Holiday rentals scams beware

Dec 18, 2017 8:00:00 AM Share this:

Now is the time when holidaymakers start scouring the internet for properties to rent during the festive season. Last minute planning often fueled by desperation and online scammers exploit this need.

As the internet is usually the go-to platform for holiday rentals, anonymous communication is often a prerequisite, which can make any of us feel uneasy. It is important to understand that you need to be alert and rely on your instincts when parting with personal information and money. Some horror stories have emerged in recent times - most often related to people paying deposits blindly.

Here are a few tips:

Logic goes a long way. When something is too good to be true, it usually is. Be skeptical of advertisements where the rental quoted is a lot lower than the average for the area in which you are interested. Do a quick market analysis of similar homes to gauge the regional standard.

When communication is vague and your direct responses are going unanswered and are being replied with rhetoric, be weary. An extension of this scam is the "homeowner" that has a million excuses why they can't have someone meet them face to face, especially because they know you're usually still out of town. Their excuses range from always running late, or on business trips or in meetings. The next step is often a request to pay a deposit, albeit at times a smaller one, in good faith to "secure" the property. Do not pay until you're absolutely sure.

A picture speaks a thousand words. If the photos you're being sent vary dramatically in size and quality warning bells should go off. Many potential scammers download stock photos off the internet and use these as bait to attract potential holidaymakers. Request images from different angles and request new photos, with modern technology this is usually rather easy to achieve.

Digital history. Do a quick search online on the rental property's previous adverts. You can either search the contact numbers or address of the property to find out if this home is rented out on an annual basis. Obviously not a sole reflection on the validity of the home but just another factor to consider.

The majority of holiday rentals advertised contain accurate information from a trustworthy source and there is a good chance you'll have a very pleasant experience. This article is in no way aimed at dissuading you from contacting homeowners direct but for both the homeowner and the holidaymaker it is always the best option to make use of a highly reputable estate agency. This way both parties are secure and the transaction is managed professionally.

Statement by
Richard Gray
Harcourts Africa Chief Executive Officer


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Topics: Harcourts South Africa, Rental Property, holiday rentals

Need to know: selling your rental property

Apr 7, 2017 8:00:00 AM Share this:

When you decide the time is right to sell your rental property, there are certain rules you need to be aware of.

Notice
If an owner puts the property on the market, they must tell the tenant in writing. As a courtesy, and to promote good relations between the sales team and the tenant, they would be advised to let the tenant know beforehand through their property manager.

Photography
Your property manager must seek permission before you organise for a photographer to enter the property to take marketing photographs.

Be aware your tenant can refuse to allow their personal possessions to be in any photograph. Even if permission is granted, at any stage, if the tenant feels their privacy has been violated they can cause problems, so you would be best to advise the sales team not to photograph tenants’ possessions.

Access to the property
Owners, and their real estate sales consultants, have the right to show possible buyers through the house. They can also show through a registered valuer or a building expert they’ve employed to prepare a report. But the tenant must give permission first.

A tenant can’t unreasonably refuse access, but they can set reasonable conditions. For example, they can: Limit access to certain times of the day and days of the week; refuse open homes and auctions on site; ask to be present during open homes.

Tenants can insist that the property be shown by appointment only.

Before including open homes or an on-site auction in the sales plan, the owner should discuss all this information with the tenant. Consent needs to be given for specific dates and times, and should be put in writing.

It is a good idea to offer the tenant an incentive to stay in the property and to work with the sales team. An idea would be to offer the tenant a week’s free rent once there is an unconditional sale on the property. If you are wanting more cooperation from the tenant than the usual viewings, say to hold open homes or have an auction on site, then you may wish to consider offering two weeks rent.

It is important to note that should you wish to keep any part of the bond that the tenant has lodged against their name, then these arrangements must be made prior to a sales agreement being reached. Once you have put on the agreement a bond amount then that is the figure that MUST be transferred to the new owner.

Once sold
When sold, if the new owner intends to keep on the same tenants, the tenants should be told who the new owner is and when they’ll take over. Ask your property manager to provide the new owner with a copy of the tenancy documents and arrange for the bond to be transferred. If you have received good service from your property manager, it may be an ideal time to recommend that the property be kept under the same management structure to minimise any disruption to the tenant.

When the property is sold, the original landlord’s interest in the bond will pass to the new landlord
If the property is sold to someone who doesn’t want to keep on the tenants, one of the conditions of sale will be “vacant possession”. The owner must give the tenant at least 42 days’ written notice to end the tenancy, so the house will be empty for the buyer. Please remember to add on the appropriate ‘service days’ to any notice to vacate. If the notice is posted to the property, then four working days must be added. This can be reduced to two days if the notice is hand delivered to the property and can be immediate if the notice is emailed, faxed or handed in person to the tenant – always remembering that the actual notice period starts the following day from the end of any notice period.

Fixed term tenancy
A landlord or tenant cannot give notice to end a fix-term tenancy early. So, if the property being sold is rented for a fixed-term, the property must be sold with the tenancy and tenants in place. The buyer will become the new landlord for the rest of the fixed term.

The landlord may be able to sell the property empty if the tenant agrees, in writing, to end the fixed-term early. This will usually involve some sort of compensation for the tenant.


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Topics: Selling, Rental Property

How to steer clear of rental property scams

Mar 20, 2017 11:16:54 PM Share this:

Searching the internet has become the norm for consumers looking for homes to rent, with classifieds websites recording huge traffic increases in this category over the past few years.

 However, it seems that not a week goes by now without a media report of a potential tenant being scammed out of their deposit and even their first month’s rental by someone who actually did not own the property that was advertised as “to let”. 

And this can of course be financially devastating for consumers, so the rental experts at RentalsDotCom, the rental property management arm of Harcourts Real Estate, have put together the following guidelines to help potential tenants hang on to their hard-earned cash. 

*Be wary of advertisements where the monthly rental quoted is a lot lower than the average for the area in which you are interested.  Remember the old adage that if it seems too good to be true then it probably is. A “bargain” rental is usually indicative of a property in really bad condition – or a “hook” to generate interest among the gullible and inexperienced. 

*Be wary of bogus landlords who send you on a wild goose chase. Such people will typically leave you standing outside a property that is allegedly “to let” while they claim to be stuck in traffic, or held up at the office, or attending to a sick relative, so that they can’t bring you the keys. They will typically also promise that you can have the property and that they will not show it to anyone else if you just pay the deposit “in the meantime”. 

*Another twist on this scam is for the bogus landlord to claim that the property is to let because they are out of the country for several months working or doing charity work, but that if you deposit money to their local account they will mail you the keys, or get a friend to hand them over.  

*Also, you should not be taken in by bogus landlords who say they can’t show you the property right now because their current tenants don’t like to be disturbed, but that you can go and see it from the outside and pay a deposit to secure it if you like the look of it. Typically they will then promise that you can have your deposit back if you change your mind after you see the inside. 

*Where the property address is not provided in the advertisement, ask for it as well as a photograph and double check that it is not listed anywhere else on the Internet as being to let or even for sale. Scammers often hijack information from for sale listings, knowing that in those circumstances a few more people passing by to look at a property from the outside – or “waiting for keys” - are unlikely to make the real owners suspicious.    

*Similarly, if the property is in a block of flats, see if you can find a caretaker who will know if it is genuinely to let, or check with a letting agency that has other flats in the building to let and ask them if they know anything about this one.  If anything seems vague or unclear to you, keep your money and look for another unit.    

*When you are answering an ad from a private landlord, make sure you get their name and ID details as well as their phone number, and look them up on the internet or social media to see if you can find them. For a small fee, you can also search the Deeds Office records or property portals  to see if they are the genuine owner.  You are also quite entitled to ask for proof of ownership. 

*For obvious security reasons, you should never go alone to view a rental property, and never take any cash with you if you are planning to pay a deposit – even if the property is in a safe neighbourhood.  There are many other payment options these days and if the landlord insists on cash, rather arrange a meeting on another day in a convenient public place, and once again take a friend with you.  

*For safety’s sake, you should also always pay the first month’s rent with a credit card, so the payment can be reversed if it turns out that you have been scammed after all.  And when you sign a lease, you should make sure that the address on the lease agrees with the street address or flat number of the property you have viewed. It is not unknown for bogus landlords to get their hands on the keys to an empty property which they can show you, and then put a different address on the lease before taking your money. 

* Lastly, you should be especially careful when renting holiday properties, as these listings are much easier to fake, and scammers know that you can’t view the property before deciding to take it. Ask for detailed information about the property and use Google maps to see if it actually exists. If the property is in a resort or complex, contact the resort or complex management independently and get them to confirm details about the unit and the owner. Be very wary if anyone starts pushing you to make an urgent payment to secure a booking or is vague about the information you require.  Also be careful of people who ask for all your personal details so they can “check your credit record” – they may be running an identity theft scam as well as property scam. 

In short, when renting a property, you should never, ever part with any money or personal information until you have made absolutely certain that the offer is legitimate and you will get what you are paying for. And with so many con artists operating in the real estate field now,  the very best way to do that is always to rent through a reputable letting agency that already has all the paperwork on the property, uses proper lease documentation and will keep your deposit in a proper trust account. 

Statement by
Richard Gray
Harcourts Africa Chief Executive Officer


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Topics: Renting, Harcourts South Africa, Rental Property