Real estate agents in Melbourne’s west and east have been caught deliberately underquoting properties for sale, in some cases by hundreds of thousands of dollars.
In one case L & L Dardha Real Estate, which operates as a franchisee of Hocking Stuart in Yarraville, admitted to a vendor that they deliberately underquote to get buyers interested.
The vendor emailed agent Leigh Dardha and asked him to bump up the price advertised for 1 Gordon Parade, Yarraville, to a discussed value of $895,000.
In an email cited by Consumer Affairs Victoria documents, Mr Dardha replied: “With the quote range leave this with me we are going to start at $850plus [sic] to get people through the door and then bump the price up the second week of the campaign. It’s just a little marking [sic] ploy we do.”
The vendor set an auction reserve price of $1.05 million, and the property was passed in at $997,550.
The investigation was carried out by Taskforce Vesta as part of the Andrews government’s crackdown on underquoting. Earlier this month Consumer Affairs Victoria announced it was taking Hocking Stuart Doncaster and Fletcher & Parker Balwyn to court.
Taskforce Vesta also found that O’Brien Real Estate Croydon had underquoted in advertising for several properties in Croydon, Mooroolbark, Wonga Park and Chirnside Park.
The investigation found that the agent knew that vendors were not prepared to sell for a price quoted in advertisements.
The investigation into Hocking Stuart Yarraville also found that at other properties, agents emailed prospective buyers quoting prices below the agreed value with the vendor.
At 63 Ballarat Rd, Footscray — which sold for $2.1 million in December 2015 on a reserve of $1.55 million — the company emailed prospective buyers that the price would be either $1 million-plus or $1.2-$1.3 million despite the property selling in March 2014 for $1.3 million and the house being renovated. The property was also advertised for $1 million-plus.
Hocking Stuart Yarraville also admitted to misleading potential buyers by using a ‘blind price’ on real estate website causing properties to be advertised in a lower price bracket than the estimated selling price.
The directors of both Hocking Stuart Yarraville and O’Brien Real Estate admitted the breaches and agreed to pay $45,000, as well as signing an enforceable undertaking that requires them to employ, at their cost, compliance officers.
The companies must also display notices on its website and in its office that it underquoted properties.
Hocking Stuart chief executive Simon Jovanovic said he was disappointed the Yarraville office had done the wrong thing, warning that any future underquoting could result in the termination of the franchisee.
“As the franchisor of the Hocking Stuart group, we categorically reject unlawful activity. We are 100 per cent committed to ensuring our agents are operating at a best practice level for our customers,” he said.
Acting Consumer Affairs Minister Lisa Neville said Victorian home buyers deserved a fair go and new laws would help house hunters.
“Underquoting is not a smart sales tactic – it’s illegal. These undertakings serve as a serious warning to agents doing the wrong thing,” Ms Neville said.
“There’s nothing clever about deceiving people who are making one of the biggest purchases of their life.”