When buying property in Australia, always use a licensed agent. The Real Estate and Business Agents Act imposes obligations and requirements on licensed agents, which protect both buyers and sellers by creating a source of legal redress in the event of error, loss, misrepresentation or negligence. The act protects deposits paid by buyers and prevents conduct which could be misleading or prejudicial to buyers, and is backed by disciplinary procedures and a Fidelity Guarantee Fund. However, the act doesn’t apply to private sales where no agent is involved.
You should check with your state real estate organisation, e.g. the Real Estate Institute of New South Wales, that an agent is a member; a list of state organisations can be found on the website of the Real Estate Institute of Australia (REIA), which is the umbrella organisation for state real estate organisations. In July 2000, the Property Agents and Motor Dealers Act came into force, whereby estate agents are obliged to adhere to a code of conduct (of which you can request a copy) and incur harsher penalties for providing false or misleading information. Estate agents must also have professional indemnity insurance. Clients also have access to a Tribunal and Complaints Fund.
Nevertheless, estate agents are usually contract-bound to act in the best interests of the seller and only act "fairly" with regards to the buyer. Remember it’s their job to obtain the highest price they can for a property, so don’t expect impartial advice if you’re a buyer. If they offer to make a considerable reduction on the advertised price, it probably means that it’s overpriced and has been on their books for a long time.
An estate agent usually tries to get you to view as many properties as possible (irrespective of whether they fit your requirements or price range), as this shows sellers that he’s doing a good job. You should try to sort out the probables from the improbables before making any appointments to view and, if you’re shown properties that don’t meet your specifications, tell the agent immediately. You can also help the agent narrow the field by telling him exactly what’s wrong with the properties you reject.
There’s a multi-listing service in all states, whereby estate agents list properties that are registered with other agents as well as their own. However, some agents may only show you, or at least try to push, properties registered with themselves. (If they sell a property registered with another agent, the two agents split the commission, but if they sell a property registered with themselves, they keep the whole commission.)
Many homes for sale, including those registered with an agent, are ‘open’ at weekends (possibly with a ‘home open’ sign outside), although the total inspection period may be as little as an hour. Otherwise, it’s essential to make an appointment with an owner or agent to inspect a property. It’s possible to inspect Australian properties on the internet from anywhere in the world, as most large estate agents, builders and developers now have websites.