Welcome to Sisters In Law, news.com.au’s weekly column solving all your legal problems. This week, our resident solicitors and real-life sisters Alison and Jillian Barrett of Maurice Blackburn advise you on what to do if a real estate agent drags you into a bidding war.
I bought a house in Sydney last year after years of saving for a down payment. It’s just a simple single bed but I’m super happy with it. My only issue is that I think I was scammed into paying more by my real estate agent.
When I made an offer, the agent said another person was also very interested. My initial bid was $725,000, but I ended up paying $764,000 after a bidding war. Every time I’ve been gassed, I’ve had the agent put it in an email so I’ll have it confirmed in writing. The last email I received from the agent confirmed that their offer was $762,000, at which time I offered the final price.
The problem is that I recently found out that the person I am bidding against was a friend of a friend. Such a small world! I met her at a party and she said she backed out of bidding $740,000 – meaning I potentially overpaid by over $22,000.
What can I do about this? It looks like such a sneaky move from the agent, but I don’t know how I can prove it! – Elena, New South Wales
Having a level of skepticism towards real estate agents is very healthy and puts you in a good position to make sure you don’t get taken for a ride.
In your case, from the information you have, it looks like you might have been taken for a ride, unless of course there was a third bidder you weren’t aware of.
Agents have a legal obligation to obtain the highest possible price for the seller (who is their client) and to achieve this often means taking offers from several buyers which must then, by law, be communicated to the seller.
To get the top price, real estate agents also usually communicate all offers to potential buyers, which as a buyer feels like the agent is playing buyers against each other.
This practice is legal in New South Wales.
You should also be aware that until you have exchanged written contracts with the seller, the agent could legally continue to negotiate with other buyers, even if there was a verbal agreement.
As such, your friend may have pulled out of the bidding war, but another potential buyer may have made one or more bids.
Australian consumer law prohibits estate agents from behaving in a misleading or misleading manner, which includes telling buyers there are competing offers when there are none, or raising the value competing offers.
Apart from your suspicions, there is unfortunately no way for you to know for sure if the agent has been honest with you about the offers made.
Luckily, you did the right thing by asking the real estate agent to write down the details of the offers.
A first step would be to contact the owner of the real estate agency the agent was working with about your concerns. We expect the lead agent to take the matter very seriously, as their business could be put at risk by this alleged conduct.
Additionally, because you suspect the agent was misleading and this alleged conduct potentially caused you to pay too much for the property, we recommend that you call Fair Trading for more information.
You can file a complaint with Fair Trading Online and they can investigate and take disciplinary action for violations of the law.
As part of their investigations, Fair Trading will likely request the agent’s records of all conversations held regarding offers made.
Penalties for officers who break the law vary depending on the seriousness of their conduct.
An agent can have their license suspended or revoked, face fines of up to $22,000, and lose commissions earned on the sale.
You may also have the right to bring a civil action against the agent under Australian consumer law for misleading and misleading conduct for which you should seek legal advice.
This legal information is general in nature and should not be considered or relied upon as specific legal advice. Persons requiring specific legal advice should consult a lawyer.
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