Bogus estate agents put minister’s house up for sale
By Sukulwenkosi Dube-Matutu
Bogus estate agents are on the rampage in Bulawayo, fleecing desperate homeseekers through exorbitant fees for non-existent properties.
So daring are the dodgy agents that they even advertised the home of the Minister of Bulawayo Provincial Affairs and Devolution, Mrs Judith Ncube, as a property that was for sale.
After collecting “agent fees”, the criminals disappeared, leaving victims to confront the minister.
Some residents have been fleeced by agents that advertise services on various social media platforms, after paying deposits, they visit the advertised houses and the owners indicate that their properties were never up for rent or sale.
Others said the estate agents charge them to view houses that would have already been taken, while others advertise non-existent homes.
High demand for accommodation in the city has seen an upsurge in the number of estate agents who use social media platforms such as WhatsApp or Facebook to market their services.
The agents post lists of houses that are up for rental and in order for clients to get more details about the houses and meet the owners, they have to pay a registration or viewing fee which is pegged in US dollars. There are further charges if the client is willing to take the house. An assessment of these various adverts flighted online has shown that the agents charge clients a fee that ranges between US$40 and US$60.
Mr Christopher Moyo, who has been a victim of these dodgy agents, said he paid to view a house which was never up for rental.
“I saw an advert on WhatsApp of a four bedroomed house in Mpopoma. I contacted the estate agent and he told me that the house was still available. In the advert he said the house had a security wall and gate and that it would be available on 1 July.
“I visited his office and I paid US$10 registration fee so that I could get the contacts of the owner of the house. The agent further told me that if I was going to occupy the house, I would have to pay US$40 as he charges US$10 for a room,” he said.
Mr Moyo added: “When I contacted the owner of the house, he told me that he had not directed the estate agent to advertise his house. He said he wished to sell his house in the near future as the current occupants were not taking proper care for it.
“The owner also told me that his tenants were not moving out end of June as suggested in the advert as he hadn’t given them notice. We went to the house and when I got there I was surprised as it didn’t have a perimeter wall or gate. I tried to get a refund from the agent for misleading me but he refused and said the registration fee was non-refundable as it was payment for his services.”
Another resident, Mr Sam Nyoni, said he saw an advert of houses for rent on WhatsApp. He said he contacted the estate agent who told him to pay US$5 to be added to his WhatsApp group and he complied.
Mr Nyoni said the agent flighted an advert in the group saying there was a house up for rent in New Magwegwe. He said the agent gave him contacts of the owner of the house and he set up an appointment with him.
“I made my way to New Magwegwe on the following day and before I boarded a kombi, I told him that I was on my way and he confirmed that I would find him at Magwegwe terminus.
“When I got to the terminus, I tried to call him but his phone was unreachable. I sent him messages on WhatsApp but they were not going through. I waited at the terminus for two hours but he didn’t turn up and his phone was still not reachable. I finally left the terminus. I think these agents will be working with people who pretend to be the owners of these houses,” he said.
Mr Nyoni said bogus estate agents should be arrested because they were making a living out of conning people.
Other residents said they have registered with several groups but have failed to get accommodation as premises would either be non-existent or already taken.
Minister Ncube said it was a pity that bogus elements were moving around defrauding people.
She said several people have visited her house intending to buy it after they were informed by an estate agent that it was up for sale.
Minister Ncube said it was important for the public to be wary of adverts that are being flighted on social media.
“I once found six cars parked outside my house and the owners said they had been informed by an estate agent that my house was for sale, which was false. I implore members of the public to be careful about what they believe and who they pay for services. Let’s not get carried away by what we see on social media platforms but rather let’s stick to credible sources and platforms,” she said.
Estate Agents Council of Zimbabwe (EACZ) chairman Mr Nicodimus Kuipa said the industry has been battling for some time now with bogus operators who call themselves accommodation agents and fleece members of the public.
He urged the public to keep a lookout for rogue elements and report them to authorities.
“The advent of social media though good, has come with its own challenges as anyone can advertise and market products and services without complying with professional registration requirements. Estate agents can advertise on any forum but need to be registered with the Estate Agents Council of Zimbabwe as long as they are marketing properties belonging to third parties. The law allows anyone to sell or lease out their own properties but this service is restricted to estate agents once it involves third parties.
“In general, properly trained and registered estate agents do not run accounts where people are invited to register and pay money for service to do with finding accommodation to buy or rent as agents are in most cases paid for such services by the property owners who mandate them. Our industry has battled for some time now with bogus agents who are not registered with EACZ,” he said.
“Prospective tenants must not be charged anything as the agent receives payment from the lessor who mandates the agent with the instruction. The fees which agents charge for the various services they offer are legislated and guided by Statutory Instrument 89/2016 – Estate Agents (Professional Conduct) (Amendment) Rules.”
Mr Kuipa said it was important for the public to only deal with registered agents.
He said bogus agents can be easily identified as they do not have a current year compensation fund certificate (which should be displayed in the front office).
Additionally, he said, people can verify if an agent is registered by calling EACZ on 0242 74635. The Chronicle