Scam against Estate Agents

July 17th 2020

The situation regarding estate agents is not healthy and it is a cause of constant differences between the vendors of real estate and that of the estate agents.

Most of the wrongs were corrected in the past by the Estate Agents Law, but there are still evident problems in the relationship of the two parties, which need corrections.

As not all estate agents are angels, similarly not all vendors are angels either and we have a personal knowledge on this. There are scams on either party and this article, will address some of the problems that the estate agents are subject to.

Unlike in most of other countries, for someone to exercise the job of an estate agent, he must be so registered with the Registrar of the Estate Agents (Governmental Body) who in turn requires that any registered agent must have a basic knowledge of the market and basic educational requirements and to be submitted to a written test prior to registration. Registered agents must keep a proper office, have a professional indemnity insurance, and follow the rules/regulations of the Registrar.

Having said that, there are all sorts of people (professional or not) embarking on the estate agency operation, ranging from taxi drivers and bar attendants, to advocates, accountants and others, who by one way or another manage to by-pass the law, claiming that any receipts that they get for a sale, is not an agency commission, but disguised under “promotional fee”, introduction fee etc. Then we have the tax authorities who will not accept such payments, to non-registered agents as being tax deductible with the vendor being in the middle (with the vendor not being able to discount such payments from his sales income).

Regarding now the sales commission, the average charge is 3%-5% based on the sales price, if the agent “introduces” a willing and able buyer to a vendor (the word “introducing” is in itself one which is open to various interpretations). As you can appreciate the commission/money is a lot, especially for the upper scale of the market. You must bear in mind that the law stipulates only a 3% commission (if no written agreement), but the parties (agent/vendor) can agree to any commission, provided that is so done in writing (tax authorities will not accept more than 3% if no such agreement). For those who claim a commission under the disguise of promotion, the tax authorities will require details on what promotion has been undertaken at the expense of the claimant, whereas the “introduction fee” which is worldwide acceptable, is also questioned by the Cyprus tax authorities.

In more “organized” countries, vendors/agents have an exclusivity agreement for an x period of time (usually 6 months), but, in general locals, including foreign investors/funds who operate in Cyprus, do not accept this, hence we have agents promoting a property at their own expense, but being in a small country where everybody knows everybody, other agents/interested buyers by-pass the agent and express their interest to the vendors directly in an effort to get a reduced price. So, at the end, the non-exclusive agents restrict their promotion, other provide basic information on their website, whereas others just do not bother.

Trying to avoid the agent’s commission is quite common and this includes even the large multi (national) investment funds, who, if one does not follow strict procedures of their own, they refuse their obligation e.g. by not filling a certain form (they may be right but at the end of day, what is fair?).

Especially during these difficult times of sales, buying directly (buyers/vendors) is to the benefit of both (doing without the commission payment by the vendor and they get a reduced price).

In this scam, against the agents, we provide for your consideration the following recent examples.
The agent promoted a property and a Chinese client through his advocate expressed interest. A lot of to and from followed through emails with the vendor being duly aware with copies etc. The buyer approached the vendor directly and through his advocate and both claimed that the agent had nothing to do with the deal and with the vendor saying that the agent did not have the buyer signing a certain declaration. End result is that other than the agent, the vendor and buyer are happy for saving the 5% commission reduction. Is this correct mind you? The matter now will follow the legal route with the agent placing a memo on the sale. God knows who will lose at the end.

In another example in Paphos, the vendor and buyer tried to by-pass the agent who having found out he placed a restrictive order for transfer (memo), so the whole thing is stagnant. The buyer paid the amount, the vendor cannot transfer and of course the agent was not paid (standstill for the last 8 years – so all lose). A messy situation.

On another occasion a Russian buyer demanded that the agent should not be present during the negotiations with the owner. The buyer sued the agent for wrong doings and his witness said that everything was in order by the agent and finally he told his witness that he was trying to get a discount through no commission payment. He even sued the agent for €70.000 in damages notwithstanding that the sale was for €140.000. End result the buyer lost his case in court; a memo was duly placed on the property and everybody is at a standstill.

Part of other problems is caused by the agents themselves, trying to “steal” properties registered as such by other agents by trying to by-pass their colleague. There are numerous examples of bad behavior between agents, so the scam is not restricted between vendor and buyers, but also between agents.

In ending and unless there is an otherwise agreement, it is the vendor who has the responsibility to pay the commission. So be aware vendors, that any “monkey” business on your side it is most likely that you will pay at the end. Bear in mind that only registered estate agents are entitled to a commission, so any demand by third parties have no right to claim neither their payment is tax deductible).

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