The Estate Agency Affairs Board has cautioned home sellers to ensure that their estate agents have Fidelity Fund Certificates allowing them to operate. If they do not, they are not entitled to earn commission on the sale.
More importantly, they are not allowed to operate as estate agents.
According to the board, about 10 years ago there were as many as 80 000 registered estate agents whereas today this figure is closer to 30 000. That means, if still in business, 50 000 agents are operating illegally.
Believing the board is unlikely to catch them, these operators flout the law and take chances. The board says though that these agents have not counted on the official industry body setting up measures to verify agents' legitimacy.
A new counter fraud device provided by PrivySeal is now mandatory for all registered estate agents and distinguishes the genuine operators from the fakes.
The inspiration behind PrivySeal, attorney Stephen Logan, explains that a Privyseal is a digital seal of authenticity that only displays if a qualification has been verified as genuine. More than that, it displays the date and time a qualification was last checked.
"With qualifications digitally checked every few minutes, the process provides real time online verification," says Logan. "By clicking on a Privyseal, consumers can access details about the qualification holder, including their registered contact details which are drawn from the database of the qualification authority."
Logan adds that anyone with an estate agency board Privyseal - an agent or agency - is able to prove that they are properly registered and their current good standing has been verified.
"By working with a registered professional, consumers have greater protection and recourse should anything go wrong."
The Privyseals are already being used by a wide range of organisations, including the Institute of Directors, Law Societies and the South African Qualifications Authority. The board was the first industry regulator to make the use of Privyseals mandatory, says Margie Campbell, the board's marketing manager.
"Thanks to the support of key industry stakeholders all registered estate agents and registered estate agency enterprises must display their board Privyseals as a way of countering qualification fraud and protecting the public and legitimate estate agents.
"If your estate agent doesn't have a board Privyseal, they have very likely not been issued with a valid fidelity fund certificate by the board. In terms of the Estate Agency Affairs Act unregistered estate agents are not entitled to any remuneration for estate agency services rendered."
The board has paid for every registered estate agent to obtain a board Privyseal.
"There is no valid reason, therefore, why a properly registered estate agent in good standing with the board should not use a Privyseal."