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Sizing up FNB’S nav>> service for homeowners

Estate agents need not feel threatened by FNB’s nav>> says legal expert John Gilchrist.

Many estate agents raised concerns about First National Bank’s recently promoted online service to homeowners wishing to sell their homes, feeling it is an intrusion into their industry. Legal expert John Gilchrist takes a look at the issues and concerns raised.

FNB’s latest online service, the nav>> assists the banks customers with finding buyers for their properties without engaging estate agencies or paying an agent any commission. Following the bank’s announcement of the new service, many estate agents had questions such as what the role of the bank would be in the technicalities of the sale? Will the bank become involved if one of the parties to the sale commits fraud? Will it assist the parties if a dispute arises over a property listed on its website?

What FNB is actually offering to its customers

FNB is not trying to be a role player in the industry though it is offering its services as a means of sidestepping agencies and other role players. Its intentions are to operate entirely within the law and simply to assist sellers to do their sales privately. It is not a broadly-based system with easy access to its facilities on its website, however. It is open only to its customers who have FNB home loans registered as mortgage bonds over their properties and who also have qualifying accounts and have downloaded  and activated the FNB or RMB Private Banking Apps. The downloading service is available on its nav>> facility.

It also offers its Secure Chat service to its sellers and buyers. Jolandé Duvenage, nav>>’s Chief Imagineer at FNB, says that through this solution, they can ‘engage, arrange to view a listed property, and negotiate the price.’ They can also offer personal information to each other as well. No pictures of the home, however, can be sent using this service and only primary account holders can use it who additionally have the authority to mandate bankers to perform transactions on their behalf. The accessibility of the service does not appear as broadly-based as Duvenage suggests.

What are the benefits of the service?

FNB’s inhouse service does allow the listing of its customers’ homes for sale through nav>> and potential buyers can gain easy access to these. Included in FNB’s services are a free instant value estimate and other sources helping both sellers and buyers to accurately assess the current market value of their properties. FNB also offers the very valuable service of giving a pre-approval of a loan, namely the maximum amount it will lend to one of its buyer-customers. This helps to assure the seller of the extent of the buyer’s ability to get the required loan for the sale. All these facilities are, however, purely supplementary and supportive. FNB will not become involved in the actual sale and transfer of the property.

What are its shortcomings and weaknesses?

By sidestepping estate agencies, property sellers lose all the benefits they acquire in what is often a tricky property sale venture. Agents will generally freely become involved in sorting out problems and defaults by either party and will assist to ensure that electrical certificates, etc, will be acquired. FNB’s system does not appear to offer any of these services and their property sellers will be running risks trying to assume the role of estate agents themselves in finalising their sales. Estate agents are also far more experienced in determining proper selling prices and in general marketing of properties for sale to the public at large.

FNB says, in one of its advice services, ‘You can buy a run of the mill sale agreement from a leading news outlet, so long as you have a clear understanding of the specific information required.’ This is poor advice – those deed of sale agreements are very simple and have no room for the many extra clauses needed in many sale contracts. Private sellers also invariably do not know how to compile these contracts and all too often fatal defects exist in the final signed contract. A proper sale agreement must be drawn by a conveyancer.

Other websites have also shown up some glaring weaknesses in the actual operation of FNB’s services. Speaking of FNB Secure Chat service on the My Broadband website, one seller complained: ‘Is it just me or does it not work? I tried yesterday and it told me I’m in a long queue and then I waited for hours and not getting any replies. Trying again today and it’s the same thing. I’ll type something now and then so that I stay logged in but nobody ever replies.’ Another customer lodged a similar complaint on the Hellopeter website: ‘I have tried several times to apply for a home loan using the nav>> Home function on the FNB app. Alas, it is useless. It either kicks you out, or only once you have entered your entire pedigree tells you that the system is not available. Worse is that it does not save any of your info, so you have to start all over again.’

If this continues estate agencies can take a breather – the bank’s property sellers will soon be knocking on their doors again.

About the author: John Gilchrist is the director of Property Law Publications.

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