Professional ethics in property agency business

By Damian Agharanya, Aba

One fateful morning in the year 2018, I watched as the wrecking arms of the bulldozer fell upon an ongoing building and reduced it to rubbles.

This attracted a large cluster of spectators in one of the suburbs of Aba metropolis. A man could not withhold his tears and his wife too.

So many others empathized and sympathized with them, and there was free-flowing of tears within the neighbourhood, as well as from passers-by as they beheld the man and his wife. The earthmoving equipment operator displayed his expertise as he pressed down the throttle, pushed forth certain levers and pull the others, and catastrophe befall the ongoing project, and reduced to debris, that which would have become a magnificent edifice – apparently, the fruit of a man’s long years of toiling.

Nevertheless, based on the circumstances that preceded the commencement of the building, the owner himself, who had pleaded for hours that fateful morning, could not lift an accusing finger or that of aggression to the man who hired the bulldozer and paid for the demolition. He was at the receiving end and defenseless, convinced that the whole ugly episode tilted against him, for he had been deceived to buy from the wrong source – from conmen land agents, who fled when the chips were down. This is just one of a myriad of such issues occurring every now and then.

So many professions have become victims of incursion by non-professionals, and as a result, unprofessional practices have become the bane of such service sectors, landing so many unsuspecting customers and clients into colossal losses and troubles. One particular area of service that has become so infiltrated is the property agency business.

Estate agency, land agency, property agency, property managers and consultants are some of the many appellations with which the operators are identified. Majority of them are located in shades, half-lines, tents, pool offices, umbrella and container shops. These agents have very wide networks in that they are so widely interconnected. This helps them to relate well among themselves and to pass information as to who wants to sell or buy, hire or lease any properties. So many have made good business fortunes out of this type of occupation, while so many unsuspecting buyers have been duped by the bad eggs among them.

Their modus operandi includes their “mob” (mobilization fee), which is the initial fee, which their clients pay before qualifying to inspect the property they wish to hire or buy. For landed properties they are able to sell, they are paid agency fee or commission of ten percent of the face value of the amount by both the buyer and seller paying 5 percent each. Some of the times, the owner of the property would fix a price for his property, while the agents would sell at any amount they are able to negotiate with the buyer, collecting the difference between the owner’s fixed price and the negotiated price as their fee.

Given these dynamics, one would say that nothing is wrong with the process, since their business is basically to bring buyers and sellers together, while making “clean” money in the process. However, quite a lot of things go amiss with property agency. For example, many have become victims of deception, while the wrong persons have sold other people’s properties and made away with the in-gotten money, leaving the buyer and the real owner to settle their scores. Some other times, documents have been forged or stolen; and at certain other times, certain “brave” members of the selling team have excluded some of their members when sharing the bounties of their collective efforts, while the aggrieved persons have usually picked up hatchets, sometimes leading to police cases.

There are professional estate managers, consultants and corporate organizations that know and understand the pros and cons of estate agency and management, but estate agency business is not limited to them, but seems to have become an all-comers’ affair. Today, there is the Association of Property Agents of Nigeria, which tends to regulate the practice of estate business. However, who make up their membership, or the makeup of their practice ethics and standards is still another issue for consideration. But from what is observed, almost everybody has become a practitioner in this occupation, not minding their areas of study; if at all this is a prerequisite, as most of them are only lettered.

In Aba, Umuahia, Port Harcourt, Lagos, Abuja and so many other cities in Nigeria, any person who knows another person who wants to buy a landed property or who wants to hire a two-room apartment has become a property agent; likewise any person that knows another who wants to sell landed property or let a flat. This has become a very attractive line of business to so many, including retired persons, discharged bankers, pastors, young and aged persons of both sexes.

This is principally so because it does not take so much to establish this business. With a contact address, a phone line and a notice board, and agency business is in place. Moreover, there are no regulatory controls or government restrictions for now. Therefore the practice of property agency is more or less like touting. Nothing qualifies anybody, and as such everybody is qualified. This being the way it is, every buyer is at the risk of buying from the wrong person, except for the CAVEAT placed on certain buildings in cities, which could be manipulated.

There is, therefore, the need to professionalize the practice of estate business in the country to be handled by people who are registered or licensed for that purpose. By so doing, the practitioners will easily be identified by their registration/license numbers, while there should be a search process that exposes the real owners of properties, confirming their intention to dispose of such properties and the particulars of the proposed buyers, displayed at designated government registries before the consummation of the sale process, while certain policies should as well guide hiring, renting or lease of houses and other properties.

Leave a Reply