Real Estate : A new kind of scam – Sellers and Buyers beware

  • houseBuyers and tenants are already stretched to the limits with the high prices on properties. But a new trend seems to be developing online with unsuspecting buyers or potential tenants falling into it. Some get duped others don’t but it is something that every stakeholder in real estate needs to be aware of.

    So here’s the situation – a landlord posts on his or her wall or on the Facebook property groups about his or her property on sale or for lease. The landlord posts details such as the number of bedrooms, location and a mobile phone number. Then someone who is keeping a watchful eye on social media takes those details and acts out either as a landlord or agent and places that same information either on his or her wall or on supermarket noticeboards.

    Now, when someone sees the listings by this proposed agent, they call him up to make enquiries. This “agent” then in turn calls the Landlord advising that he/she has a potential tenant and that he can introduce the prospect provided a commission is paid to him by the landlord through the rental or sale proceeds. As we mentioned some fall for it others don’t but for those who are desperate for tenants or to sell, they’re more vulnerable to agree to this rogue agent. Remember that the landlord knows nothing of this “agent” let alone providing him instructions to act on his or her behalf to find a tenant or buyer.

    Whether the actions of the rogue “agent” is legal or not is subject to debate but there is a clear misrepresentation on the part of the rogue agent to the prospective buyer or renter and then subsequently to the landlord or seller.

    On the one hand, the tenant or buyers is led to believe that this “agent” is the landlord or at the very least acting on the instructions of the landlord. This is not the case.

    On the other hand, the seller or landlord is led to believe that this rogue “agent” is acting as agent for the buyer or renter. A buyer’s agent or something similar.

    The whole scenario creates confusion although this may not appear to either party in the initial stages.  Looking at from the top, you’re left wondering in whose interest is this rogue agent acting for as “agent”. He or she is not acting in anyone’s interest other than him or herself.

    Some of these rogue agents, go to the extent of doing up an extensive property listing professionally that you’d think they’re an authorised agent appointed by the landlord or seller. But the reality is, the landlord or seller does not know this person and has no reason to know that such a person exists. The only time they become aware of these rogue agent is when the rogue agent makes initial contact to them that they have a prospective buyer or tenant.

    If you are a potential buyer or tenant, you need to be very careful who you deal with. The reason being that you do not know if the person you make contact with is authorised to deal on behalf of the landlord. And in the worst case scenario, you do not know what representations this rogue agent is making to the landlord or seller on your behalf if you do take things further.

    It might sound like a rather innovative business idea but being caught on the wrong end isn’t innovative at all. It’s misrepresentation and could be illegal. And it’s not ethical either.

    There are several things that should alert you that something might not be right with the person you’re dealing with who represents him/herself as the agent or the landlord. The most obvious is an extensive listing on the noticeboards with no business name or an unrecognised business. Furthermore, if the extensive listing is handwritten, you would have to ask why so many landlords would engage a person as agent who does not make presentable property listings. We’re not saying that it’s not possible for individuals to engage un-presentable individuals or businesses but it does cast some doubt on their credibility under modern business environment. If there is always a doubt, it should be investigated further or simply turn away.

    There are other features that should alert you but we’ll leave that for another post.

    What we do want to tell you is that if you’re going to deal with someone who presents himself with an extensive listing either professionally (or unprofessionally), deal with a recognised real estate agent. But that part seems to also have been solved with PNG’s real estate portal coming into the market to represent most of the recognised real estate agents making it a one-stop shop for all your property hunting enquiries.

    You’re going to spend a lot of money on real estate, so make sure you deal with the right people so that you don’t fall into a trap and in the worst case scenario be conned.

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