Estate agents exposure encourages caution

Posted On Saturday, 12 June 2004 02:00 Published by eProp Commercial Property News
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E-TV'S expose of bogus estate agents has brought a serious message home to consumers, says Bill Rawson, president of the Institute of Estate Agents.

Bill RawsonThe message, which the institute has been putting across for years, is that members of the public must make sure that the estate agents they deal with are legally registered and licensed.

Rawson says that the Estate Agency Affairs Board (EAAB), which is supposed to protect consumer interests, needs to do far more than it has done so far to educate consumers about this, and it needs to reinstate its regional inspectorates.

"The message can never be repeated too many times," says Rawson. "Never use an unregistered estate agency to sell or let your property, and never buy or rent a property through an unregistered firm. "If an estate agency is unregistered, then it's illegal, and if any business is operating illegally, then it's probably out to rip off the unsuspecting public.

"The public must also realise that it is legally impossible to sell or buy a property unless a written contract has been drawn up and signed." Viewers who watched 3rd Degree on Tuesday saw how an unregistered estate agent allegedly took money from a couple who wanted to buy a house, completed no paperwork, allowed them to occupy the house and then registered it in his own name instead of theirs.

Confronted by the 3rd Degree team, the "agent" was evasive, and someone who appeared to be the agent's associate evidently assaulted the TV cameraman as soon as he had left the premises. "It has been the law since 1977 that every estate agency firm and every individual estate agent must be registered with the EAAB, and must renew registration every calendar year.

"Of course, a piece of paper is no guarantee of integrity, but it does at least make the estate agency accountable and it gives the consumer access to a fidelity fund, and the possibility of compensation, in the event of being defrauded."

Rawson says that members of the public are entitled to ask estate agents to produce their registration documents (called fidelity fund certificates), and they are also entitled to phone EAAB to verify registration details. "Unfortunately," says Rawson, "the EAAB's efficiency in issuing certificates and providing information has slipped noticeably over the past six months or so, but there is also an onus on agents to chase up the EAAB if there is a delay in issuing a certificate."

3rd Degree interviewed the EAAB chairman, who explained that the board is about to launch a public awareness campaign, including radio announcements and displaying posters and handing out leaflets at railway and taxi stations. "This is commendable," says Rawson, "and the EAAB carried out a similar campaign a couple of years ago. It is evidently aimed at previously disadvantaged consumers, who are probably the most at risk in this situation.

"But while it's all very well to advise people to steer clear of illegal operators, whose job is it to track down the illegal operators and either force them to register or else close them down? The EAAB used to have regional inspectors whose job it was to do that sort of thing, and it's high time those inspectorates were reinstated.

"Alternatively, can the EAAB not approach the Saps or the Business Practices Committee or other enforcement authorities to get involved? A good, well-publicised blitz and some prosecutions and stiff sentences might do a lot of good, even if only for a while."

Last modified on Tuesday, 10 June 2014 10:16

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