Many of you may recall seeing holiday deals in travel agents’ windows. When you went in, the deal had invariably gone. You felt lured in under false pretences. I had a similar feeling when trying to find a house to rent.
Attractive properties on letting agents’ websites disappeared over the horizon when I looked into whether they were available. While they weren’t available, might I be interested in something else?
Led up the garden path
To test this further, a Which? researcher phoned an agent in my area, Chancellors, a chain that covers southern England and Wales. She asked about a handful of homes listed on the site as available.
Of those, she was told one was gone and another wasn’t available, but would she like to leave her details? She asked why the properties were still displayed. Because ‘it takes the internet a while to keep up’, she was told. Fair enough if the houses had been let that day. We looked again three days later, and they were still listed as available. And were still listed as such more than a week after our first enquiry.
This feels like dubious advertising. We believe it’s misleading to advertise a property as available to rent when it’s ‘under offer’. As a customer, I feel my wasted time is valued at nothing by these agents.
Chancellors confirmed that one of the two properties in question had an ‘active offer’ on it. The other was available to rent. It said it owed a duty to landlords to continue to advertise properties as available until an agreement was signed. However, it agreed to consider flagging properties as ‘under offer’.
Agents letting us down
My experience isn’t unique. Which? asked 15 people who were looking for a rental property to keep a diary. Among problems noted were misleading or inaccurate photos of properties and out-of-date information on agents’ websites. Some felt these were ploys to get them to sign up.
Other problems included agents failing to turn up for visits or failing to tell existing tenants to expect a visit. Our recent survey found one in five tenants unhappy with their agent. Out of 50 sectors, only financial comparison websites were more disliked.
We’re delighted that all letting agents will be forced to join a redress scheme, which we’ve campaigned for since 2007. Everyone can take action on wasted time and shoddy service at last.
When looking for rental properties, have you found the most attractive places are gone when you enquire about them?