Beware of property buying syndicate

The exclusive lifestyle on offer in Blair Atholl in Lanseria has attracted more than just buyers who are looking for secure, upmarket homes. 

According to Glenn Norton, Broker/Owner of RE/MAX Masters, there has been a syndicate operating in the area and the surrounds which has portrayed themselves as serious buyers with the objective of gaining occupation of exclusive estate homes.

“Once a buyer has gained occupation of a property it can be a lengthy and expensive legal battle to have them removed, even if they have not made any of the promised payments that they said would be made. This points to the importance of vetting potential buyers and making sure that occupation is not handed over until the transfer of ownership has been complete,” advises Norton. “There might be certain circumstances that require the buyer to move in before transfer has taken place. In these instances it is important to ensure that a deposit has been paid at the very least.”

Donna Sipman, Property Consultant at RE/MAX Masters, who predominantly handles property sales in the Blair Atholl Estate, says that the estate offers an idyllic lifestyle which makes it so alluring. “Houses for sale in Blair Atholl range from R8 million to an amazing R60 million. Many of these mansions have been on the market for a while as the number of buyers who can afford such homes are limited and this market segment is generally slower moving than the average property market,” says Sipman. “The exclusivity and luxury of the Blair Atholl Estate and others like it in the surrounding areas has attracted many ‘fake’ buyers who make offers on properties.”

She notes that those operating within the syndicate are convincing as many are not first time offenders. “These perpetrators often have the same modus operandi, they need to move into the property quickly and have the cash. They know how the sales process works and can even provide substantiating documentation to legitimise their claims of funds to make the purchase. Inevitably, they do not ever produce the cash,” Sipman explains.

She notes that syndicate members often submit offers with a promise of cash or bank guarantees. They provide FICA documentation and have been known to sign the transfer documents in order to convince the parties involved that they are serious. If deposits are asked for, they are delayed. If guarantees are not issued, fake documentation can be provided to prove the process is legit. “Members of the syndicate have gone to great lengths to be as convincing as possible. They even arrange lunch meetings with the seller and agent, or meet the conveyancer at their offices to apologise for the delays and convince all the parties of their efforts to correct the situation,” says Sipman. “Excuses range from delays with the reserve bank, cash not arriving from the source, money leaving their account and not arriving in the conveyancing attorney’s trust account and others related to religious restrictions.”

The fraud remains undetected until the homeowner no longer has the patience to wait for the pending funds and a breach notice and subsequent cancellation, due to non-performance, is sent by the conveyancer.

Adrian Goslett, Regional Director and CEO of RE/MAX of Southern Africa, says that buyers and sellers, tenants and landlords who work through a reputable real estate agency have less chance of falling prey to fraudsters as qualified, professional estate agents have access to various tools and systems to help them scrutinise property sale and rental transactions more thoroughly.

“It is not easy to spot these buyers and distinguish them from the rest. These ‘fake’ buyers are people from all walks of life. They can be businessmen, individuals claiming to be attorneys or government officials or from humanitarian organisations,” says Sipman. “As an agent, I would like to protect my sellers from these kinds of syndicates by pushing for a deposit or insisting on handing the offer in to the seller together with a bank guarantee. However, this is not always an obstacle that deters these fraudsters.”

She concludes by saying that sellers need to be vigilant and take the necessary precautions to avoid falling prey to such scams. 

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