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Are estate agents really that bad?

Estate agent offering keys

New research shows that complaints against estate agents are at their highest levels ever. We just don’t seem to like or trust them – but do estate agents really deserve their poor reputation?

It may be the Minis with logos splashed all over them. It could be the over-enthusiasm when you first meet one. And it could be the extraordinarily high fees that some charge to sell your home. Despite the fact they’re not actually selling your home – you are.

No matter what it is, people just don’t seem to like estate agents. Talk to almost anyone selling, buying, letting or renting a home and they’ll have a story about an agent – and few of those tales will have a happy ending.

We don’t trust estate agents

A poll released last year showed that estate agents ranked fifth on a scale of professions the public doesn’t trust – just below politicians, bankers, journalists and car salesmen.

More tellingly, figures released by the Property Ombudsman state that the number of complaints against agents was ‘unacceptably high’ with record levels of disputes during 2010.

The Ombudsman received 1,338 new referrals against property professionals – that’s 28% higher than the previous peak recorded in 2008.

The problem is that in a time-poor, property-obsessed society, estate agents are pretty much a necessary evil. It is very possible to market and sell your house yourself, but while this will save you a fortune in fees, it’s also time-consuming and you need a certain level of online savvy.

They’re a necessary evil

Estate agents should be professional salespeople who serve a useful function – they are there to make money for themselves but also to get the best price for your home. They are the middlemen (and women) in a stress-filled marketplace that’s fraught with problems.

However, too many are letting their profession down. And, ultimately, that’s why their reputation has suffered.

So what do you think? Are estate agents noble property barterers trying to keep the wheels of the property market rolling, or sharp-suited profiteers who are after a quick buck?

Fat Sam, Glos says:
17 March 2011

Yes, they are. Money for old rope is their industry’s slogan. If I ever had to move, I wouldn’t use a high street agent unless they can prove they’re worth their exorbitant fee (so, unlikely then). Where else do you pay that much and receive that level of poor service?


The problem with estate agents (I think) is that if they are great (get a good price for your house, help you find a house without driving you up the wall) then they are essentially just doing their job. But if they are bad they can ruin so many crucially important things. And the way they are incentivised does not always benefit their customers – the people whose houses they are selling.

A certain estate agent (will remain nameless) sold me my flat, but only after misleading me and accepting a lower offer than mine. When I found out and marched down there I found out it was because the other buyer was willing to get a mortgage through their broker and was also willing to use their solicitor. So although they were selling the flat for less money (and ripping off the seller) the agent would get more commission from the mortgage company and the solicitor than they would from the sale.

On the other hand, there’s a lovely estate agent in East London who rented me property a few years ago and was friendly and sweet and helpful. He got workmen round as soon as there was a problem with anything, occasionally fixed things himself, and even donned a pair of gloves and spent a whole day helping me load unwanted furniture into a skip when I moved in.

Zoe says:
17 March 2011

I’m wary of generalisations, so I’m not happy with the question. I’ve met dreadful estate agents who would rip off their grandmothers, and excellent ones who couldn’t do enough for you. I’ve moved house 10 times in thirty years, so I do have wide experience. The last one I used was brilliant – kept me informed, kept his word, and couldn’t have tried harder. He was a local guy, whereas the one from a national chain was frankly, a bit of a crook. Even my solicitor agreed with that assessment!


Hi Zoe. That’s a very good point. Just as in any profession, there are good ones and bad ones. I’ve used numerous estate agents in my time and some (though not the majority) have been excellent. But the number of complaints is definitely unacceptable and any time you read a survey about least trusted professions, estate agents feature pretty high up the table. Considering they are dealing with your most prized possession (unless you happen to own a very expensive car), they really need to be beyond reproach.


My experience of estate agents selling property in the past has been pretty positive. It’s letting agents that I think we should really turn our fire on – far too many of them just want to get you signed up and pocket their fee. If things go wrong in the property once you’ve moved in, they simply don’t want to know. Of all the professional services I’ve ever used, the letting agency industry is by far the worst, both in its lack of service and its complete indifference to its customers’ needs and complaints.


Any industry that pays the majority of a salary as commission is likely to be unpopular with the majority of consumers, as they are likely to only have they’re own pay check in mind.

Nigel Whitfield says:
18 March 2011

I’ve only bought the one house, but my mother also moved last year. And I can’t help noticing that the commission rates haven’t changed a massive amount in the last 20 years or so.

Two things that have changed, however, are house prices and technology.

House prices have increased massively; but even if the commission today was half what it was 20 years ago (and it doesn’t seem to be), in many cases the estate agents would still be getting twice as much money for selling the same property – often more than that.

Meanwhile, they no longer have to rely on expensive photographic prints; they can knock up full colour details of properties more cheaply than ever on an office printer. They can showcase more properties than they could ever fit in expensive local newspaper ads to a larger audience, for less money, via their website.

It’s no wonder that they have all that money to spend on flash cars with custom paint jobs, or that when my mother completed on her house, the estate agent gave her a bottle of wine.

Their costs have gone down, and their prices have rocketed along with the housing market.

They’ve always had a poor reputation; is it any wonder it’s sunk lower when anyone who’s been around for a while can see that they’re doing not much more work, for a lot more money?


“the estate agent gave her a bottle of wine.” How dare they!!!


I’m an estate agent and would agree entirely that some are horrendous and some are great. My background is running a law firm and we used to hear so many conveyancing clients, buyers and sellers, seriously upset about the way agents dealt with them, that we decided there had to be room in the market for a seriously friendly, professional, fairly priced, honest and transparent estate agency in our region (Hull and East Yorkshire) so we set one up and we’re loving it. I always enjoy seeing the cowboys revealed (e.g. Mary Portas on estate agents) as in time it will hopefully mean more business for us and it just keeps me going, reminding me why we went into it in the first place. The letters of thanks from sellers and buyers alike help too!!