Avoid Bad Agents Like the Plague

Private Property South Africa
Lea Jacobs

From the responses to a recent article highlighting the importance of pricing property correctly in order to sell, two things became abundantly clear: 1) agents are frustrated with sellers who insist on attempting to sell a property at an inflated price and then blame them when the property doesn’t sell; 2) sellers have no time for agents who are there for the commission only and offer little or nothing in the way of good service.

Let’s face it there are some dismal agents out there. Horror stories abound. In one instance a seller approached a principal of a well-known franchise and gave him a mandate to sell a property that had been purchased at an execution sale. The property was vacant and on offer at a low price for a quick sale.

Within days the property had been sold, subject to the new purchaser obtaining a mortgage bond, which was granted in principle according to the agent/principal concerned. Impressed, the seller now waited for the transfer to go through and was more than willing to allow the buyer to take immediate occupation. What happened next was…nothing. The principal was never available, didn’t return calls and the purchaser, unbeknownst to the seller, and didn’t move in. In fact, the buyer pulled out of the deal completely. All fine and good, except that the principal didn’t communicate this to the seller.

By chance the seller went around to the property only to find that it had been vandalised. All the interior fittings had been stolen together with windows, frames and part of the roof. When the principal was eventually tracked down, he informed the seller that the bank could no longer find value in the property and wouldn’t be granting a bond. The eventual outcome was that the buyer sold the property privately at a considerable loss.

The above story, while extreme, clearly indicates that there are bad agents out there who leave an awful lot to be desired. People that shouldn’t be allowed to sell you a stand on a Monopoly board have somehow been allowed to practice in an industry where the financial stakes are high and when things go wrong, the outcome disastrous.

It doesn’t help that the industry has virtually been left to its own devices over the past decade or so and even if an agent was reported to the correct authorities for unethical behaviour or conduct bordering on the criminal, in most cases there was little or no consequence for the agent concerned. He may have been judged and found unfit to sell property by the Estate Agency Affairs Board (EAAB), but given that it is common knowledge that there are large numbers of agents who are selling property without the Board’s sanction, this was hardly a deterrent. Things however, are changing at the top and the Board has recently undergone a major shakeup. It appears that the powers that be are pretty determined to clean things up and get their house back in order.

So how do you go about finding a good agent, (and, there are some extremely good agents available) who is going to offer the right levels of service and expertise? Word of mouth is always going to be at the root of any agent’s success. Past performance may not guarantee future behaviour, but it certainly is a very good indicator that the agent knows what he is doing and gets results.

Buyers and sellers need to do a ‘background check’ on potential candidates for the job. Ask friends and family about their experiences and avoid using anyone who has proven to be more of a hindrance than an asset. Remember, it is not only important for a seller to find an agent who is up to the task, buyer’s too need to ‘employ’ someone who has the right skills to not only find them the perfect property, but who also has the expertise to see the deal through until transfer takes place.

It is therefore advisable for both the buyer and seller to compile a list of suitable candidates and interview them all before viewing or listing a property. If the seller has signed a sole mandate and the buyer is obliged to use a particular agency, this does not mean that the buyer has to use the agent who listed the home. Speak to all of the agents in the agency and work with the one that appeals the most.

It’s time to weed out the bad from the good. Don’t ever settle for mediocrity. If you are unhappy with the service (or lack thereof) received, report the matter to the agency principal or head office of the agency if the agency is franchised. In more serious cases, go to the very top and lay a complaint with the Estate Agency Affairs Board.

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