When data science consultant Rachel Owens went to Homes.co.nz to review her property history, she was surprised to see two estate agents credited with sales that never happened or in which they didn’t. were ever involved.
The Auckland-based investor reported the discrepancies with the website only to be told by customer service that he often receives similar requests.
For one of Owen’s properties, at 8 Nugent St in Auckland, the agent falsely credited as having sold his flat in 2018 was also falsely recorded as selling 40 other properties in the complex.
Timaru man Samuel Pearce discovered that getting a mortgage and buying a house is no small feat.
The agent, Cici Wang, said the mistake was because she had sold 80 new apartments at 6a Nugent St – the building next door to the complex.
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Because that address did not yet exist in the council’s records, the sales were registered at number 8, Wang said, meaning the properties were sold but registered at the wrong address.
“When Barfoot sent the commission invoice to the developer, the address we gave is also 8 Nugent St,” Wang said.
She said she would ask her office to have the sales record on Homes.co.nz corrected.
In another instance, Owens noticed that the sale of his former home at 10 Paisley Terrace in Wellington, which was managed by Harcourts in 2005, was attributed to Tommy’s agent, Glenn Stewart.
Stewart said he did not claim the sale and told Homes.co.nz that was incorrect when contacted by the website recently for clarification.
He said he hadn’t heard of any agents claiming sales that weren’t theirs, but there were probably agents who did.
“We would frown horribly at Tommy,” he said.
Stewart said he cautioned his customers against relying on Homes.co.nz for information, particularly when it comes to price estimates.
“I’m not a big fan of it to be honest, but it kind of has to be to get the profile in areas where people look at past sales and so on,” Stewart said.
Estate agents can influence estimates on Homes.co.nz by submitting a current market valuation, which can increase the HomesEstimate by hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Homes.co.nz spokesman Tom Lintern said the majority of the site’s sales data comes from estate agency websites, but agents paying a premium subscription can claim and create sales.
He said while Homes.co.nz was unaware of any fake sales recorded on the site, the team fixed the issues when they became aware of them.
Lintern said that if a sale record showed a sale price next to it online, it was usually checked with council records, but until then it was a “sale created by a agent”, which was not verified.
“We are starting from a position of trust and because our platform is open source and free, the public will review the data,” he said.
“We rely on the public to make us aware of any issues. Keep in mind that we have data errors from all sources including local councils. We take extra care in investigating issues to ensure data accuracy.
Owens said a lack of verification left the website open to manipulation by unscrupulous agents seeking to bolster sales records to lure sellers.
“You rely on that information when you’re looking to buy a house, when you’re looking to list a house,” she said.
“You can choose to sell with the person who has sold the most apartments in your building.”
“I think they have some responsibility and if they can’t control it or monitor it, they shouldn’t provide the functionality. The only reason an agent can claim a sale is to give them the ability to claim a sale.”
Real Estate Authority (REA) chief executive Belinda Moffat said the regulator was unaware of and had not received any complaints about agents recording bogus online sales.
If she received such a complaint, formal disciplinary action was unlikely unless it was deemed “disgraceful conduct”, but the REA would work with officers and their supervisors to correct the marketing material.
“How a real estate professional promotes themselves is outside of our scope,” Moffat said.
“(The) REA can only consider complaints about the behavior of licensees regarding their work as estate agents and their conduct during a transaction.”
Moffat said if anyone has concerns about the content of a website, they should report it to the website or the Commerce Commission.
A spokeswoman for the Commerce Commission said the commission received a complaint about estate agent sales claims made on homes.co.nz in September last year.
“A broader search of real estate agent sales complaints across all platforms since January 1, 2021 showed that we received one additional complaint during this period,” the spokesperson said.
Lintern said that in addition to taking data from the websites of premium agencies and agents adding sales, staff members also used provided spreadsheets of an agent’s sales history.
Homes.co.nz failed to notify the REA when it was discovered that an agent had falsely claimed or created false sales.
Consumer NZ chief executive Jon Duffy said his organization had received reports of agents falsely claiming sales, but they were rare.
“If this was a widespread issue and Homes.co.nz knew about it, we would expect them to take steps to put some kind of verification in place,” he said.
“Agents should be aware that they are in the business, and the Fair Trading Act applies to them – as well as the Estate Agents Act, and if they deliberately post misleading information around their record of sale, they could be subject to prosecution.”
He said most agents would report if their sale had been falsely claimed by another agent, and most were not shy about having their complaints heard, so the industry would have some degree of self-policing.
The two incorrectly attributed sales of Owens’ homes have been removed by Homes.co.nz.