How to avoid fakes when it comes to property
Using a professional estate agent to buy, sell or let a property has many advantages and a lesser publicised but extremely important aspect is preventing property fraud. Before you unduly worry, property fraud is extremely rare but because of this, it tends to make the news when it does happen.
Recently, there was a case of a newly moved-in tenant who audaciously tried to sell his landlord’s property. The tenant rented furniture from a show home company to make the property look ‘lived in’ and listed the property online after setting up a fake estate agency. What followed was a viewing and an offer from an unsuspecting buyer. The deal was, however, thwarted when neighbours saw the potential buyer visiting the property and mentioned they thought the house was rented out.
And now for the key piece of information. Having had their suspicions aroused, the potential buyer spoke to a legitimate agent. It confirmed that many of the documents the ‘seller’ had provided were fraudulent, recognised due to its expert training. The police subsequently intervened and the tenant was jailed for two years and six months.
Spotting signs of property fraud
There are a number of tell-tale signs that indicate fraudulent activity when searching for a new home, so look out for these when dealing with buyers and estate agents:-
- the agent only offering virtual viewings and not in person
- the property appearing for sale on private social media accounts and selling sites, such as Gumtree
- a lack of interior photographs of the property
- the seller’s refusal to give access to mortgage valuers, surveyors and trades
- a price that feels too good to be true
- a seller insisting they deal with all the communication, and not the estate agent
- the listing not appearing on one of the three main portals: Rightmove, Zoopla or OnTheMarket
4 ways to vet an estate agent
There are a number of steps you can take to ensure you are buying a property through a reputable estate agent. These include:-
- Ensuring the estate agent has a website: find the estate agent online. Check that the website has visible contact details and is kept up-to-date, which shows an investment of time and money in the business.
- Ask to see accreditations & memberships: trustworthy estate agents will be aligned with trade bodies and protection schemes, which provide recompense and a framework for good practice.
- Read reviews: Google the estate agent’s name and see if there are any reviews. Customer feedback can vary but it’s more worrying if there are no reviews at all. Also watch out for a flurry of reviews that have been left recently. Both can indicate an estate agency has been hastily created for fraudulent purposes.
- Visit the estate agents in person: if an estate agent says they have an office, make an appointment to see them face-to-face. If the agent is solely online, then look for their meet the team pages and bios for a bit more security.
Instruct a professional legal team
Buyers and sellers rely on the conveyancing stage to provide protection from fraudulent activity so instructing a licensed, trustworthy team is paramount. Ensure a solicitor is registered with the Solicitors Regulation Authority and if you’re opting for a property conveyancer, check they are registered with the Council for Licensed Conveyancers. You can also check any solicitor’s authenticity with the Law Society.
Keeping safe as a seller
Cases of property fraud are very isolated but it can catch sellers out as much as buyers. If you’re a seller, identity theft is your main concern. You can protect yourself by:-
- Vetting any estate agent you instruct as detailed above
- Asking your estate agent to check the validity of documents provided by the buyer
- Keeping your identity documents safe
- Ensuring your property is registered with the Land Registry
- Ensuring the address for service on the title deeds is up-to-date
- Applying for a property alert from the Land Registry, which will alert you if someone applies to change the ownership of your property or refinance it
- Applying for a title restriction, which will stop Land Registry from registering a sale or mortgage on a property, unless a solicitor has certified it was done by the seller
If you would like to know more about our trading history, memberships, qualifications and track-record – or if you have a concern about a buyer – please contact us today.
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