Friday, November 03, 2006

There Ought to be a Law Against this Kind of Behaviour

Banks, Lawyers and Estate Agents: why do I despise them so much? Is it because they don't understand who the customer is, or is it maybe that they just couldn't give a damn? Perhaps it's just sheer incompetence, or ducking and diving to avoid having to be straightforward and honest. Whatever it is, I find it totally baffling.
The three are a deadly combination, and I'm having to cope with all of them simultaneously at present. We are presently in the process of buying our flat. So we sign the offer to purchase, only to have it sent back twice: the first time because they inadvertently included another unit instead of a carport, and the second time because the seller wanted my name on the form as well as my wife's. Of course the faffing around and errors didn't inspire much confidence, but we were (supposedly) the first people to take up the offer to buy, and I guess estate agents aren't really into details like paperwork. After all, they've been doing this every day for years. You'd think they'd eventually get the hang of how it works. Sad, really. At least there were no outright lies like the last estate agents I had the misfortune of dealing with.
The next complication came from the banks. How I love them! Nedbank got the amount wrong (why am I not surprised), as did (sub)Standard Bank, but FNB came through with flying colours: well, almost. They sent the assessor to the wrong building, and got the name of the lawyers wrong. It would have been so much easier if they had actually read the offer to purchase documentation. With a bit of coaxing we got them to fix their blunders.
Now the final hurdle rests with the lawyers. I'm not sure whether they were supposed to explain their cost structure, or whether this was the job of the estate agents, but either way they did a pretty bad job of it all. I guess they just couldn't bring themselves to be open and upfront about the costs involved. "Vague" is not a good approach when you're dealing with my money, dammit!
When they sent a letter on 28th August 2006 (addressed to me as "Dear Madam"), they attached without explanation two "cost guidelines". Based on our purchase price, the first schedule ("Guideline to Bond Registration Costs") mentions an amount of R 6328.00. "In addition, provision should be made for postage and petties, bank administration charges, FICA fee, online instruction fee and insurance certificate charge."
The second schedule ("Guideline Registration of Transfer Costs") mentions an amount of R14564. "In addition to the above, provision should be made for postage and petties and FICA fee."
I guess I should have asked for clarification on these points, but I didn't do so immediately. Now when I have asked the matter gets worse. "Posts and Petties" come to a staggering R800, since the same fee gets charged twice. "FICA compliance" is also charged twice, once at R400 and another at R200. Similarly, "Deeds Office Registration Fee" is listed twice at R400 a time. Did I mention all of these amounts exclude VAT? Did I also mention the two "Deeds Office Search" fees of R100 each?
But wait, there's more! Did I mention the "Bank Fee" of R1168.50 and the "Estimated levy clearance" fee of R2000? Gosh, I must have missed them. The upshot of all this is that instead of paying a total of R20892 at some non-specific time in the future, they are now expecting us to pay an additional amount of R4898.50 as well, which works out at a 23.4% surcharge! That's an incredible increase in only 68 days, don't you think?
As you can tell, I'm not a happy customer at this point. But then I thing they thought they could just tell me what to do and get away with it. I have asked for clarification on this matter, and will update this post accordingly. I have also asked them to be a lot more specific about what amounts are to be paid, and when. I guess I'd better not hold my breath.
Update 13 February 2007: I finally obtained clarification from the lawyers, after kicking up a fuss and demanding they call me to explain. After all, the email enquiry has been ignored since 2nd November 2007. I'm tempted to mention the name of the law firm, not to mention the estate agents who have been avoiding me.

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