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

Business Day - Home Front - - HOMEFRONT -

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.

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