Chinese, happiness

Life: Just got threatened by the property agent

P1080772 by shimmertje
P1080772, a photo by shimmertje on Flickr.

So we thought we'd sell our place, maybe use the money to move into a smaller one that's more central. The first step, we agreed, would be to contact a few property agents and find out the next steps. My brother had recently worked with one, and my mother knew the one who had sold her neighbour's house; there are any number of who are in the property business so we had quite a few numbers to choose from.

We hadn't called anyone when one called us - the one my mother knew. He came right over, talked to the other half, and said he'd be back with some papers to sign the next morning, before I left for work. Papers to sign? I thought we were just figuring out what to do. We've never sold property before. What papers? I didn't have time in the morning to read through anything in any case.

In the meantime my mom says she will come over to help clean up the place. Clean up the place? Uh-oh. We've got boxes from several moves ago. There is A LOT to do if we are to spruce up the place. This is going to take months to declutter, if not longer. Selling a place suddenly seems like a lot more work than asking a property agent for help.

So this property agent comes over the next morning and there are two documents, one for an exclusive agreement with him, and another a checklist detailing everything that has been explained. I tell him I'll need time to look at the papers, that we are going to talk to some other agents, that we might not want to do anything exclusive. He seems surprised. "But I paid $200 for the valuation," he says.

What valuation?? I'm not even sure if it's a tactic to keep us as a customer. I ask for a receipt. I say I'll go down to the nearest office or call to ask to cancel the valuation, but am told it's all done online and through the system via the agent, so as the home owner I can't intercede. The agent says he'll check on that.

At this point the decision could have gone any way. We wanted to meet up with some other agents and see what they said, see who we might be comfortable working with, but certainly this first agent was still in the running though this valuation matter seemed to be jumping the gun.

I later learn that all property sales of this nature will require a certified valuation, but we never said we were working this one agent and certainly had never signed anything to this effect - there are two owners to the property, surely we both need to sign any documents.

Next up is a call from the valuer over the weekend. He asks to come Monday morning. A workday. He also explains that the valuation is only valid for 3 months. We might not have the house decluttered properly in 3 months, and just before the weekend, the other half has received news that he could be travelling soon. So no one at home to take care of valuers or potential sales people during working hours for some weeks at least, possibly longer.

"We might not be able to sell the place until a bit later," I tell him.

"Oh, in that case I'll take you off my list. You can talk to your agent about getting the money back," he replied.

When the agent calls again we explain this to him - it's not like we don't want to sell but circumstances are now different and we might not be able to go ahead for some months yet, but it's looking like it'll definitely be after the 3-month expiry date. He says he'll check on getting his money back.

Turns out the money paid for a valuation is non-refundable (he said), but in the meantime the other half is rather upset that this agent seems to have jumped the gun. We didn't sign anything, we didn't know a valuation was required and that it cost $200, and the valuation wasn't even done; why should we pay anything? What if we were still selling and had decided on another agent? It all sounded quite fishy.

So today the agent tells me he applied to do the valuation in good faith and surely I don't want to spoil my reputation by not refunding him the money. "If you want to be chow kuan (bad attitude) and just don't want to pay, then just say so," he said.

"I don't want to pay. We didn't sign anything, and we didn't know about this cost," I said. "The valuer didn't even come."

"How can you be so dishonorable to cheat me of just $200?" he blustered, adding a few other choice words, none of them guaranteed to change my stance. I felt like he didn't want to approach the other half and had decided I would be more easily cowed and therefore a better target for recovering his money.

But if I had ever considered using him for any property decisions, his behaviour had completely changed my mind. If this is the way you are going to settle disputes, I'm simply not comfortable working with you, or recommending you to anyone else.

I do understand that the money comes out of his own pocket and he spent it in 'good faith' at a time when we were serious about selling the property. But even so, the onus is on him as the agent to explain that there is going to be this initial charge for valuing the property and that all co-owners of that property have to agree to it; that if we choose not to sell the property after all that this money needs to be refunded to him directly or to his company.

I wasn't even there to listen to his checklist and the other half is certain that such permission or understanding was never sought. It would probably have been fine if we had gone ahead with this one agent. But now.. even if we could.. why would we?

Click on the picture to view it in larger form or to view the folder of pictures of Dubai in 2009. We're talking about selling of a Singapore property and of someone whose company's website says he's from "one of the largest property services companies in the world". I can only hope that this is not the way other people in the same company do business.