While making property sales and advertising easier, technological advances have, unfortunately, also made it easier for scammers to prey on unsuspecting buyers, sellers, landlords, tenants and agents, says Steve van Wyk, managing director of Seeff Centurion.
He provides some tips on how to minimise the risks of falling victim to real estate fraud - both in sales and in rentals.
Van Wyk advises people who know that they will be seeking rental accommodation to start looking for rentals timeously.
"Desperation may lead to hasty decisions and unnecessary shortcuts or may force you to settle for a place that you either don't like or can't afford," he says.
According to Van Wyk, there are multiple warning signs to look out for – including deals that seem too good to be true, stalling or no-shows.
Here are the red flags.
Money, money, money. The landlord or agent asks for a non-refundable deposit to secure the property even before you as the tenant has viewed it or before the agent or landlord has met you. Also beware if you are put under pressure to pay a deposit or to fill out paperwork before the required procedures have been followed.
No-shows. They keep cancelling show days. Consider whether there is even a property to show. Also watch out if the agent or landlord keeps stalling or ignoring you or not getting back to you within a reasonable time frame.
Too good to be true. If the rental rate seems unbelievable, it probably is! Also be wary if an agent or landlord tells you that it's not necessary to check your credit score or call for references.
Friendly ghost: Watch out if you can't find any information on the "agent" on the internet or the agent does not provide an office number and email address in addition to their cell phone number.
It's a further red flag if you can't find information on the real estate agency online or their website seems amateurish; you call the agency that the estate agent claims to work with, and either they don't know who the agent is or the agent does not work there anymore; or the agent cannot produce a valid Fidelity Fund Certificate.
Always check if you can verify the status of an estate agent or agency here.
Unfriendly ghost: Stay away if an internet search shows that the agent has been reported for doubtful dealings in the past.
Unbelievable price: Don't believe it! No seller wants to sell their property below market value.
Secret rendezvous: If the seller or agent doesn't want to disclose the location of their office or doesn't have a fixed abode, worry. It's also a red flag if the agent or seller goes "missing" when you request paperwork on the property in question.
Recycled papers: Watch out for inconsistency in the paperwork, for example land size, description and/ or registered owners. Check if a title deed search of the property shows another person as being the registered owner.
Just the two of us: Take care if a seller demands that funds be deposited directly into their account without the involvement of a reputable lawyer or agent to handle the transaction.
Under pressure: Be warned if immense pressure is put on the buyer to sign an agreement of sale and/ or pay a deposit asap; or if the purchaser is allegedly a cash buyer, but cannot provide proof of the cash.
If the buyer insists on taking occupation before any deposit has been paid or a bond has been granted, refuse.