Some agents seem to delight in making it difficult for novice homebuyers, as the story below reveals.
BY TIM O’DWYER
The whistle-blowing agent here was not known to me and his detailed account (slightly edited) arrived completely unsolicited. I subsequently phoned him and suggested that, for what it might be worth, he should personally report the whole matter to the Office of Fair Trading. But don’t hold your breath, I added. Here is the letter;
“Your article about multiple offers has motivated me to forward details of my recent experience of unprofessional behaviour. I’m the principal of an agency on the Gold Coast, and have been selling real estate here for the past 13 years.
“As real estate agents, I believe we’re often prone to disassociate ourselves from experiences of unethical and unprofessional conduct by our peers, due in part to the ‘lame duck’ perception of our regulating body. But more importantly to the fact that we loathe to take on the confrontation of a tribunal hearing and also recognise that some of our own office procedures and administration may very well be proven to be less than perfect.
“Last Wednesday, I received an enquiry from a lady about a home we had advertised in a real estate magazine. I advised her that the property had been sold. In further conversation with her, I discovered that she and her husband were first homebuyers and approved for finance up to $300,000. They were finding it almost impossible to purchase a property on the Gold Coast for themselves and their two children.
“I informed her we currently had nothing suitable for her on our books, but made a commitment that I would endeavour to find this family a property within their budget.
“Within a couple of days, I contacted the wife by phone about a property listed at $259,000 by another Coast agency. I advised her to contact that agency direct, as I didn’t see how a shared commission would be in her best interest. She promptly phoned the agency, was given the address of the property and completed a ‘drive-by’.
“The subsequent anguish and humiliation inflicted upon this lady and her husband after her next contact with that agency is an indictment of our industry and I find myself unavoidably seeking redress on their behalf.
“I was informed by the prospective buyer that, after the drive-by, she phoned the agency to make an offer to buy the property sight unseen. Later she phoned to thank me for my assistance but said she was unfortunately not able to make an offer on the property that day. She had been told by the agency that basically she would have to get on the back of the queue on the following day, Saturday, when viewings commenced at 2pm.
“I was amazed at this response and, knowing the agency’s owner as a long serving and experienced principal, I agreed to call him to clarify the situation. I then advised the buyer to allow me to make an offer on her behalf that was above the asking price to obtain the best chance of obtaining the property. She agreed.
“I then called the agency’s principal and asked if the information I received from the buyer was an accurate portrayal of his conversation with her whereupon he became very agitated, and replied there were 32 ‘clients of his office’ who need to be considered first, and words to the effect that who did she think she was anyway offering only $245,000. I then informed him of the revised offer of $260,000 and that it wouldn’t be subject to an inspection of the property, that the buyer had a pre-approved finance certificate and the contract would, if necessary, be conditional only upon a pest and building inspection for seven days. After reconfirming his obligation to the 32 ‘clients’ he was presently working with, I told him that my understanding was that his obligation was with the seller and, should he continue to refuse to present this offer in writing as requested by the prospective buyer, I would contact the seller directly and inform him of the offer made to his office.
“He then became even more agitated, accused me of telling him how to run his business, threatened to report me to the REIQ (Real Estate Institute of Queensland), advised me that he would do everything possible to prevent the buyer succeeding with the offer and generally became very offensive. The situation was further inflamed by my response and it was pointless to proceed. He eventually hung up when I no longer responded.
“I called the buyer, informed her of the phone call that had taken place and advised her to contact the agent to formally relay the revised offer, request the offer be prepared for signing and pay the deposit by 9am Saturday. She was unable to get a response from the agency and left the offer with a person in the office whose response was: “I don’t know the agent’s movements and will contact him”. I then advised her to keep trying to contact the principal on his mobile to relay the offer directly to him. She later told me that when she tried to convey the offer, she was met by a barrage of accusations and verbal abuse from the agent, who added that he would do all he could to prevent her from buying the property. She was obviously very upset and distressed when I called her to hear the outcome of her conversation. I then agreed to relay the offer through my office by facsimile.
“I received this response at 10.45am on Saturday referring to my fax of the previous day: ‘Inspections of this property will be carried out at 2pm this afternoon. Please confirm your client will be in attendance. Please submit your customer’s offer, finance and any further conditions in relation to the contract for purchase of the property. We will be in contact with the vendor tomorrow evening, on Sunday, and will submit all offers at that time’.”
“On Saturday the prospective buyers at my request made arrangements through the agency to view the property at 2pm. Upon arrival they were abused by the principal for entering the property at shortly after 2pm. They were made to wait outside the property until 2.30pm when they were permitted inside. They were given an Acknowledgement of Multiple Offers form and despite their humiliating ordeal, they decided to proceed with their offer.
“The buyers continued to endeavour to contact the agency on many occasions throughout the day on Saturday and Sunday without success and were finally advised at 6pm on Sunday evening to return the completed form to the agency’s office. Unfortunately, they didn’t receive a copy of the executed form, but it appears to be a generic version of an REIQ form. As far as I can determine, there has been no contract prepared or offered to the prospective buyers.
“They were advised this morning that there have been four other offers on the property. Their offer was unsuccessful.
“There’s no apparent reason for the agency’s principal to have reacted in the manner in which he did. We made it clear that our office wasn’t seeking to benefit from this referral. Although I haven’t personally met with the buyer, I’ve found my telephone dealings with her very humble and polite, which is partly the reason for offering the assistance originally. They’re a young family just trying to buy a home. The appalling manner in which they have been treated requires a response. The buyers have indicated their willingness to lodge a complaint with the relevant authority, but as you can imagine, they’re a bit reticent to commit to any expense to further their aim.
“I would appreciate your thoughts as to their avenues for lodging such a complaint.”
What are your thoughts on this letter? Would you make a complaint? Have you ever been treated very badly by an agent?
Tim O’Dwyer is a Queensland solicitor, firstname.lastname@example.org