When we come accross complaints about estate agents, usually the person complaining about the estate agent will have already tried to resolve the issue, and become frustrated by their response, the response of the regulating authorities, and the reluctance of property lawyers to assist.
Post your estate agent complaint on The Australian Real Estate Blog
We have launched a powerful consumer tool we have launched. It’s called The Australian Real Estate Blog.
The Australian Real Estate Blog is an ongoing and regularly updated forum containing our “Consumer Alerts”, updates on the real estate industry, and postings of interest to consumers.
The Australian Real Estate Blog is also a place where consumers can have a say, and can share their experiences with other consumers.
Sometimes, just being able to tell outhers about a bad experience is theraputic in itself. It may also alert other consumers to a nasty trend developing in the industry, and prompt collective action. By using The Australian Real Estate Blog you can “get it off your chest”, and assist other consumers at the same time.
(While postings on The Australian Real Estate Blog are monitored for offensive or inappropriate material, we do request that consumers exercise restraint when posting their contributions.)
Complaints to the Real Estate Institute of Victoria (REIV)
According to the Real Estate Institute of Victoria, “Complaints against real estate agents should be directed to the Estate Agents Resolution Service (EARS), Consumer Affairs – telephone 1300 737 030.” (See Consumer Affairs Victoria)
Previously, the REIV handled complaints against estate agents, but the arrangement was far from satisfactory. Consumer feedback has confirmed, however, that satisfaction with the new complaints handling process is no better than it was under the REIV.
Complaints to Consumer Affairs Victoria
Even where we actually lodged a complaint with Consumer Affairs Victoria (CAV) on behalf of a client who had been the victim of a clear attempted criminal deception, CAV fuddled with the matter for so long that they were eventually unable to gather sufficient evidence to proceed. Our client managed to retain the sum of $18,000 demanded by the offending estate agent, but was extremely disappointed that CAV proved to be so ineffective.
The main problem with real estate agent complaints being handled by CAV is that CAV does not have the capacity to deal with the investigations required in such matters. Much of the behaviour that is the subject of complaints against real estate agents amounts to serious criminal conduct, such as deliberately telling lies to have purchasers pay more, or deliberately telling lies to have vendors accept less. (Such behaviour is made too easy by the standard procedure, adopted by most estate agents, of keeping vendors and purchasers separated and unable to “compare notes”.)
Complaints to Victoria Police
Consumers who complain to Victoria Police are usually referred to CAV, even though the behaviour complained of may amount to a criminal fraud. Victoria Police have other priorities, and assume that matters involving criminal conduct will be referred to them by CAV if need be. Unfortunately, CAV inspectors do not have the training, the time, or the resolve to take such action in any but the most serious and obvious cases.
Complaining about an estate agent through your lawyer
Unfortunately, we must admit that the legal profession has let consumers down badly.
The lawyers who have the most knowledge of the real estate industry are often beholden to it. We have seen one of the leading property lawyers at the Law Institute Of Victoria resign his position to take up a new position as Corporate Solicitor for the Real Estate Institute of Victoria, while remaining a member of the Property Law Section of the Law Institute (a body that provides advice to lawyers on property law and their relationships with estate agents).
We can assume that the REIV is well advised when it comes to representing and assisting its members in their dealings with lawyers.
However, the most serious impediment to property lawyers dealing with complaints against estate agents is the cosy relationship so many suburban lawyers have with local estate agents. A lawyer whose business relies on referrals from local estate agents is unlikely to bite the hand that feeds them.
This problem is not confined to Victoria. For an insight into the problem of this relationship in Queensland, see the Consumer Alert titled, “Routinely Poor Service From The Real Estate Industry” posted on The Australian Real Estate Blog.
Complaining about an estate agent through your conveyancer
The situation with conveyancers receiving referrals from estate agents is as bad, if not worse, than the situation with lawyers. On its website, the Australian Institute of Conveyancers advises potential members as follows:
“When commencing your Business and establishing contacts you may consider paying Referral Fees. Whilst this is your decision you should remember that depending on how you conduct this, it may constitute an offence under the Crimes Act. It has been brought to the attention of the VCA that the Victoria Police Fraud Squad have been instructed by Consumer and Business Affairs to investigate any complaint made regarding this issue.”
(Source: Document titled “SO YOU WANT TO OPEN A CONVEYANCING COMPANY” available as a Microsoft Word document in the “MEMBERS” section of the Australian Institute of Conveyancers website, webpage “AICVIC Members Information”.)
It is a fact that many conveyancers commence their businesses by literally buying referrals from estate agents. If the paying and receiving of these commissions is not disclosed to the consumer who is being bought or sold, a criminal offence is committed. (Nevertheless, it has been our experience that consumers are never told that their referral to a “pet” conveyancer or “pet” lawyer is on the basis of a cash payment. How many consumers would willingly engage a conveyancer or lawyer under such circumstances?)
Again, it is highly unlikely that a conveyancer will bite the hand that feeds; and particularly so if that hand has received some of the conveyancer’s cash first.
The process for dealing complaints against estate agents is inefficient, ineffectual and in need of urgent attention.
Until the regulating authorities are prepared to take their role seriously, our only suggestion to dissatisfied consumers is to let others know what is happening in our real estate industry by posting details of their experiences on The Australian Real Estate Blog.