Beware of property scams

Private Property South Africa
Lea Jacobs

There are numerous cons relating to property, make sure you know what to look out for.

Wherever there is money, there is a con artist trying to get in on the action. There are numerous cons relating to property doing the rounds and unfortunately people are falling for them hook, line and sinker. While it is often assumed that scamsters target the vulnerable, this is not always the case and anyone who doesn't stop to think something through can be caught out by these wily individuals.

Unfortunately it's not always about the money and there is a scam doing the rounds where the 'buyer' offers to pay the full purchase price, in cash, on condition that they can move into the property immediately. The money however, doesn't materialise and the homeowner is forced to evict the 'buyer' through the courts.

A homeowner in Cape Town was introduced to such a buyer via an agent. The buyer loved the home and didn't quibble at the price, which was in the millions. She approached the seller directly and offered to deposit the cash straight into the homeowner’s personal bank account on condition that she and her family could move into the home within the next couple of days. The owner, who incidentally is an estate agent, refused and insisted that the cash be deposited into the conveyancer's account before occupation. The buyer agreed to this, but became more insistent about moving into the home before transfer had taken place. Fortunately the owner stood his ground and despite being bullied, refused to budge before the payment had been made.

Then the sob stories began. First of all the buyer said that she needed R5 000 in order to pay the costs of banking the cheque. The homeowner refused to hand over the cash, pointing out that an EFT would be safer and wouldn't attract the same sort of costs. Then the homeowner was informed that the buyer’s husband had died and she needed some of the money to cover funeral expenses (quite a cheek, given that the homeowner had yet to see a cent of the money). Despite all of the above, the buyer was becoming more insistent about moving in immediately. Smelling a rat, the owner again refused and eventually the buyer took the hint and stop corresponding. No money was ever paid over.

What's frightening about all of this is that the 'buyer' looked the part. She drove the right vehicle, dressed well and talked the talk. You may well ask what a con artist could hope to gain from this - they will never own the property and will obviously be evicted at some point. However given the complicated eviction process, it can takes months, if not years, to get the matter resolved in a court of law by which time they would probably have attempted to do the same to another property owner.

The lesson to learn from this is to never, ever allow someone to take possession of your property until the funds have been paid, regardless of promises made. Even things that have been reduced to writing may be motivated by false intentions and owners who simply take someone's word could end up losing hundreds of thousands of rands.

Of course, a well-intentioned buyer awaiting a bond will often take early occupation and pay occupational rent. This is perfectly normal and hundreds if not thousands of deals are made in this way. One of the first things that should have rung alarm bells with the Cape Town homeowner was the fact that the 'buyer' bypassed the agent as soon as he had his foot in the door. In theory, buyers who are introduced to a property by an agent should never attempt to conclude a deal without the agent's involvement - after all the buyer has nothing to lose by using an agent, the seller pays his commission. Questions as to why a buyer is so keen to bypass the agent as well as the urgency to move into the home should be queried and if the deal is simply too good to be true, the seller should walk away, regardless of how attractive the offer sounds.

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