As agents you will frequently assist both purchasers and vendors. While the tasks you undertake for them can come with the best of intentions, you may accidentally become a target. How much assistance can you give a purchaser before you start to incur liability?
In the recent decision (C v Real Estate Agents Authority  NZREADT 20) a purchaser asked an agent to seek permission from the Body Corporate to keep a dog on the premises. The Body Corporate’s reply was that an application could be made once a conditional offer was accepted. However, this was not properly relayed to the purchaser and they made an unconditional offer (which was accepted). Their offer was made under the assumption that they could keep the dog at the property and the purchaser eventually had to sell the home to keep her dog.
The above decision resulted in a penalty which was subsequently quashed. However the agent no doubt suffered reputational damage as a result of this unfortunate experience for the purchaser. The takeaway message here is for agents to be careful with the kind of assistance they give purchasers.
So what can you do to ensure you can continue to help while avoiding/limiting your liability?
We recommend that you ask the purchaser to consult with their lawyer before signing any offer. This will allow the lawyer to look over all the information you have provided and give the purchaser an impartial view. Remember to always think about how clients will interpret any comments. Regardless of what your terms and conditions say, clients often rely on your comments and opinions when they are feeling vulnerable through a property transaction.
Mistakes are part of life and need to be recognised for what they are. However, to avoid situations like the above in the future, referring purchasers to their lawyer is the best way to limit your liability and protect your reputation. We are always happy to discuss your situation and provide advice where needed, including assisting you with drafting appropriate clauses when you have an unusual scenario.