How to deal with a flim flam agent
"Trust me - I'm an ex-policeman" . . . If you ever hear this from a real estate agent, be on your guard. We recently purchased a property through an agent who said these very words. Luckily, every warning bell in my mind went off.
As it turned out, this purchase produced one of the worst experiences I have had in dealing with an agent. Disarmingly, things started out well. The pre-purchase process went fairly smoothly, although I was dealing with the agent's assistant when coordinating viewings and making the offer.
There was a delay in obtaining a response from the owner, but I was told this was due to the owners being 'busy' and hard to contact. The offer was accepted on first go, so there was no negotiation. The property had been on the market a while, and we had included some attractive terms which we knew would be appealing to the owners. All happy.
With our offer subject to successful building and pest inspections, we organized the inspection. The ex-police agent offered to attend which we thought was a sign of good service. Even before the pest inspector got to work, the building inspector discovered active termites. The diligent agent advised us that he had called the owners on the spot and had organized pest treatment straight away.
There was no panic on our side. The house was more than 80 years old, so we were expecting some issues. Our building inspector advised the termites weren't a terribly bad type and the area of infestation wasn't too badly affected. Plus, the agent had organized for the pests to be treated immediately . . .hadn't he?
In addition to the pests, the building inspector found some other structural issues – once again, not surprising – so the next activity was to organize building quotes for the repairs. When we discussed this with the kindly agent, he efficiently advised he could coordinate two building quotes and liaise with the tenant to facilitate access.
We had made our offer with terms that included extra time to conduct inspections, organize quotes and then re-negotiate the price if necessary. Even so, we needed to move quickly to allow time for the re-negotiation process. The first main warning of a problem was when the building quotes were a little late.
The easy way around this was to give ex-pol agent a deadline and advise we would organize our own quotes if we didn't receive quotes from 'his' builders. This had the desired result, even though initially all we received was one verbal quote from ex-pol agent.
The minute ex-pol mentioned the amount ($2,300), he immediately started the pressure.
Rapid fire questions followed . . .what kind of reduction do you want? Do you want the work done by the vendors? Wouldn't it be best if the agent organized the repairs, blah, blah. I had to interrupt four times before he stopped and listened to me tell him I wouldn't be doing anything without the TWO written quotes we originally discussed. By this time, I knew I was really in flim-flam land, so I ended the conversation asking for a copy of the pest treatment paperwork.
The request for pest treatment paperwork really set our ex-pol agent on fire. I could tell he was doing his 'best' smoke and mirrors work. It started with a confused response . . "What pest treatment?" Reminded him. He then recalled our conversation of the week before where he said we would receive warranties of a 'full' treatment. Lovely. Still had to explain to him that warranties of any sort mean paperwork. To me at least.
Oh yes, yes. Paperwork. "You wouldn't need that until you purchased, would you?" Ugh. I explained . . .no paperwork, no sale. "Oh . . . but the paperwork won't be released until the vendors pay the pest controller". Seriously . . this was all in the one conversation. I saw a nightmare looming.
We buy a lot of properties, and I have rescued many purchases by staying calm and methodical, documenting all requests and focusing on very clear communication. But this guy was starting to be a total pain. We kept the search alive and lined up other property contenders, but this house was really worth the effort, so we persisted. Just in case, we put our solicitor on notice to withdraw speedily if necessary.
So . . . the two written building quotes did turn up. Despite sending a detailed list of the items we needed covered, both builders only quoted on three items. We called and spoke to them. What a surprise – they both said the agent was in attendance when they did the quotes and specifically directed them to quote only on three items. We requested updated quotes.
Then the paperwork for the pest treatment came through. No surprise. Instead of a 'full' treatment, all the pest controller had done was a 'stage one' treatment to areas outside the house. Not the area INSIDE the house that was infested! Yes . . . ex-pol agent was there when the controller did the work, and specifically directed the controller to the area outside, despite being with the inspector when the initial infestation was identified.
Back-up plan number one
Time was dragging on, so we enacted back up plan number one – extend the unconditional date. By necessity, this had to be coordinated solicitor to solicitor. Which was just as well, because when we were advised by our solicitor that the vendors had agreed to the extension of seven days, the agent merrily advised us that we had an extension of three days. Really.
And . . .when we sent through our request for a $10,000 reduction to our offer, the vendors' solicitors expressed complete surprise because they had been advised by ex-pol agent that we would be requesting a $2,000 reduction. He was not only lying to us, but his vendors as well.
Now that we were talking to the vendors, we discovered ex-pol agent was also withholding information from them. After the initial building and pest inspections, we had immediately turned over copies of the reports to ex-pol agent, asking that he pass the details on to the vendors. Three weeks later, the vendors politely asked for copies of the reports.
The issues were becoming dangerous, but also predictable. With this in mind our negotiations were directed through more reliable channels and we concluded the matter with a successful purchase. Still have the scars though.
Thankfully, I have met many more fabulous real estate agents than bad – but ex-pol agent demonstrated all the negative characteristics the property buying public attributes to the old style of agents. This agent is active in the market right now – says he sells at least one house per day and has a rent roll of 1,000+. If you want to get his name, I am more than happy to provide it. Just give me a call or send me an email and I will happily share it.
My next stop is to call Fair Trading. Here's hoping there's something they can do. In the meantime, be on your guard.
Top five tips for dealing with a flim-flam agent (and good rules for life)
1. Confirm all conversations in writing – just a quick email will do. If you send texts, follow these up with an email.
2. Validate all information the flim-flammer / agent produces – use reliable sources, check quotes to ensure all items of service are included and speak directly to trades people to confirm details.
3. Use deadlines for when you expect a response and communicate these clearly – yes . .in writing.
4. Be ready to pivot and have contingency plans available – this could mean ensuring you have a couple of back up properties to move on to.
5. Include the vendors' and the buyers' solicitors in the communication exchange.
Author: Debra Beck-Mewing
Debra Beck-Mewing is the Founder and CEO of The Property Frontline. She has more than 20 years' experience in buying property Australia-wide, and is skilled in helping buyers use a range of strategies including renovating, granny flats, sub-division and development. Debra is experienced in identifying tailored opportunities, homes and sourcing properties that have multiple uses. She is a Qualified Property Investment Advisor, licensed real estate agent and also holds a Bachelor of Commerce and Master of Business. As a passionate advocate for increasing transparency in the property and wealth industries, Debra is a popular speaker on these topics. She is also an author, podcast host, Editor in Chief of Property Portfolio Magazine and participates on numerous committees including the Property Owners' Association.
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Disclaimer – This information is of a general nature only and does not constitute professional advice. We strongly recommend you seek your own professional advice in relation to your particular circumstances.