A CRYSTAL Park estate agent in Benoni is accused of selling houses with no intention of delivering them to unsuspecting home buyers.
Molebatsi Sehole and his wife Khomotso, who thought they had lost the R266000 they bought the house with, will now get a refunded.
Property Expect Estate has agreed to buy back the house they failed to deliver to the Seholes and to refund the money after Consumer Line stepped in.
The Seholes had complained that an estate agent working for Property Expect Estate deceived them into buying a house she had no intention of delivering.
"And the conveyancer had also advised me to sell the house to another unsuspecting buyer," Sehole said.
He said he met the agent after he saw a property advertised by the estate agency in a local newspaper.
He phoned the agent to enquire about the property and set up an appointment to view it.
He said while they were busy completing the offer to purchase, relatives of the seller came to oppose the sale. He said the seller had no right to sell the house.
As a result, the Seholes pulled out of the deal.
Sehole said a few days later the agent called and told him she had another house for sale. But Sehole did not go to view the house because it was not far from where they lived.
"That's when my nightmares started," he said.
He took all the necessary documents to their office but did not fill in the offer to purchase form, he said.
"I wanted them to start with the process of applying for a home loan for me, which they did," he said.
He said they delayed transferring the house to his name, causingthe bank to withdraw the home loan.
"Because I really wanted the house I withdrew my investment to buy it."
He paid R266000 into the trust account of the agency's attorneys in two instalments.
He said it was only after the transfer of the property that he discovered the house actually belonged to the estate agent who was selling it to him.
"The occupants had no intention of vacating the house since they had no alternative accommodation, so the agent and a co-owner of this agency felt it was proper to shift her problems by selling the house to me," he said.
Earlier the agent had assured him he would get undisturbed occupation of the house. But after payment was received, the agent was reluctant to help him.
"I feel I was taken for a ride because since the house was registered in my name on July 28 2009 I have been unable to occupy the property," Sehole said.
"To my shock, when I received the title deed, I discovered that Judith Sibongile Mathobela (the agent) who was helping me with that transaction was the previous owner of the property."
He said every time he made enquiries about his complaint the agency would give him a different story.
"Even the previous owner is involved in this whole fraudulent activity. All I want is my R266000, which includes transfer costs," he said.
The Estate Agency Affairs Board has agreed to intervene to resolve the matter.
lThabo Mashigo, owner of Property Expect Estate, said they were trying very hard to sort out this matter as soon as possible.
He said some of the allegations were not true but they would do what is in their clients' best interest.
"We will never sell a house to a client and sit back if they can't move in," Mashigo said.
"We also did not know about the problem, which only surfaced when we couldn't get the keys after the property was registered in the client's name.
"We even offered to buy the property back from the client and he said he would wait until the eviction process was completed."
lThe Department of Trade and Industry is working on new legislation to tighten up the regulation of estate agents this year.
A draft policy for the industry was released to stakeholders last month for input.
The industry is regulated by the Estate Agencies Affairs Act of 1976, which Trade and Industry deputy director-general Zodwa Ntuli said was "very backward" and out of date.
In particular, the act did not deal effectively with unscrupulous estate agents who swindled clients of their money and then simply moved on and opened up a new business under a different name, Ntuli said.
If estate agents were caught they could only be charged criminally and even then the fines were "so ridiculously low" that they would not deter anyone as crooks could simply budget for the penalty, which is a fine not exceeding R5000 or imprisonment for a period not exceeding five years, or both.
Ntuli also said it was unsatisfactory that the fidelity fund maintained by the Estate Agents Affairs Board to protect consumers - to which all registered estate agents had to contribute - was sometimes used to compensate the clients of fraudulent, unregistered agents who had not contributed to it.
The current act did not address this anomaly.
"We need to create a balance between requiring registered members to contribute to the fund while at the same time empowering the authorities to deal severely with those who are not registered, as they are the ones who are liabilities to the industry," Ntuli said.
The many cracks and loopholes in the system had to be tightened up and the fragmentation of the regulatory regime addressed, he said.
Some aspects of the act could be more appropriately administered by the new Consumer Protection Act.
The lines of responsibility for the training and accreditation of estate agents were also a bit blurred between the trade and industry and housing departments and the services sector education and training authority.
"What happens now is that you have forum shopping," Ntuli said.
"When things are not clear, people can choose which department to go to. This makes the management and enforcement of this industry a bit difficult." - Additional information was published in Business Day