This month, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission gained power to fine agents up to $1.1 million for misleading their clients; for instance if there has been a murder or even where knowledge of noisy neighbours or barking dogs had been concealed from the potential buyers.
Real Estate Institute of Victoria chief executive, Enzo Raimondo, stated: "It's about being fair and honest to everybody. If the potential purchaser has asked a direct question the agent should say: 'Yes that is the property where the murder happened', if the agent knows about it."
M V Tronson says that this raises a host of fascinating questions which may be confusing and disturbing.
The most obvious one, is that the real estate agent may genuinely not be aware that several decades ago, maybe even before WWII, a murder had taken place.
What about a block of land that has seen two or three different houses built upon it, and in one of those, maybe a murder took place? Does this legislation apply to the land as well as the building?
As one who has an interest in Indigenous issues, Mark Tronson was reminded of the time he put in an application to build the athletes respite facility Basil Sellers House in 1988 in Moruya on the New South Wales south coast. He was required to get an Indigenous Affairs letter as part of the Development Application to the Eurobodalla Shire Council stating there were no Aboriginal artefacts on the land.
Will such Indigenous Affairs letters now have to note whether there were Aboriginal murders or accidental deaths on the land? If so, will this also apply to the new legislation?
Then there is the perennial issue of neighbours' barking dogs. M V Tronson is reminded of a British sitcom he saw some time ago where a little old lady's dog barked incessantly but she was stone deaf. She didn't think there was a problem at all.
Moreover, how will real estate agents even know of the issues of noisy neighbours unless they sleep over in the 'house that is for sale' on a Friday and Saturday night, when the neighbours are more likely to have rowdy parties?
With new legislation there are always these types of teething issues. The 'bottom line' is that these laws give the purchasers a chance to engage in due diligence in spite of the real estate agent, to ascertain for themselves whether there are such issues that would prevent them from wanting to live in this property as their new home.
Mark Tronson suggest that there are clues which can be gleaned by a purchaser before he or she signs on the dotted line. Just as potential purchasers usually get an independent building and pest inspection, they perhaps should independently have a look at the type of social activities that go on in the neighbourhood, too.
They always have time to make up their minds, and even a 'cooling off period' after making the initial decision. They could use that time wisely, for example to drive past the house or even park near the house at a range of times to see if there are noise issues. If there are numerous vehicles outside the neighbours on a Friday or Saturday night with loud music, surely that would be useful information.
Clearly, purchasing a property is a major family financial outlay, and simply leaving it to the real estate agent, who, after all is wanting a sale, may not be the most provident way forward.