/ Home & Energy, Money

Are estate agents getting a bad rap?

Estate agent window

Let’s face it, estate agents are never going to win a popularity contest. But with the housing market heating up, many will have to get used to dealing with estate agents – love them or loathe them.

Having to deal with estate agents is often referenced as one of the main frustrations of buying or selling a house.

It’s fair to say they have a reputation for stretching the truth with their sales patter. But there have also been concerns that some are going further than telling a few white lies and are being downright dishonest.

Estate agent nightmares

For example, when Channel 4’s Dispatches recently went undercover into a number of well-known estate agents they found one agent (incorrectly) claiming that they had the exclusive right to promote the government’s Help to Buy scheme. Others were found telling buyers that they would get priority viewing, or that a property would be removed from the market if they agreed to use the in-house mortgage broker. This runs completely contrary to the law which dictates estate agents cannot discriminate, or threaten to discriminate, against buyers who don’t use services they offer.

And then there are the fees – typically 1.5% of the value of the property being sold, plus VAT. That’s more than £4,000 on the average UK property (£225,000 in December 2013). Are they worth the cost? In the context of a transaction worth £100,000s, a couple of thousand pounds may not sound like much, but in almost any other situation a bill of this size would probably seem pretty extreme.

Getting a bad rap

Are these grumbles justified? After all estate agents are performing a valuable service: offering an understanding of the local property market; helping you make the most of the property; selling its best features; and dealing with all the queries from potential buyers, to name just a few things. It’s also worth mentioning that when the Office of Fair Trading investigated the estate agent market a few years ago they found that only 12% of people were dissatisfied with the service they received.

But we’re interested in hearing your experiences of using an estate agent – either as a buyer or a seller. Have you felt pressured into using their in-house services? Have you felt the sharp end of other poor practice from estate agents?

Moysie says:
3 March 2014

I never use land based estate agents any longer, but use online agents and the only difference is the fees. I’ve used both so please don’t start emailing about how online agents can’t give you that personal touch and don’t know the local market.

I called an estate agent about three years ago and asked why their fee was so high. He told me that they had to work much harder in the current market. When I asked why then their fees were n’t less during the property boom, he had no answer.

ND says:
4 March 2014

What do they mean ONLY 12% weren’t satisfied with the service they received – that’s unacceptably high proportion!!! If my clients weren’t happy with my work 12% of the time I’d be sacked!!!

When I was house hunting about 30 years ago I bought a copy of a Which? book on buying and selling houses, and looked at adverts in the local paper. I also drove around the area where I was interested in buying a house. At that time, private sales were quite common and it was evident that both private advertisements and notices in house windows were working well.

Over the years I have seen the number of private sales decline locally and more estate agents’ notices appear. That was happening before most estate agents were making use of websites to advertise properties.

Anyone who grudges paying estate agents’ fees could always try selling or buying privately and if they are unsuccessful they might be happier about paying to do the job for them. It would be interesting to hear the experiences of anyone who has tried both approaches.

To Annabel . . .

I took up your suggestion (02/03/2014 @ 4:46 pm) to have a look at your firm’s website and I can honestly say that it is certainly one of the best estate agent’s sites that I have ever seen. I looked at random at a large number of the properties you are marketing in all price brackets and I was impressed with each example. The pictures are as good as you get – they give a much better idea of each room than many agents’ efforts The floor plans are excellent, the garden plans are just what we want [including the compass points and showing where any outbuildings are in relation to the house], and the brochures are very well designed and composed. I must say also that I did not see a single property that was not presented to a very high standard – there must be a really high level of pride in the home in your part of the country [or you must be giving your clients lots of help and support with the presentation].

Thank you so much for your kind words, we refuse to compromise on quality and guide our clients through the presentation of their properties. One of our listers has even been known to iron curtains for the client! If our director isn’t happy with anything we have produced then its straight back to take them again! We have won awards at the estate agents of the year awards for 8 years running, this encourages us to keep on reinventing ourselves, we will not compromise on fees as obviously this all costs money, so unfortunately we do lose instructions to agents who promise the earth for 0.0002%!! They cannot compete on quality and the clients invariably come back to us! We can launch a property live on the Internet within a half an hour of a measure up and one I measured up today was matched to over a hundred applicants within an hour! Our software enables a very proactive service! As u can probably tell I am passionate about what we do!

Very impressed too and pleased to see you , despite very high service values, are still making profit to stay in business.

The only caveat I have is a plan normally comes with some scale so I would suggest widthe of plot and depth in the garden as an improvement …. minor but as you like to keep improving ; )

wolfman says:
14 August 2014

I recently had a really bad experience with an Estate Agent, they put extreme pressure on us to use their inhouse services, to a point that we “lost” the purchase as they refused to complete the sale detail proforma unless we did (they used the “the vendor insists” line to try and get round the rules). The agent was so bad that we will never use them again, if their name is on the board we won’t view, unless we can get in without them knowing, we had the manager shouting down the phone to me, telling us how good she was and how she knew her job, when challenged about the vendors insistance on us using their in house mortgage and conveyencing services she blew her top screaming “i’m not a liar, I know my job i’m good at my job etc. I made a complaint to the TPO, the house strangely came back to the market and we made the purchase using our own financial services etc. and saved around £1500. Recently some of our complaint was upheld by the TPO and we were awarded a small fee and this took around 11 months from our original complaint to the Agent, you have to exhaust their in house grievance procedure first. The TPO is not what you might think it is very Agent biased and their is a conflict of interest as the Agent is paying the membership fee, the TPO is there to help the Agent comply with the act and their own code of practice, if they choose to sgn up for that also.
We had made it clear from the outset we would not need the Agents in house services and even explained why (bad experience in the past with the conveyaning firm they use, and financial services were available without the agents extra fee, I believe they saw this as a challenge and were determined beyond any reasoning to force us to use their services, unfortunately it is difficult to document abuse by an agent, therefor the only things that the tpo upheld were written down stuff and the agent did not write the abuse down on paper, for obvious reasons I will not name them, however they are big in the Peterborough area and strangely linked to another agent in Peterborough area, a search of bad agents will probably reveal them, to all perspective sellers and buyers beware the agent offering “£1000 cash back” it really doesn’t exist, if you use the conveyancers they will add all sorts of extras including a fee for exchange and completion within 5 days! they will forget to exchange on time in order for that to happen! Speak to people about their own experiences you will soon see a picture forming.

Jane Carr says:
14 August 2014

Country Properties Welwyn Garden City advised us to market our house at £400k. We agreed to put it on at £375k because we wanted a quick sale although still felt this was too high. They said if we only wanted to achieve £365k they would sell it within 48 hours. This was when the market was very hot in early May. We subsequently reduced it to £325k and eventually accepted £310k. We think they provided exceptionally poor advice and if it had been priced correctly we may have achieved nearer to £325k when the market was at its peak. This along with precious little service to see the sale through led us to ask for a reduction in fees. They declined to acknowledge any shortcomings on their part and said the sale had proceeded smoothly, however we did all the chasing while they did precious little. They answered our challenge with breathtaking arrogance and are a classic example of why people have such a poor opinion with the estate agent trade. We would definitely not recommend them to anyone.

Jane Carr says:
1 August 2015

We were so exasperated about this we took our complaint to The Property Ombudsman on principle. It took 9 months to get an outcome but our complaint was upheld in part although the amount of the award was only £100 which was paid promptly by Country Properties Welwyn Garden City. We did however feel vindicated that it was right to make a complaint.

I regularly go out to market appraisals with comparable evidence of sold house prices ,(information a surveyor will use to put his valuation at survey stage) only to be told by a vendor that another agent has put an unrealisticly high valuation on the property (with no compatible evidence provided), they love my companies product but feel they have to go for the higher valuation, I always say that they should come on with us at the higher price and have a four week plan, so the properties listed price is re-evaluated after this time scale. It just makes me so frustrated that vendors still fall for this ploy by some agents who over value!

Anne says:
15 July 2015

[Hi, this comment has been removed as it was in breach of our commenting guidelines. Thanks, mods]

I don’t agree that agents are performing a valuable service! They would if there were laws to stop them acting with complete impunity!!! And there was proper protection for buyers and tenants! Usually only house sales are talked about but tenancies are even more shocking! I am a tenant who has lived in a nightmare for 4 years, 4 houses, 4 different agencies in England and Wales!!!

The latest property has been missold to us on three accounts: The photo showed two garages, our requirements were clear, either a garage or storage. When we viewed the property we were told that the landlady wanted to keep one garage, We agreed but were very surprised, the other garage was shown to us, full to the brim and so dirty… it hadn’t been cleaned for decades, while the house was rented out before. We were told that the stuff belonged to the previous tenants and the garage would be delivered clean and empty, part of the ongoing works in the house. In the end when we receive the key nothing had been done and it was a huge fight to get it emptied. My husband had to spend 3 hours cleaning it because they refused. We had a lot of problems in the few months we have been here but second major problem, Bindweed in the garden. Very invasive, no one ever told us about it. Again, we would have never taken the property!!! After a big fight a gardener now comes to clear it. Worst problem, despite us having been very clear about the need for a quiet location, preferably a cul-de-sac, we are under the flying path of low flying aircrafts, sometimes 13 hours a day!!!! During the night too! But we are in a cul-de-sac!!!! The agency accepts no responsibility. neither does the landlady!!! This has wrecked our work and our marriage! We would have not taken the house in any of the three accounts! Expensive house too! Tenants have no rights!