A shark’s tale: shocking story of estate agent’s scam

imageSo, this happened about a year ago and it still bothers me to this day. The shocking story below is true, but the names are not for confidentiality reasons.

I had arranged to meet a potential tenant for a luxurious property I had been instructed on by an existing client of mine, and as part of the service we provide, I encourage small talk. Non-business related discussion. Small talk leads to big talk and the conversation I had with this applicant led to a shocking revelation.

This applicant (I will call her Jenny) had a great tenants profile. Prior to any viewings I conduct, I take the time to ask plenty of qualifying questions and I had found out she is employed by a large investment firm, had rental history and we had a property that matched her rather specific criteria and taste. We met at the concierge and we travelled up to the 32nd floor of the building.

As we entered, I watched her reaction to gauge her initial thoughts. After all, first impressions count. She had a look of awe as we entered through the hallway towards the living room and she was visibly taken aback as we walked towards the window. The view was absolutely amazing. The city skyline was so imposing, so beautiful, and the River Thames snaked around London landmarks adding to the perfect, picturesque view from the flat. I glanced at her from the corner of my eye. Her eyes were fixated on the City buildings, and the only word she uttered, almost whispered, was ‘wow’. Yep. She liked it.

We viewed the other rooms and her reaction was the same but she appeared to be less surprised. The initial awe had worn off for her, I told myself. We then sat on the large L-shape sofa and she informed me she loves it and wants to place an offer. Great news for the landlord as the property had been empty for just over a week.

Through our conversation, I found out that she had actually placed an offer on another property which unfortunately fell through and as a result, she was living with her sister until she could secure a place of her own. Rather curiously, I asked her why the offer fell through and she didnt hesitate to tell me what happened.

She placed an offer with an agent (Agent X) who asked her to show her commitment by paying a deposit of £500. Pretty standard in the industry. Jenny then went through references after her offer had been accepted and signed the tenancy agreement and paid the move-in monies (1st months rent in advance, 6 weeks rent as security deposit, and an admin fee to the agency, costing her approximately £6,000) ready to move in a week later. The day before her check-in, she called Agent X to ask what time she should meet them but there was no response. She called again and again throughout the day but nobody picked up, nor did they reply to her email.

Stressed already from organising her move, she decided she would visit the office in person so she made the hour long journey to their base only to find to her astonishment that the agency was not there. The place looked abandoned. There was no signage with the company logo or name which had previously stood out. It suddenly dawned on her that she had been swindled and the £6,000 she had paid was lost.

The weeks after this incident, she reported them to the police to no avail, and had begun her own investigation. She managed to contact others via the Internet and found that she wasn’t the only one. Some tenants had paid 6 or 12 months rent in advance which vanished along with the agent, and landlords were waiting for rent payments paid by the tenants to the agency which was not passed over. It was a large scale scam which financially hurt a lot of people.

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing! The agent had disappeared completely and those at a loss were unable to do anything to get their money back!

Looking at Jenny’s face, I could tell she was still disturbed by it. I felt the need to assure her that my company is a member of the Property Ombudsman and we follow their codes of practice. I could tell she trusted me. She placed an offer which was accepted and has since moved in. She hasn’t received her £6,000 back and the agency is untraceable. They got away with theft.

Why does it still bother me to this day? It is agents like this that have tarnished the reputation of professionals in the industry. From what I have read, there have been other companies which have done the same thing. Some have gotten away with it and others haven’t. Can companies be that hungry that they would actually steal from customers? It’s absolutely disgraceful! Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with being hungry. But theft?

I guess Jenny learnt the hard way not to trust every agent. It is always best to make sure that whoever you are dealing with is reputable and trustworthy. Ask your friends for recommendations. Do a little research. Are the negotiators who you have been in touch with been too pushy? The industry is very target-driven so ensure that if the agency promises you something, get it in writing from them. From Jenny’s story, I have learnt to ask everyone to provide written confirmation of any promises made just to be on the safe side and I would strongly advise that consumers do the same thing.



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