Joseph Kimetto desperately needed a house, so after a physical house-hunt failed, he went online. Almost immediately, he found several houses that seemed tailor-made for him. He picked the most suitable one and contacted the owner’s “son”, whose telephone number was given in the advertisement, for further details.
After speaking to Kimetto, the “son” asked him to contact the “real” owner, who repeated exactly what he had been told, and ended by asking for a down payment/deposit; he said Kimetto could pay the balance when they met to view the house.
Since he hadn’t seen the house, Kimetto refused to make any payment, so the deal fell through, with the “owner” dismissing him as “not serious”. Kimetto’s scepticism saved him.
However, many people have been conned by fraudsters who take advantage of the competitive rental house market to target desperate, gullible would-be clients. Usually, they try to rush deals, giving potential clients little time to counter-check any of the information they give them.
While it might seem like only gullible potential tenants are vulnerable to such rip-offs, some fraudsters have caused genuine landlords grief by using their names of photos of their property without their knowledge.
DEAL TOO GOOD
Dr. Ojiambo Oundo, a Nairobi-based real estate consultant, says that property fraud cases are increasing, only that many go unreported. He notes that the most common methods the fraudsters use are selling non-existent property, using forged documents, abandoning transactions halfway and selling the same property to different clients.
For instance, the crooks advertise a property that is already occupied, get deposits from unsuspecting clients and then vanish. Or they take pictures of someone’s property and advertise it then convince those who use property platforms to send them money to “secure” the property before someone else takes it.
If a deal seems too good to be true, then it probably isn’t genuine, which is why Dr. Oundo advises that, when buying, renting or leasing property online, insist on meeting the owner in person as well as seeing the legal documents showing proof of ownership.
Ask the owner a lot of questions and carefully listen to his/her answers since a genuine property owner should have all the answers at their fingertips. If you have any doubts, contact a property registry body. Only when you have counter-checked their ownership documents should you give them any money. And remember to have a written agreement with your lawyers present.
Some of the fraudsters are smooth operators, but Dr Oundo advises against making a decision to buy or lease based solely on the sales pitch. Always take time to think about the offer and also allow time for the emotional effects of the sales presentation to subside, during which period you can also research on the property.
Also, avoid sharing your anxieties of information about your family with those you are dealing with, as that makes you come across as desperate, which is just what they need to dictate the terms of the transaction.
While online platforms and portals have made it easier to look for property, Dr Oundo maintains that it is important for the tenant or buyer to visit the property agents to ascertain their existence and talk to them. Whenever someone tries to give you a “good deal”, you should always ask yourself, “How does the property owner stand to benefit?”
Mr Simon Ng’ang’a, the managing director of real estate agent Granite Capital Kenya concurs, noting that the cases of property fraud have far-reaching effects on the property industry.
He recommends that, to be safe, you should check the company/developer’s track record to ascertain their credibility as well as their profit-and-loss statements, which should be available on request, before entering into a deal with them.
He adds that the government should intervene to protect both prospective investors and property developers from the crooks, particularly by intervening in the formation of a scrutinising board to establish the credibility of property owners and developers before allowing them to to operate.
Some fraudsters are so polished that they can break down your defences so, should you fall victim, you can file a complaint with the Estate Agents’ Registration Board (EARB) and also seek help from the police.