• Bindi Norwell is CEO of Real Estate Institute of New Zealand
No-one should fall victim to unscrupulous behaviour when it comes to selling their most precious asset: their home.
It's easy to see how a quick sale might seem tempting, especially when someone knocks at the door and offers an apparently eye-watering sum of money - as was reported by the Weekend Herald last month to be the case with Mangere woman Sarah Ewe.
But that sort of quick sale involves a lot of shortcuts, and shortcuts bring risk.
Though it may seem Aucklanders understand the workings of the property market, it is not easy to intuit just what your property might be worth without entering into a formal process where there is a public marketing campaign and contested negotiation.
If, as in Sarah Ewe's case, the price offered was some $100,000 below market value, it may have been well worth paying the agent's fee required to conduct a proper sale process.
Clearly Sarah Ewe's family had strong reservations as to the price she was being offered, and it is fortunate that the matter has now been resolved.
Even more upsetting is the recent revelation that would-be unlicensed real estate players are being "coached" to prey on "desperate homeowners".
This is not only unethical but could potentially contravene the Fair Trading Act, as it may be conduct liable to mislead the public.
REINZ represents more than 14,000 real estate professionals nationwide, all bound by the REINZ Codes of Agency Practice and individual membership.
We have never argued for a "closed shop". But it's worth remembering the many advantages dealing with a licenced agent provides, including legal protections.
Agents are experienced in buying and selling houses and must undergo approved education requirements that focus on their professional conduct.
They are obliged to act in the best interests of their client, and have the market knowledge and networks to ensure their clients get the best possible price - or, at the very least, fair market value.
They have to follow a professional code of conduct and are bound by the Real Estate Agents Act 2008, which provides extensive protection mechanisms for people who deal with agents.
Agents are legally required to have in-house complaints and dispute resolution procedures: if a buyer or seller is unable to resolve an issue with the agent directly, they can contact the Real Estate Agents Authority, which is able to address complaints against agents.
Both Complaints Assessment Committees and the Real Estate Agents Disciplinary Tribunal comprise a two-tier system for handing complaints against agents.
If an agent is found to have broken the rules or failed to abide by the regulations there are disciplinary consequences.
If an agent, or someone related to them, wants to buy their client's property, the agent must provide an independent registered market valuation to their client first.
There is no equivalent legislation to protect property owners when they sell privately to individuals or non-licensed organisations.
If a person buys or sells a house privately, or via some other intermediary, safeguards are limited.
Consumer protection laws such as the Fair Trading Act and Consumer Guarantees Act only apply if one party is 'in trade'. The Contractual Remedies Act may apply if a misrepresentation or misleading statement was made, but a claim under that Act would generally have to be made through the courts.
If someone who dealt with a private buyer or seller, or a non-agent intermediary, has an issue or complaint, they may have to resolve that via the courts, the Disputes Tribunal, or the Commerce Commission: a much more expensive and time-consuming than dealing with a designated regulator like the Real Estate Agents Authority.
If you really want a quick sale and you're willing to forego the protections you get from dealing with a registered agent, at least take care of the "dos and don'ts".
And please bear one question in mind - is it really worth the risk?
Things to consider include:
• Get your house valued independently; talk to a licensed agent to get a second opinion
• Try to ensure there is a contested process; get confirmation as to who is the actual buyer before signing
• Beware of unrealistic claims
• Sign anything that has not been approved by your legal adviser
• Do it alone: involve friends, other family members or outside help
• Be afraid to walk away if you don't feel comfortable: it is your house, your call