Regardless of what you’ve been told to the contrary, selling a home is stressful. The process involves a whole range of emotions which generally include regrets, particularly if you are selling because of financial restraints, someone has died or you’re getting a divorce.
An estate agent is there to help and will usually shoulder a great deal of the burden. They offer advice, advertise the home, source buyers and take care of show days. There are of course the exceptions and dealing with an agent who doesn’t do their job properly can lead to all sorts of complications as well as adding to your stress levels.
Frances was assured her home would sell quickly if she gave a particular agent a sole mandate. She signed all the relevant paperwork and then sat back and waited… and waited… and waited for potential buyers to view the home.
“I understood the economic climate wasn’t that good, but was concerned by the fact that there was absolutely no interest shown. I eventually called the agent to enquire about the complete lack of response only to be told that the home was overpriced and it was unlikely I’d ever sell. This made no sense because at the time of signing the mandate the agent had shown me documents indicating what other properties recently sold in my area had fetched. As what I was asking was very much in line with those, I refused to drop the price.”
This was only the beginning of Frances’ problems.
The sole mandate decreed the property be put on show and arrangements were duly made for the show day. “I pulled out all the stops and not only called in a cleaning service to ensure the home was spick and span, I also employed a garden service to tidy up the yard. The agent, however, didn’t arrive and wasn’t answering her phone. I called the agency the next day but felt my complaint regarding the agent’s lack of professionalism wasn’t taken seriously. All the principal had to say was perhaps the agent had died. It turned out the agent was very much alive and called back a little later, apologising profusely, explaining there had been a mix up and we arranged another show day for the following week. She failed to arrive for that appointment too.”
It’s never been explained why the agent was so lax but Frances cancelled the sole mandate agreement and ended up selling her home without any problem through another agency.
Another seller (who we’ll refer to as John because of an ongoing dispute), believes he was the victim of bullying by an agent.
Like Frances, he took his agent’s pricing advice and gave the agent a sole mandate. The agent brought a buyer around within hours of the home going on the market and John promptly received an offer. Unfortunately the offer was R200,000 below the asking price and was rejected on that basis.
“I was prepared to negotiate on the price, but the offer was below what I’d originally paid for the home. Things turned nasty when I rejected the offer. The agent started harassing me (often calling up to 10 times a day) urging me to accept and really upped the pressure when I dug in my heels and refused. I was accused of wasting his time, was told that the property would never sell at its current price and basically made to feel I was an idiot. He also said that all the other agencies in the small town where I live knew I was an unreasonable seller and would therefore refuse to market property.
“As a pensioner, I’d bought and sold property before and although I initially questioned the pricing, after doing some research I realised my price was more than reasonable and although I was desperate to sell, there was no reason to accept such a ridiculously low offer. I removed the property from that particular agent’s books and my home was sold two weeks later – for the full asking price. It later came to light that the offer had been made by a family member of the agent, which I assume was the reason the agent tried to bully me into accepting the deal.”
There are plenty of professional, ethical agents around. So what should sellers be looking for in an agent and what investigations should be carried out before signing a mandate to sell?
“I would suggest that sellers request a company profile together with an agent profile,” says Carol Reynolds, Pam Golding Properties area principal for Durban Coastal. “Also look at brand presence in the area, and how visible the company is. A list of credentials will give sellers the peace of mind of knowing that they are dealing with a true professional who is qualified and who complies with the code of conduct.
Haydn Wakefield, director Wakefield Real Estate agrees, noting there are a number of signals in the marketplace that an agent or agency is active and successful in a given area. “Selling a home is an emotional time, and it’s important to have a comfortable relationship with the estate agent you’ve chosen.
“Look for somebody with a strong presence in the suburb, either with for sale or sold boards, word of mouth from neighbours or friends, or even somebody active in your community via charities, school events and so on. It’s also possible that the original agent who sold you your house has remained in contact – or is still a strong presence in the area – and if you had a good experience with them, give them a call.”
Michelle Burger, Pam Golding Properties area principal in Durban, adds that a professional and experienced agent can provide sound advice on how to price a home correctly in the current market. “This should be backed up with a market analysis of stock currently on the market and how long it’s been on offer, how the size and condition compares with your property and Lightstone statistics on recent successful registrations in the area. Your agent should also be able to verify themselves by producing a current Fidelity Fund certificate.
Reynolds says that in terms of the Consumer Protection Act (CPA) a seller will be entitled to cancel mandates if they are unhappy with the service provided, although she warns that a cancellation fee may be payable.
Wakefield however points out that a sole mandate is a legally binding document signed by both the seller and estate agent/agency and it’s not something that can be cancelled on a whim.
“An agent and agency will commit a great deal of time, energy and resources to marketing your property, so it’s not an agreement which is easily dissolved. That sole mandate document has a fixed time line and includes specific commitments on the part of the agent as to what action they’ll be undertaking in order to promote the house. Those commitments relate to show houses, advertising, and so on. If the agent breaches any of the terms of the mandate, a seller should give notice to the agent. If after that the agent remains in default, a seller could be within their rights to have a conversation with the principal of the agency and request, in writing, a cancellation of the sole mandate.”