Complaints about property agents run the gamut from service quality to commission disputes.
Each week, the Singapore Accredited Estate Agencies (SAEA) deals with 15 to 25 such enquires and feedback from the public, comparable to the 1,000 to 1,200 that reach the Consumer Association of Singapore every year.
Based on the four most frequent complaints received, the SAEA offers tips on how you can deal with what appears to be the property agent from hell.
The owner of a five-room Housing and Development Board (HDB) flat engages an agent to help sell the unit. A prospective buyer calls the agent for a viewing and makes an offer, but says he does not wish to appoint an agent for the purchase. However, the agent insists that the buyer sign a commission agreement with his agency.
SAEA says: HDB owners and buyers do not need to engage a property agent in a resale transaction. Thus, the agent cannot insist that the buyer use his services; neither can he refrain from selling to a buyer who refuses his services. If a buyer does not wish to engage the agent, he may write directly to the seller and meet the seller personally to make the offer. At the meeting, the prospective buyer may verify that the person he is meeting is the seller by requesting for a copy of his property tax statement and identity card.
A man who bought his flat at the peak of the last property boom is sitting on big paper losses. If he sells the flat, the proceeds (after paying off the mortgage balance and returning the requisite amounts to his Central Provident Fund account) may not leave him with any cash. So to help the seller pocket some cash, the agent strikes a deal with the buyer to declare to the authorities that the flat was sold for a lower price. The buyer then pays the difference between the actual and declared price to the seller in cash.
SAEA says: It is illegal to make a false declaration of resale price in an HDB transaction. If the resale flat is likely to result in negative equity, sellers should explore alternatives such as renting out the flat or the Lease Buyback scheme. Alternatively, sellers can simply wait for a better time to sell.
An agent persuades a seller to sign an agreement allowing the agent sole rights to sell the property. He tells the seller that the agreement can be terminated at any time, but does not say that if the seller finds a buyer himself during the validity of the agreement, the agent would still be entitled to commission. A month after signing the agreement, the seller decides to terminate the agreement, only to be told it is irrevocable.
SAEA says: It is important for the agent to inform the seller of his rights and obligations in granting an "Exclusive Authorisation To Sell". Once it is signed, it cannot be revoked for the period of validity. Sellers should read the agreement carefully before signing it.
When a tenant is writing a cheque for the tenancy deposit and one month's advance rent, an agent tells the tenant to make out the cheque in the agent's name instead of in the owner's name.
SAEA says: Tenants should not make out cheques for tenancy deposits and the likes to the agent - unless the agent can prove that he or she was appointed to be Power of Attorney by the landlord. Landlords can protect themselves from rental scams by buying rent protection insurance.
Source: Today, 23 July 2009