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Property spruikers and investment seminars

Property investment promoters, or spruikers, invite people to their ‘wealth creation’ seminars, often for free, with the promise of investment tips or opportunities. They typically promote a property investment system or market a specific property development.

The seminars are often promoted through letterbox pamphlets, on social media and by email. At the seminars the spruiker may urge you to buy investment courses or materials such as books and DVDs. They may also offer to provide the finance to buy a property or arrange this through a third party.

Property spruikers are motivated to gain money at your expense. Don’t risk your money and assets because of their misleading advice. Always get independent, professional advice before making any investment.  

Be wary of:

  • high pressure sales tactics rushing you into decisions, signing contracts or paying fees (including discounts offered to seminar attendees who sign up on the day)
  • property deals where the spruiker supplies mortgage broking, conveyancing / settlement or tax advice
  • the suggestion the spruiker’s scheme or system is ‘government approved’ by frequent reference to the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) or Australian Securities & Investments Commission (ASIC)
  • spruikers offering personal loans or credit to help you pay the enrolment fees for training courses
  • property investment strategies that put your current home at risk by using the equity to borrow significant money to invest
  • claims of capital growth rates that may not be independent or credible
  • spruikers who side-step questions or downplay the risks and costs involved
  • the promotion of a particular property development as the spruiker may be receiving a commission or have an undisclosed interest in it
  • offers to buy properties interstate that you have not seen, or off-the-plan properties that do not yet exist.

Consumer protection agencies across Australia have found many property spruikers cannot substantiate the success stories and claims of profits they promote.

While the Australian Consumer Law (ACL) prohibits misleading, deceptive and unconscionable conduct, you should not rely on a property spruiker’s advice. Many consumers have had to take legal action to try to recover losses after relying on deceptive claims.

Australian regulators recommend you don’t attend these seminars. If you do go, do your own research and get independent financial and legal advice from licensed professionals (such as lawyers, accountants, financial advisers and real estate agents) with their own professional indemnity insurance. If you’ve been to a seminar where there was no indication goods and/or services would be sold there you may be eligible for a 10 business day cooling-off period for items valued at more than $100. Your right to cancel any commitments made may be extended to six months if you weren’t told about this cooling-off period.

ASIC’s MoneySmart website has more information on its investment seminars page.

Investment schemes

Self-managed superannuation funds

Some spruikers sell information about investing in property using a self-managed superannuation fund (SMSF). While some experienced investors may benefit from this kind of arrangement it is not to be undertaken lightly. Some of the considerations and costs are outlined on ASIC’s SMSFs and property page.

Land banking

Some spruikers promote potentially risky land banking schemes where blocks of land are offered before the land has been approved for development. If the land is not rezoned or approved for development buyers may be left with an unsaleable investment worth less than their original purchase price.

Vendor terms property sales

Spruikers often promote these transactions to buyers and sellers who are unable to obtain bank loans due to their poor credit history or unstable employment record.

The buyer pays a relatively small deposit for the property then must pay the seller the balance of the purchase price in regular instalments. Sellers are effectively locked into an extended settlement period during which the property may increase in value.

A buyer’s name doesn’t go on the property title until the final payment is made. Only then do they have access to the equity their instalments have created in the property. Conversely, a buyer with a mortgage from an authorised lender is likely to have much greater security with the finance offered to them.

Rent-to-buy schemes

Some spruikers encourage seminar attendees to establish rent-to-buy contracts with people unable to get mainstream finance. Be aware it is illegal to facilitate a real estate transaction between third parties without an appropriate licence.

Under a rent-to-buy scheme, the seller makes a rental agreement with the buyer at an above market rent rate. The buyer may only exercise the ‘option to buy’ at the end of the rental period if they can get the finance to pay the balance of the agreed purchase price and have complied with the terms of the contract.

The buyer will typically pay an initial ‘option-to-buy’ fee as well as ongoing option fees which are separate to the rental payments. Even though the ongoing option fees are supposed to reduce the balance of the purchase price they are not likely to be secured in a trust account.

This is a high-risk scheme for buyers because their name only goes on the title of the property when they have purchased the property outright. Some rent-to-buy contracts may indicate the buyer will lose all payments made and have no claim over the property if even a single payment is not made on time.

In addition to rent payments and a fee for the option to purchase, the contracts generally require buyers to pay for costs such as repairs and maintenance, council rates and insurance.

If the seller has a mortgage over the property and fails to keep up their own repayments, their lender may have the right to repossess the property.

A rent-to-buy scheme can also be a high risk for sellers because they are effectively locked into an extended settlement period during which the property may increase in value. Sellers remain legally responsible for the property until the property title is transferred. They may be in breach of tenancy laws if they rely on contracts provided by scheme promoters and they may have to find another buyer for the property if the renters cannot or choose not to buy it after the rental period. If the seller is using the payments to cover their mortgage, they could be left vulnerable if the buyer fails to pay their rent or other fees.

Complaints

Federal, state and territory consumer protection agencies take complaints about property spruikers. The state and territory agencies may also be able to conciliate a resolution: