second homes. This rule applies to all European citizens, as well as to the local people of Tyrol.

Commission from both parties

The way Austrian property brokers go about their business is virtually identical to that of their Belgian counterparts. Yet Seeber sees one major difference between the two countries. “An Austrian property agent receives commission from both parties. With a sale, the law allows us to charge a maximum of 3% of the selling price to the vendor, as well as a maximum of 3% to the buyer. But in general, both parties are only charged 2% commission each. With a long-term lease – and here we are talking about more than 3 years – the property agent receives a maximum of 2 months’ rent from the tenant and a maximum of 2 months’ rent from the owner. For leases of under 3 years, both the tenant and the owner pay one month’s rent.” This means that in general, property agents in Austria are paid better than they are in Belgium.

Yet Christine Seeber is very pleased that she can conduct her chosen profession in Belgium. “Having strict regulations can only work in favour of the quality of the service-providers – because, in the end, that’s what property agents are,” she concludes categorically. She is also convinced that the Institute plays a very important role in making the occupation and image of property agents more professional.