Wednesday, 6 Jul 2022

Real estate agent, manager revealed suicide to property buyers, tribunal rules

Warning: This article discusses suicide and could be distressing for some people.

Two property buyers lost an appeal against a real estate agent and her manager that they had not been told about a suicide at a place they bought.

The two complained the agent had only told them of a “sudden death” but did not tell them the suicide of the vendor’s husband had been committed there.

But in the case between Ex and Xn v Mu and DS, the Real Estate Agents Disciplinary Tribunal rejected their appeal, saying it was implausible, the information was disclosed in the agreement, and others who looked at the property were told the death was suicide.

“The purchasers say that when they visited the property with the licensee, she advised them of a sudden death. At no point had she mentioned suicide. The manager had told all of her agents to tell potential purchasers about a sudden death.

“This unexpected death was thought to be from natural causes and they had assumed it was a heart attack or a stroke. The licensee and manager had deliberately lied to them,” the tribunal said, summing up the buyers’ appeal.

“They are disgusted by the decision. It amounted to gross misconduct and was misleading. If they had known it was a suicide, they would not have bought the property,” the tribunal noted of the appellants’ case against the agent and manager.

The dispute was narrow, the tribunal decided.

The licensee and her manager say the agent did disclose the event to the purchasers at their first viewing expressly using the word “suicide”.

As counsel for the authority and counsel for the licensee and manager contended, there was considerable independent supporting evidence about the agent’s disclosure.

The disclosure was specifically identified in the listing agreement.

Other prospective buyers shown the property by the agent or other agents at the agency confirmed suicide was disclosed.

Other agents confirmed this had been discussed among all the agents and they all knew it was to be disclosed.

Both the agent and her manager in their statements set out clearly and precisely the process followed. The manager appeared to be particularly assiduous in her mentoring of new agents, the tribunal said.

The agent said she was clear with the buyers about what had happened at the place.

“While on the roadside outside the property, [the licensee] explained to them that there had been a suicide at a particular location on the property. Subsequently, she used the phrase sudden death out of respect for the sensitive topic. But this was only after unambiguously telling the purchasers about the suicide, specifically using the word suicide,” the tribunal said of the evidence from the agent and her manager.

“The purchasers bear the onus of proof before the tribunal. There is no evidence independent of their own accounts to support their allegation. They have not identified any error of fact or law by the [complaints assessment committee] apart from the outcome.

“They chose not to make full submissions to the tribunal. It would seem to us to be implausible that the licensee disclosed the suicide, using that word, to other prospective purchasers, but not to the purchasers,” it decided.

The tribunal decided to publish its decision but suppressed many aspects of the case.
No names or identifying details of the buyers, the property, licensee or manager were revealed.

It was appropriate to order publication without these details, the tribunal said.

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