Property buyers are strongly warned against dealing with unregistered estate agents. This follows the discovery that ten of the 12 estate agents operating in the greater Mangaung Metro region are not registered with the regulator Estate Agency Affairs Board (EAAB). These estate agents, which advertise in local print media, operate in the Mangaung Metro stronghold – Bloemfontein, Botshabelo and Thaba Nchu. Furthermore, findings reveal that two estate agents have failed to update their EAAB licences while the remaining eight have never been registered with the EAAB. Felicity Thwala, the EAAB’s legal officer of the compliance department, strongly warns the public against dealing with unregistered estate agents. “It is not advisable to use unregistered estate agents, as they are not qualified and can therefore not give the professional service that is afforded by registered and qualified agents.“The danger of using unregistered estate agents is that they are not on the EAAB’s data base. “If anything goes wrong, the EAAB will not be able to locate them,” Thwala said. “There are a number of risks; buying property involves giving advice and negotiating the best possible price for the parties involved in the transaction. Registered estate agents are able to handle all of this. “Buying property also involves handling money such as a deposit, which in law is supposed to be held in a trust account, which is protected by the fidelity fund. “Any money not held in a trust account are not protected and can be misappropriated by the unregistered estate agent,” said Thwala.On whether or not buyers have legal recourse against unregistered estate agents in case a deal goes wrong, or when buyers find defects later after the purchase of property, Thwala says: “Every party to the contract has a right to legal recourse should the transaction go wrong. “Usually contracts will stipulate the rights of all parties.“Where a buyer finds defects in the property which the seller knowingly failed to disclose, the buyer can, based on such a failure to disclose, argue that this amounted to a fraudulent concealment of the truth, made with the intent to induce him into entering into the sale agreement. “A seller who conceals known defects will not be able to rely on the ‘voetstoots’ clause in the agreement. “There is therefore a duty on the seller to disclose to the buyer any defects of which he or she is aware,” Thwala explains. She strongly advises buyers to verify that estate agents are registered and will comply with rules and regulation. “Sellers and buyers have an obligation to ensure that they deal with registered estate agents by verifying that the agent is registered and holds a valid fidelity fund certificate for the current year.”On the question of who is liable between estate agents and conveyances when disco-vering defects after completion of transaction, Thwala says: “Where the seller failed to disclose the defects to the agent, the seller is liable and not the agent as the property does not belong to the agent. “However, where the seller did disclose certain latent defects in the property to the agent and the agent failed to convey this message to the buyer, the agent can be held liable in this case,” she said.“The EAAB regulates only estate agents and it can charge the agent for the contravention of the code of conduct of the estate agent. “Conveyances are regulated by the law society and clients will have to report them to the law society.” To verify estate agents’ legality, buyers can request a copy of the fidelity fund certificate from the agent. Alternatively, they can contact the EAAB call centre on 087-285-3222. Buyers and sellers can also log onto the EAAB website at www.eeab.org.za to verify whether they are registered for the current year.