by Peter Mericka B.A., LL.B
Real Estate Lawyer
Qualified Practising Conveyancer Victoria
Director Lawyers Real Estate Pty Ltd
Geoff Thompson is the Director of Barry Plant Real Estate in Croydon Victoria, and the Barry Plant Real Estate tag line is “The red carpet experience”. I felt that the red carpet had been pulled out from under me and my client when Geoff Thompson’s sales representative Pauline Ferguson switched contracts without my knowledge and without any explanation.
Secret contract switch
Contract switching is a major problem in the real estate industry. The reason contracts are switched by estate agents has nothing to do with protecting the client’s interests, and can cause all kinds of problems for the client and their lawyer.
In an effort to reduce the likelihood of lazy or incompetent estate agents tampering with our clients’ contracts, I advise every estate agent in writing, ‘The REIV “Contract Note” is not to be used in this sale…‘, and I provide detailed instructions designed to ensure that the estate agent doesn’t spoil the client’s sale.
Unfortunately, some estate agents choose to disobey both the law and the directions of their client’s lawyer.
Pauline Ferguson, switched the contract my firm had prepared, and replaced it with a simple “fill in the blanks” Contract Note. Neither Pauline Ferguson nor her boss, Geoff Thompson, made any attempt to discuss the matter with me (probably because they knew they would be told reminded that it is illegal for them to tamper with contracts), and secretly switched the contracts without my knowledge.
Geoff Thompson offers no explanation
As I have done with other contract switchers, I sent a fax to Geoff Thompson, addressed to “The Principal, Barry Plant Real Estate Croydon”. I put the following to Geoff Thompson:
“We seek your explanation for the improper and unlawful “switching of contracts”. We understand that it was Pauline Ferguson of your office who has switched the contracts, and that she is neither a legal practitioner nor a fully licensed estate agent.
In our fax to your office of 19th May 2008 we stated quite clearly:
“The REIV “Contract Note” is not to be used in this sale. We have been instructed to prepare the legal documents by which the sale of the above property is to be effected, and we have prepared the combined Contract Note and Section 32 Vendor’s Statement for this purpose. There is no need for the preparation of an REIV Contract Note
Our Contract Note and its Special Conditions provide the vendor with maximum legal protection, and take into account such issues as land identity, purchaser acknowledgements and warranties, and comprehensive default provisions. No part of it is to be altered without prior consultation with us.”
Despite these clear instructions, the contract was secretly switched and replaced with a Contract Note drafted by a non-lawyer from your office. No person from your office made any attempt to discuss the matter with the vendor’s legal representative, nor was our client advised to seek our advice before being invited to execute the substitute contract note.
We believe that the switching of contracts was kept from us because you and your staff knew that we would not allow it.
We regard this conduct as an illegal act of deception, requiring a full and immediate explanation.”
Neither Geoff Thompson nor Pauline Ferguson had anything to say on the matter, apparently believing that by keeping quiet the problem would just go away.