Lack of street addresses costing Samoa
Samoa’s real estate industry is unable to comply with international anti-money laundering regulation without numbered street addresses.
Local property owners who want to sell are also unable to register their properties with global real estate firms, due to the absence of proper street addresses.
Failo Crichton, who started working in Samoa since early 2018 as a Ray White Real Estate Agent, said his Australian company will not accept less than that for verification, therefore ruling out Samoan clients who typically only provide the name of their village as an address.
Water bills and cash power meters cannot be used in place of an address, he added.
Mr. Crichton said he can continue to list his clients on other platforms like Facebook, but global reach and trust behind the brand of Ray White was why he started a real estate business in Samoa at all.
“That was the uniqueness about this business here,” he said.
“When people look at the brand, it’s reputable, the trust factor is there.”
Following the implementation of Anti-Money Laundering and Counter-Terrorism Financing (AML/CTF) regulations, real estate agents must verify their clients using their name, residential address and date of birth.
Trust, Integrity & Compliance Limited (TICC.nz) conducts due diligence on customers for Mr Crichton, and they told him that under AML/CTF law, the name of the village is not considered verification enough for the Australian company.
At least 30 of Mr Crichton’s clients cannot list their properties on the Ray White real estate website, resulting in them losing their global advertising reach. For at least five of those clients, it is a massive loss.
“We had a couple of hotels on there, and we had a lot of enquiries coming through from overseas buyers. And now there are four or five hotels that want me to list, but now they won’t have the exposure.”
Most of his clients are Samoans living abroad trying to sell their parents' or family member’s properties or land. They know the Ray White name, Mr Crichton said, so they are disappointed when they cannot sell with him.
He said he doesn’t understand what is getting between Samoa and having proper street addresses.
“Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment lists all the lots, and it’s not that hard to put a number to it, it takes a bit of common sense. It’s about identifying the person, and it’s the same all over the world, where there could be another John Smith who lives next door," he added.
Getting street addresses will be the next step to becoming fully compliant with international AML/CTF standards, which will mean Samoa is supporting the global effort against financial crime, he added.
Mr Crichton said having more AML/CTF regulations is a good thing, especially for the real estate industry which is a hotbed of money laundering globally.
The more compliance mechanisms it has like street addresses, the better, he said.
Samoa adopted AML/CTF regulations in 2009, and amended it last year with the Money Laundering Prevention Amendment 2018 to include cryptocurrencies under the AML framework.
“If this regulation didn’t come up we wouldn’t have this problem, but now we can solve it by having addresses, and that is going to help Samoa move forward.
“This is a blessing in disguise for Samoa, in my opinion. If we have the right people up there to fix it then this regulation will do good for Samoa.”
The tourism sector would benefit too, he believes, if tourists could use street addresses to find accommodation and tourist attractions.
Air Bnb, the global online hospitality marketplace has taken off in Samoa, and most of its clients are from overseas who are used to finding a street address. Mr Crichton said the charm of giving directions to the "nearest coconut tree" may be over.
“Can you imagine going to a totally different country and there are no street address, and you are relying on Tom, Dick and Harry to tell you to get to the first coconut tree and turn left to get to the house? That is so dumb."