Say “No” to verbal agreements when buying property

Private Property South Africa
Lea Jacobs

Verbal agreements are not worth the paper they are written on – make sure you reduce everything to writing.

Buying a home and then discovering that the estate agent who sold it to you has not only moved his entire family onto the premises, but refuses to move out because he claims that a verbal agreement is in place, is going to put a dampener on things.

To cut a long story short, a Johannesburg agent says the new owner of a property he sold told him he could stay in the property for 10 months in lieu of payment for renovations he had carried out on the property. The new owner however says that there was nothing in the sales agreement about the estate agent occupying the property.

The fight has turned nasty and the estate agent has refused to vacate the home unless the owner finds alternate accommodation for himself, his six children and their six dogs. The property owner has, in turn, reported the agent to the Estate Agency Affairs Board (EAAB).

The problem with cases such as this is that while the owner may indeed have agreed to allow the agent to stay on the property as a form of payment for work undertaken, nothing was put in writing. Both parties stand to lose. The agent claims to have spent close to R76 000 of his own money on renovations to the home and unfortunately he could now also be liable for a hefty fine from the EAAB if he's found guilty of breaching the Board's code of conduct. The owner also stands to be out of pocket if he has to turn to the courts for an eviction order.

The only way for both buyers and sellers to protect their interests is to reduce everything - and we mean everything - to writing. If the seller wants to remove the gas hob and replace it with an electric one, put it in the sales contract. If the new owner agrees to allow the seller to remain in the home for any period after the sale has been concluded, note it in the sales agreement. Likewise, if the seller says he will paint the entire house before the sale goes through, don't take him at his word - get it in writing.

Fighting over who promised what often comes down to a 'he said, she said' scenario. These arguments can escalate quickly and while there is always a solution available in the form of legal intervention, these battles won't only be drawn out, they will also become costly.

Verbal agreements are not worth the paper they are written on. There are always two sides to every story and yes, it’s highly unlikely that the agent in this case spent a large sum of money and a great deal of time renovating someone else's property without expecting anything in return. However, exactly what was expected remains a mystery and without the written evidence of both parties’ thoughts at the time, this is going to prove a costly lesson for all.

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