Real estate tricks

Today Tonight

The vast majority of real estate agents do the right thing but there are those who cut corners. At the centre of the latest tale of deception is an agent who pretends the sellers have died in order to secure a quick sale.

LJ Hooker agent Shannon Daniels thought he had a killer sales strategy for a home he was selling in Sydney's western suburbs.

Daniels promoted the property as a deceased estate - adding that the vendors were "dying to sell".

Not only would the juvenile joke have been in extremely poor taste had it been a genuine deceased sale, it was also a complete fabrication, with vendors Nataly Suarez and Danny Cooper very much alive and kicking.

The NSW Office of Fair Trading immediately instructed the agency to withdraw the ad.

Steve Griffin, the office's deputy commissioner, outlines why advertising in this way is unacceptable and highly unfair to consumers:

"Buying a home is the most important decision that you've got to make in your lifetime and so you need every possible bit of information that you can rely upon to make a very important decision and having misleading information about a home is just simply unacceptable and there are very strong laws not only in NSW but across Australia that deal with this type of issue."

LJ Hooker provided a statement, advising that to date their Campbelltown office has an unblemished track record and that they will cooperate with any inquiries by NSW Fair Trading.

The company made it clear an apology has been issued to the couple embroiled in the controversy, who are reportedly happy for the Campbelltown office to continue marketing their property.

NSW Fair Trading is now investigating LJ Hooker Campbelltown. There are severe penalties for companies which break the law.

"There's strong fines, $20,000 for an individual, $110,000 for a company in NSW. Persistent offenders can end up being taken to the Supreme Court and ultimately, if they fail to obey the SC orders, can end up in jail," outlines Mr Griffin.

LJ Hooker's bogus deceased estate advertisement is just latest example of unethical behaviour in the Australian real estate industry.

Home buyer Shane Crawford put a deposit down on a property he was told by the estate agent was 2.5 acres of land, only to discover after signing the contract it was in fact only 1.5 acres.

"He said he's very sorry but basically because I've signed the contract and I looked at the property it was sort of a case of well, tough luck."

There are so many cowboys, you could be forgiven for thinking this sector is the Wild West. The question begs to be asked - is anybody policing it?

"Each state and territory is responsible for regulating real estate agents within its boundaries. There are some national reforms on foot, within two or three years time there'll be a national approach to licensing a real estate agent and regulating them," Steve Griffin explains.

Consumer advocate Neil Jenman says vendors have the right to approve the advertisements before they're released but most of the time agents just go ahead and advertise anyway.

"Vendors should say show me the advertisement before you put the advertisement in, let me see what it is you're going to be telling people about my house. But what's worse than that, if this is what they say in public, imagine what they say in private."

He suggests buyers check out real estate by mystery shopping - by calling up your real estate agent and pretending to be a buyer. It is an innovative way to check what the agent is saying about your house and you.

NSW Fair Trading's Deputy Commissioner Steve Griffin makes it clear the buck stops with the real estate agent.

"The real estate agent stands to risk their license, at the end of the day if they continue to breach the law they lose their license and their livelihood, so we stand ready to take on licensees and real estate agents that don't do the right thing, and we'll remove them from the industry if they're not playing the game in the right manner."

Note: LJ Hooker Campbelltown withdrew the advertisement for Nataly and Daniel's house on the instructions from NSW Fair Trading and will print an apology in next week's Macarthur Advertiser newspaper.