Agent under investigation

SARAH Dougan is still listed as the principal of Belle Property Byron Bay on business networking websites.

But the Sydneysider was recently dumped by the franchise's parent company following the discovery of “a number of discrepancies” in the firm's financial records.

The former principal is being investigated by the NSW Department of Fair Trading. No charges have been laid and Ms Dougan has denied “any intentional wrongdoing”.

Ms Dougan has returned to Sydney and her partly-built home in Skinners Shoot Rd is for sale in a mortgagee auction through McGraths Ballina this Saturday, with a price guide of between $700,000-900,000.

Meanwhile, some people in Byron Bay are wondering what has happened to payments they were expecting from the failed franchise. They will remain in a state of uncertainty pending an outcome of the investigations.

How might such a situation have been avoided?

John Nicolson, the principal of McGrath Byron/Ballina, said finding a good agent was like finding a good operator in any service industry.

“You're reliant on your reputation. Ask around - people who have transacted recently, or who have a friend or family member who has,” he said.

“Solicitors might offer you a short list.”

Stuart Aitken of Ray White Byron Bay agreed it was important to check the agent's pedigree by asking for written testimonials from past buyers and sellers.

“You are looking for agents with good track records, who are experienced in selling your type of property and have a good knowledge of the local area,” Mr Aitken said.

He recommended meeting the agent before deciding.

“An important thing to consider is whether you like them. Make sure you choose someone who you can get on with,” Mr Aitken said.

“Over-inflated valuations are a sure warning sign.”

“Compare the valuationsgiven to you by different agents. Be very wary of inflated valuation figures and agents telling you what you want to hear.”

Brad Dicinoski of Evans Head First National agreed a “significant difference” in an agent's valuation should ring alarm bells. He also said people should look for an agent with a long history in the area.

“If someone has been in a town for 10 or 15 years and has a sound track record, you can be pretty certain they're going to have a sound track record and do things by the book,” Mr Dicinoski said.

The same point was made by Owen Lynn, the principal of Professionals Real Estate Byron Bay.

Mr Lynn added agents who were more concerned with advertising themselves than the property they were selling should be avoided.

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