Control over SA agents is comforting
South African agents are bad — or are they? If reports are to be believed, they are not nearly as underhanded as those in other countries. Lea Jacobs reports
IF TRUTH be told, estate agents do not necessarily enjoy the best reputations on the planet. News of trust funds being plundered and unregistered agents continuing to practice without the correct licences have been making headlines in the property pages for some time.
The Estate Agency Affairs Board (EAAB) has also come under attack in recent times. A CEO was fired and another resigned amid alleged irregularities. This doesn’t create confidence in an industry that has received so much negative press already this year.
South Africans could be forgiven for believing that the problems they might have to face when acquiring or disposing of property are unique.
However, a BBC report by an undercover journalist revealed things are anything but rosy in the property industry in the UK.
The report highlighted the lengths to which British estate
The reported lengths to which British estate agents will go to sell a property are quite terrifying
agents will go to sell a property and the results are quite terrifying. Although the investigation was conducted some years ago, the fact that Britain’s real estate industry remains largely unregulated begs the question: if they could do it then and get away with it, what is stopping them from doing the same now?
The journalist who worked for BBC One’s Whistleblower programme spent eight months posing as an estate agent and working in five different agencies.
At times the report reads like something from a James Bond novel and includes fantastic stories of fake passports, falsifying landlords’ signatures and lying about supposed offers to purchase.
The last point is particularly worrying. Essentially, in order to get sellers to lower their asking price one agency made a habit of providing the seller with numerous fake offers to purchase that were way below the original asking price. The theory was that the seller would become desperate to sell, drop his asking price and relist the property at a price based on what he assumed was a marketrelated value.
It appears that there are British estate agents who will go to any lengths to conclude a deal. This became evident when the journalist was offered a fake ID in order to secure a mortgage fraudulently. All it took to close the deal was £550, a couple of official forms and several forged utility bills.
What is worrying about all of this is that if they could get away with such illegal tactics in a First World country, what are the chances that some unscrupulous agents in SA are up to similar tricks?
However, there is a glimmer of hope on the horizon. Although the EAAB may appear to be in disarray, South African agents are still regulated far more than their British counterparts.
The recently introduced educational requirements essentially mean that those entering the industry are doing so in order to build a long-term career.
The requirements also have the benefit of making it that much easier to weed out the Johnnycome-lately looking to make a quick buck.
These days it takes time and a great deal of money for an agent to sell property in SA and it is extremely unlikely that principals who own agencies will employ people off the street.
Selling real estate is a complex business and the idea that anyone could decide that they want to sell property one day and by the next be taking unsuspecting buyers to view and hopefully buy property is ludicrous.
Although the bigger South African agencies have long prided themselves on the training they provide, the fact that agents now have to earn a nationally recognised qualification has levelled the playing fields somewhat.
It was the right thing for the government to do. The legalities, sums of money involved and the sheer size of purchases should never have been entrusted to a bored housewife wanting to earn a little pin money on the side.
Professional agents have been complaining for years that something needed to be done to make the industry more professional, and thankfully, that day has at last arrived.
There will undoubtedly be those who slip through the cracks and continue to give the industry a bad name, but overall South Africans should be able to sleep a little easier in the bedrooms of their brand-new homes.
KEYS TO HEAVEN — OR HELL: Recently introduced educational requirements governing the qualification of estate agents in SA are a soothing factor for buyers and sellers.