Room for debate: Are Melbourne agents underquoting?

Room for debate: Are Melbourne agents underquoting?
Room for debate: Are Melbourne agents underquoting?

Sale prices edge 8.7% above estimates of Melbourne agents underquoting at October auctions

Alistair Walsh

Melbourne real estate agents continue to underquote properties selling at auction, according to the latest Property Observer survey on the issue.

An analysis of 74 sales catalogued by National Property Buyers over the last four weeks shows 55 of those properties sold for above the price range indicated by the selling agent prior to auction.

That’s just shy of 75% of properties selling for more than the upper bracket of the quoted price range.

On average, those 55 properties sold for 8.7% above the upper bracket of the price range indicated by the agents.

Property Observer’s most recent underquoting survey found 75% of September surveyed properties sold for over price indications. Those that sold above went for an average of 6.5% over.

Prior to that, an analysis of 220 auction results in the months leading up to spring found 77% of properties were selling above price guides. Those that sold above were going for an average of 5% above expectations.

Just one property sold for below the price range indicated by agents prior to auction.

The properties analysed were only those where a price range was given with a lower and upper price indication.

Buyers’ agent Catherine Cashmore, who compiled the raw data for this survey, says buyers can expect to pay more than the price indicated before auction.

“Price quotes are important to attract buyers in the first place – no buyer likes to play guessing games when it comes to putting a price on an advertised listing.  However, as with any auction, the quote has to be at a level to attract as many potential purchasers as possible, whilst at the same time, not being too far from vendor expectation to achieve a sale,” Cashmore says.

“There are still agencies who quote at a level which we know from our own research to be too low to reasonably achieve a sale within the advertised range – we come across them weekly – and it would be fair to suggest buyers can expect to pay above the advertised price quote in most circumstances, especially when there is competition.

“However, bear in mind, every real estate sales agency quotes differently, so it's always important to do the necessary leg work to avoid wasting time and money inspecting a home, which will only ever achieve a sale price in excess of the advertised figure.”

Cashmore says more owner-occupiers in the market can push up auction prices.

“Stock levels have been plentiful this year, however the 'best of the best' has not been in abundance.  Owner-occupiers have dominated the inner-city market (with numbers of investors reduced due to continual poor consumer confidence), and it's well known that owner-occupiers are the demographic willing to pay an extra 5-10% more to secure the home of their dreams.  Hence why owner-occupiers fuel price growth and hence why 'investment grade' homes are chosen to attract this demographic.

The most extreme case of underquoting, or overly enthusiastic bidding, was a two-bedroom Collingwood house that sold for $662,500, 50% above the pre-auction indicated price range of $400,000 to $440,000.

A four-bedroom Fitzroy North house sold for $1,845,000, or 29% above the pre-auction indicated price range of $1.3 million to $1.43 million.

And a two-bedroom Hawthorn apartment sold for $652,000, 25% above the pre-auction indicated price of $470,000 to $520,000.

The $600,000 to $1 million bracket had the most cases of underquoting. Of the 26 sales in that bracket analysed, 23 or 88% sold for above the pre-auction indicated price range.

Of those 23, 17 sold for more than 5% above. Those 11 properties sold for an average of 11% over the pre-auction indicated price range.

For properties selling under $600,000, 64% sold for above expectations for an average of 5.7% over.

For properties selling over $1 million, 70% sold above expectations, an average of 10.2% over.

The property sales analysed come from National Property Buyers weekly survey of the Melbourne market.

The properties recorded those thought to be investment-grade or cream of the crop properties. They are thought to be properties that hold the best potential for long-term capital growth and rental demand.

The price quotes are received as close as possible to the auction date to avoid step quoting practices.

Cashmore says agents who put their price quotes too high risk scaring away potential clients. While Cashmore agrees price quoting can be frustrating for clients they must realise that more legislation won’t stop the practice.



Melbourne agents not underquoting

Robert Larocca, REIV policy and public affairs manger

Homes selling for more than their reserve and quoted price at auction does occur – in fact, it is what most vendors hope for – but it cannot always be described as underquoting.

The legal definition of underquoting is quite different, and those who seek to point out instances of alleged unlawful activity should take the time to understand the law first.

The Australian Consumer Law requires that all business people – including real estate agents – not engage in conduct that misleads or deceives or is likely to do so.

This general statutory obligation is allied to specific requirements imposed on Victorian estate agents by the Estate Agents Act to not over-quote to sellers or under-quote to buyers the estimate selling price of properties they are employed to sell. The act also makes it clear what is meant by the term “estimated selling price”, and this is critical information for all those who comment publicly on this matter.

The estimated selling price is “the amount the agent believes, on the basis of his or her experience, skills and knowledge, that a willing but not anxious buyer would pay” for the property in question. The estimated selling price can be a single figure or a price range.

If a price range is used, the agent must believe the estimated selling price is likely to fall within it. The range cannot be more than 10% of the amount of its lower limit. An estate agent must provide a vendor with the estimated selling price and include it in the sale authority the vendor signs.

The act goes further. It prohibits an estate agent making a statement in marketing material, advertisements, or even when talking to people, in which he or she indicates the selling price is less than the estimated single figure selling price or in the case of a price range, is less than the lower end of the range. For example: if the agent has provided an estimated selling price to the vendor of $500,000 to $550,000 he or she cannot advertise the property using a range of $490,000 to $530,000.

In practical terms, this means an agent can’t use a quoted price that is below what he or she believes (as expressed by the estimated selling price given to the vendor) the home will sell for.

The Australian Consumer Law’s prohibition on misleading and deceptive conduct obliges an estate agent to keep an advertised estimated selling price or price range under review during a sale campaign and to align it with a vendor’s actual selling price requirements, as may be necessary.

If during a campaign an offer or enquiry is received at a price above single figure estimated selling price or above the lower limit or upper limit of a price range an estate agent is advertising, and the vendor indicates he or she want something more, the estimated single figure selling price or price range as advertised must be adjusted in line with the vendor’s current expectations.

For example: if the price range is advertised at $500,000 to $550,000 and an enquiry is received at $510,000 in response to which the vendor indicates he requires an offer of at least $520,000 before he will consider selling, the range will have to be adjusted so the lower limit is advertised as  $520,000, to avoid misleading or deceiving the public about the selling price.

The act also requires that the real estate agent provide proof to the director of Consumer Affairs about how they arrived at the estimated selling price, if the director requests it

In drafting this law, the Victorian Parliament made an effort to be very clear that the estimated selling price and the vendor’s reserve or asking price do not need to be the same – the agent has his or her view about what the home may sell for, and that can be totally different from what the vendor wants. And this, of course, can be totally different to what the market is prepared to pay.

As a result, it is impossible for commentators to conduct or provide “research” about the extent of “underquoting”, because they do not know what estimated selling price the agent has provided to the vendor. As the act explicitly says that ”nothing …. requires the estimated selling price and the seller's reserve price to be the same amount”, commentators also can’t prove underquoting by comparing the sale price with the reserve.

Maybe all that sort of “research” can prove is that the market sets the selling price, not the advertisement.

Finally, it’s worth reminding those alleging underquoting that there is one agency that does know what the extent of underquoting actually is: Consumer Affairs Victoria. It was recently reported (AFR 27/10/12) that CAV had received 15 complaints about underquoting in 2011–12. Over the same time there were around 70,000 home sales in Melbourne alone.

A cursory glance at the Consumer Affairs website shows that in the past 12 months there have been no instances of real estate agents being required to sign enforceable undertakings because they underquoted, and only two court actions against agents in which they were found guilty of underquoting.

This shows that while homes may sell for more than quoted or expected, Victorian real estate agents do have an excellent record of compliance with the law against underquoting.

Robert Larocca is policy and public affairs manager at the Real Estate Institute of Victoria.

Alistair Walsh

Alistair Walsh

Deutsche Welle online reporter

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