Students are trying to find accommodation for the new year of studies ahead, locals are changing jobs and considering moving to new homes and people are scouring property sites for holiday rents. With both trustworthy and not-so-trustworthy advertisements and agents out there, property seekers need to be vigilant.
Paul Stevens, CEO of Just Property warns that property scammers have become quite sophisticated, saying, “We encourage those looking for rentals to be vigilant. It is vital that you look for ways to verify the integrity of the property listing you are interested in.”
The only sure-fire way of ensuring you won’t be scammed, says Stevens, is to deal with a reputable property company and double-check everything.
“Scammers are clever conmen and women; the smartest ones are extremely charming, and adept at lulling their victims into a false sense of security, even using real properties that are really up for rent to lure the unwary into making their deposits and paying that first month’s rent into the crooks’ account,” he adds.
Recently, Stevens had a new client whose case was a perfect example of what to look out for. The client had responded to an advert and received a response an hour later by a phone call from “a pleasant gent” telling him the property would be on view during the week and that he would receive an email shortly with more information.
“True to his word, I received an email that informed me of the viewing days and times, the name of an agent who would be there to answer any questions, and the pleasing mention that as I was first to respond, I had preference on the flat,” said Stevens’ client.
The client responded to the email saying he would be at the Wednesday viewing and shortly afterwards received another email, with deposit information and banking details, as well as a copy of the flat lease.
He viewed the flat and it was exactly what he wanted. In the days that followed, the 16-page lease travelled back and forth, signatures were signed, ID copies were swapped, and Stephens’ client made his deposit.
In October 2018, the “agent” phoned to tell the client that the owner of the property was in town for the weekend to do the walk-through of the apartment, and to hand over the keys. He was reminded to ensure the first month’s rent was paid before he took the keys.
At 5pm that Sunday, he pulled up outside the apartment, bakkie packed to the brim with everything he owned. Eventually, a car pulled up and, assuming this was the owner, he got out to greet the driver. After a little confusion on finding they were not in fact the owner, the client came to the realisation that the two were both there to collect the keys.
“It turned out I’d been scammed, along with at least three other people. That night was possibly the worst night of my life. I saved for months to get an R18 000 deposit together, I’d paid R9 000 in rent. I was R27 000 out of pocket and I had no place to go back to. It took me six months of sleeping on a friend’s couch, with my bed and fridge locked up in storage, to save up enough to eventually try again.”
The client went to Stevens for legitimate guidance after the awful experience.
“There are various ways to check the credentials of an “agent”, says Stevens. First, make sure that the agency has a valid Fidelity Fund certificate. Second, phone the company’s head office and check that they have an agent of that name in their employ. Third, check with the branch of the agency that they have the property listed. Ideally, meet the agent face-to-face at their offices to sign the lease, and double-check with the bank concerned that the account number you’re paying your deposit into is a trust account.
Here are a few more tips on choosing a trustworthy agent:
1. Choose an agent from a big well-known brand
2. Get everything in writing to ensure you have proof of any agreements
3. Read all documents and emails sent to you carefully
4. Don’t make any decision or payments in a rush.
Take a look at a few properties up for rent from a reliable property company here.