Housing is a major need in every society. In particular, fast-developing communities have a very high demand for housing owing to the large influx of people in search of the economic opportunities that tend to abound in developing regions. The resulting high housing demand creates opportunities for income for people in the profession of estate agency. It is particularly the case in Nigeria. Real estate agents are able to work as go-between on behalf of home owners to help them manage the process of letting out their facilities to tenants. The income from this opportunity when well-managed may be a good source of livelihood for practitioners in the industry. Unfortunately, as in many life situations, what makes room for honest income may also create opportunities for fraudsters.
Estate agency has received some very heavy knocks in the recent past, owing to the behaviour of some opportunists who exploit the naivety of the general populace and defraud people under various forms of pretense. Some so-called estate agents have been known to advertise property for let, lease or sale even though they have no link or relationship with the owner of the property or his own agents. They may take unsuspecting prospects to such places and introduce them to someone who would pose as the owner and get financial commitments from the would-be buyers. The situation became particularly worrisome a few years ago when it became common to find several people lay claims to being the genuine tenants of a property purportedly advertised for let. They would sometimes present identical receipts for the same property assumed to have been put up for rent. “Caveat Emptor” (buyer beware) has become a normal inscription on building walls owing to the large number of claims of purported advertisement of such properties for sale without the knowledge or permission of the owners. How is this so?
Estate agency is an academic discipline and profession and requires a certification for validity but many people are not aware of this and the term itself is loosely used these days and has lost its original meaning among the vast number of people who are conversant with the word. Resulting from the massive needs of the general populace in Nigeria, it may be difficult to manage estate agency in the sense of the academic discipline. When a person puts up a property for sale, sometimes he does it through a relative or some other friend who has the trust, time or resources to manage his interests. This is already a sort of agency and it is not always easy to get a home owner to entrust his property to someone outside his family. The need for agency is very high and since it is a good source of income for many, it is difficult to keep people away from the practice even when they are untrained.
Some have called for outlawing people from practicing if they do not have formal training from universities or other professional bodies but it might amount to throwing the baby away with the bathwater. What might work better is welcoming interested people to the field and creating a strong all-embracing regulatory body with powers to sanction those who default from the codes of practice.
There are some well recognized codes when it comes to estate agency. They govern the relationships between parties in a real estate transaction, how fees are to be calculated, collected, etc. These are some of the many things that an umbrella real estate agency body can work to ensure. It is a realistic measure that can produce reliable results. The untrained people who practice real estate agency with conscience and good sense of responsibility should be keen to learn what is obtainable in the professional industry and they would desire the prestige that comes from recognition as genuine practitioners. Over time, they would begin to call out their own colleagues who may be giving the profession a bad name. It is a win-win situation for everyone – for home owners who will get better value from services, for the present professionals whose good names are being marred by ‘quacks’, for the present mass of practitioners who practice without regulation, for the industry in general and most important, for the populace, some of whom get defrauded because they are uninformed about the codes and ethics of the profession. This is a sure way of tackling the unprofessionalism in the estate agency profession.