Don't believe everything you see on the telly

29/09/2017

Q: I love property shows on TV, whether it’s watching people pouring money into heritage renovation projects in the UK or downsizing to the max to get into a tiny house. While I watch the overseas shows purely for pleasure, I always hope to learn something from the local ones. Recently though I’ve been confused by some of the things I’ve seen. Are TV property shows subject to New Zealand real estate regulations, or can they do what they like for the sake of good TV?

A: Property shows are absolute gold for TV ratings – take a feisty couple or family who are undertaking at least one of life’s most stressful situations, add in the New Zealand obsession with home ownership and you’ll usually end up with a dramatic turn of events that a scriptwriter could only dream about.

The recent finale of competitive reality renovation show The Block is a case in point. In case you missed it, the rebuilt properties failed to reach the show’s participants lofty expectations at auction (despite selling for eye-watering prices). Many people took to social media to complain about how the auction was conducted; with some even suggesting that one prospective buyer in the crowd was a ‘plant’ who was there to drive prices up. Others were upset that one auction was ‘paused’ before the property was sold, ultimately affecting the show’s outcome.

What this show really revealed was how little many people know about the auction process. Despite the online outrage, The Block’s auction (like all property auctions) was held in accordance with strict rules. All attendees must register with the auction house and fake or ‘shill’ bids are not allowed. If you attend an auction on behalf of someone else, you must have a letter from them authorising you to do so. Under Real Estate Agents Authority (REAA) rules, there is nothing out of the ordinary about a property being auctioned a second time after it has been passed in for failing to reach the reserve price the first time around. It’s also fine for an auction to be 'paused' while the seller negotiates with a bidder, if the property has not yet met reserve.

At the REAA, we recommend people learn as much as they can about the auction sale process before using one to buy or sell a property, ideally by attending at least one auction as spectators (rather than just watching one on TV). A licensed real estate agent will be able to answer any further questions about how auctions work.

There has also been some confusion about shows where two hosts help frustrated buyers find the right property. What you don’t see – and what perhaps should be more clearly signposted by the makers of these shows – is that there is a team of licensed real estate agents working behind the scenes. While it’s made to look like the hosts are doing all the legwork there is likely to be a team of production staff and ‘real’ real estate experts helping them out. It’s important to note that the hosts of these shows are not doing actual ‘real estate agency work’, which the Real Estate Agents Act (2008) defines as ‘any work done or services provided, in trade, on behalf of another person for the purpose of bringing about a transaction’. If they were, or even if they were acting as buyer’s agents (where they are paid by the buyer to find a property), this would be considered to be unlicensed trading and the REAA takes this very seriously.

The most important thing you can learn from watching TV property shows is that buyers and sellers find the process a lot easier if they’ve done all their homework first. That means doing the appropriate due diligence and enlisting the skills and knowledge of an experienced lawyer and licensed real estate agent. You wouldn’t attempt a forensic examination of a crime scene on the basis of watching CSI – nor should you take everything you see on a TV property show as the definitive truth. 

Kevin Lampen-Smith is the chief executive of the Real Estate Agents Authority (REAA), the independent government agency that regulates the New Zealand real estate industry. If you have a question about buying or selling property, send it to info@reaa.govt.nz.

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