Stranger danger!

Private Property South Africa
Lea Jacobs

A Facebook group discussion recently highlighted the dangers of allowing strangers into your home. The closed group, which encourages estate agents to post reports of criminal activities that could affect those buying or selling property, reported that a seller had been tied up and her house ransacked after she opened her door to an “agent” whom she thought she recognised.

According to the report, the seller didn't think twice about letting the well-spoken, well-dressed man into her house as she thought he had visited the home with a large group of agents for a viewing the previous week.

However, once the “agent” had gained access, he grabbed the seller, “slapped her around a bit” and took her to the spare room. Once there she saw a second person with a knife walking down the passage. This man, whom the victim describes as being “the scariest person I've ever seen in my life”, threatened to kill her unless she showed him where the safe was. Once the thieves had removed the firearms from the safe, the victim was gagged, beaten, and her life threatened with her own weapon. The report went on to say that the robbers cleaned out the house before fleeing.

While it is unconfirmed whether or not the robber was indeed an estate agent who was using his profession to gain access to the home, it's more likely that he was a criminal and merely took advantage of the fact that the house was on the market to commit an opportunistic crime.

The thought of willingly allowing an attacker into your home is terrifying, but there are ways that sellers can – and should – protect themselves:

  • Consider giving an agency a sole mandate. Having multiple agents wandering through your home makes it far more difficult to assess who is the real deal and who is not. If you do allow more than one agency to market the property, ask to see the agent’s credentials and if in any doubt, contact the agency concerned.

  • Do not allow agents into your home without an appointment. Estate agents don't typically arrive at your front door with a buyer in tow without first making an appointment. Again, if you are unsure, contact the agency and ask them to confirm that the agent actually works for the company.

  • Ask to see a copy of the agent’s Fidelity Fund certificate and, if you are still unsure, contact the Estate Agents Affairs Board to check whether the agent is registered.

  • Do not be fooled by appearances. Criminals come in all shapes and sizes, and just because someone looks the part, this does not necessarily mean that he is trustworthy.

  • Think twice before allowing someone to view the property while you are alone there.

Criminals are always on the lookout for soft targets and the fact that most homes on the market sport “for sale” boards may well encourage them take a chance. Remember, criminals usually “case” a property before they act. They will be aware that homeowners are allowing strangers to wander around the property and may take this as an invitation to strike. Keep your wits about you and stay safe.

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