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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?

Comments
Guest
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?

Guest

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.

Guest
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!

Guest

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.

Guest

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.

Guest

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.

Guest
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?

Guest

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

Guest

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!!

Guest

Ditto in relation to our lettings and management service too!!

Guest
Patrick Crean says:
7 April 2011

I agree that estate agents still do have a bad reputation, and I know that is generalising, but it’s true. In my opinion, estate agents services are just overpriced advertising. I have’nt been that impressed with agents I’ve used in the past, and would sell my own property next time. I’m aware of a new company, Homesalebureau.com, that will give you the tools to sell your own property for £250 inc. vat. There is quite an entertaining video that runs on their site, which explains the concept, and is worth looking at.

Guest
HomeSaleBureau says:
28 June 2012

Thanks for mentioning us Patrick, our charge is a flat fee of £450 which is inclusive of VAT. No hidden extras and we provide you with everything you need to sell your home. We’re glad you enjoyed our video! We think it’s great too!

[This comment has been edited as we don’t allow company self promotion. Thanks, mods.]

Guest
Bill Hastie says:
6 May 2011

Anyone had problems after taking their flat/house off the market (1 viewer in 9 months) and then receiving a penalty fee for doing so (£450 + vat in my case). Penalty fee was never raised/mentioned at any time but is obscurely hidden at the bottom of page 3 in signed contract.
This fee seems to apply no matter what amount of effort is put in or what level of service is provided.
Is this fair.

Guest

sadly that’s the way many agents operate as it can deter people from moving agents and yet they are not open about these withdrawal fees at the outset. when I take instructions from sellers, i tell them that if they withdraw within the 1st 12 weeks they have to pay us an admin fee of £125 plus VAT to cover our time/costs which in effect have been wasted. Other than that, we not charge any withdrawal fees.

Guest
Helen says:
22 July 2011

Hello Bill, yes my house is on the market with Haarts and I was never told of these fees either until some stranger knocked on my door and told my husband what Haarts had done to him! I’m still with Haarts even though 4 and a half months on they still have not sold my house I’m also with another agent who do not do these fees. I’ve had enough now and tempted to go and see Haarts manageress to complain as the service I have been through is diabolical and at the end of the day they are supposed to sell my house…..

Guest
Tryingtotakemymoney says:
25 May 2011

“I thought I had faith with this Agent (ROFLE EAST) as established in my area. Put down over a thousand pounds deposit as security against a possible rental. Nethertheless things did not go to plan and no paperwork, contract, terms & conditions or receipt was issued. Requested the deposit back but was given waffle and confusion as to why they were keeping it. They were not even aware the difference between a HOLDING DEPOSIT & A SECURITY DEPOSIT.Made complaint to H.O. – NO REPSONSE…!, – Kept asking for deposit back and got one load of Bull after another. Having now to persue through the Courts – PLEASE BEWARE, I think these are NOT PROFESSIONALS and give the industry a very bad name.”

[Hi Tryingtotakemymoney, we’ve slightly edited your comment as some parts were potentially libellous – mods]

Guest
Andrew says:
17 August 2011

Am I alone in despising estate agents or do they treat everyone as badly?

Basically we have had our house on the market for a couple of months and we are now getting phone calls and cold callers from agents promising to sell our house in a few weeks. I have told them we are not interested in changing agents but the calls and visits keep coming. One in particular (who will remain nameless) has not only phoned, but has sent us a letter making an appointment to see us, and even turned up for that appointment when we specifically rang up and asked them not to.
Surely there must be law or code of conduct that these people should adhere to?

Guest
Helen says:
4 March 2012

At the age of 40 I became an estate agent after being a medical secretary. Now I am an agent I have wondered what all the fuss is about with estate agents. The hours are long and you are running up and down stairs all day – extremely fast paced and highly pressured environment with numerous negotiations throughout a sale makes me think the pay isn’t enough. Also one would be crazy to sell their own property as without bidding wars and an agent to prevent buyers pulling out or gazundering one would lose money on their own sale. We are on the vendor’s side we want to sell their property as much as they do and the only reason for a property not selling is the price is too high.Vendor’s usually choose an agent to instruct based on the highest asking price an agent suggests. Chicken and egg situation. Then after numerous viewings and no sale – the agent is blamed! However it is our job to bring reality to the situation and we do but then it is up to vendor’s to really take this on board and give up the ideal of getting an unrealistic price for their properties. I love the job with it’s variety and involvement with the public but I do feel I give 80% of my life to it and it’s annoying to be in the league of a traffic warden when I feel so committed. With regards to our fee’s it is such a competitive market with agents seen above buying bottles of wine to woo the vendor’s of the future that a lot of advertising and work goes into properties that don’t sell and the fees cover those expenses. Many agencies disappeared in the recession so it’s a business like any other.

Guest
Andy McGhee says:
16 May 2012

Helen
We used a supposedly well reputed estate agent to sell our property two years ago and we were seriously gazundered, poor performance by the agent who accepted absolutely no responsibility in the whole matter and who then after we complained wrote to us and told us ‘ to get off our moral high horse’ (exact words). Went to the ombudsman who did fine the agent, albeit a small ammount. I’m sorry but i just don’t see the industry of buying and selling houses as a profession. No professional would be allowed to get away with such disgracefull comments to a bonefide customers complaint. No professional body would permit such behaviour.
The system does need to be changed – it is ridiculous. Next house sale i will do myself, half an ounce of intelligence and half the fee. 1.5% to 2% of the value of a house. You can get a lot of advertising for £10,000 and if i’m showing the clients around myself (as i had to do on a couple of occasions) at least i control what is said to them.
Paying a poorly educated non professional agent to drive around in a fancy car does tend to stick in the craw a bit.

Guest
Helen says:
3 May 2012

Last July I posted about a problem I was having with Haarts Estate Agents. Since then we were given back our cheque for £150.00 and they were going to change their policy on their charges- A result.
We have also been through two more estate agents and two failed sales because of communication between solicitors and estate agents letting me know only what I need to know and consequently leading to a failed sale….I’m furious that these so called managers of estate agents appear to think they know better than you about selling your house and have made mistakes after mistakes at my expence.
My life and that of my husbands have been put on hold since Christmas 2011 .I have handed in my notice as we thought change of contracts were going to happen end of March….BIG MISTAKE!
We then after TWO weeks waiting found out our buyers buyer was unable to secure her job! I was fuming, how can mortgage lenders and estate agents allow this to happen?? We then had to put our house back on the market and now waiting that our third 1st time buyer goes through the process with little problems…I hold my breath! The moral of this story- DON’T TRUST AN ESTATE AGENT,THEY ONLY RIP YOU OFF!

Guest
Andy McGhee says:
16 May 2012

May i just chuck in my observation into the ring. Estate agents are most definitely not professionals. Professionals are bound by an institution that administers the standards of that said profession. A Doctor a Lawyer an Accountant and Engineer in order to use their title of Solictor, Barrister, Chartered Engineer, Auditor etc all must satisfy their said professional body that they have achieved some industry regognised level of ‘professionalism’ and all are bound by certain rules and regulations of conduct and performance.
Ah hah i hear soomeone say. We have the property ombudsman. The ombudsmand has no power to administer punitive fines against poor performance, neither can they stop someone operating as an estate agent. Anyone with a bronze swimming certificate, white socks and slip on shoes can rent a corner newsagents and stick up a few photos of houses and call themselves a ‘Professional’ estate agent. They are not professionals any more than a dustman is a refuse engineer or a bookie a turf accountant.
Estate agents are the only people i know who are trusted by the unsuspecting public to supposedly sell your house and are trusted with the negotiations where they have absolutely no responsibility and accept no liability for loosing you money and to boot they have a massive conflict of interest, can say and do what they will in front of your purchaser ( ‘i’m sure they’ll take a little less’) and we being gullible saps let them – the whole system of buying and selling a house is bizarre and archaic and rigged for estate agents to fleece the market.
Unprofessional, ill educated, non qualified, self interested and self agrandisinig bunch of carpet bagers. Do not trust them!

Guest
ChantelR says:
5 July 2012

I have just had a bad experience with a rude estate agent and you will not believe that a so-called director of a company would speak to a prospective buyer in such a way.

I dealt with EmoveUK and the “lovely” director Beth Rodwell. I emailed them querying putting an offer in on a property that was already “under offer.” I was instructed that if I moved quickly I may have a chance. So I thought.. hey ho worth a shot. I’m 4 months pregnant and desperate for a new home so I asked for a viewing, no reply…I had to chase them several times for a reply to which they said the seller was away till the end of June. (This was the 9th June) I waited and then emailed them. No reply so I emailed them again “Still no reply, should I contact the seller direct as you are no help at all.”

Then the reply came straight away from the lovely director “I don’t think there is a need for your attitude” and then further rude obnoxious emails stating that I was “throwing my toys out of my pram!” because I complained about her response and bad customer service. I do not think any customer deserves that response.

I will be writing a letter to the seller so that he knows that I stated my interest a long time ago, as I suspect that he has not been informed. I think he could have made an extra £8k on his property. I also think this happens quite a frequently with estate agents not following up/ignoring leads.

Its a blessing that the property has now been sold STC and even if his sale does not go through I would not dream of dealing with eMoveUK ever again.

This company is obviously a one man band and extremely unprofessional in my view!

[This comment has been slightly edited for legal reasons. Thanks, mods]

Guest
TinaM says:
10 July 2016

Unfortunately we tried to sell through emove UK and although Beth was working under the name of Hannah, it was Beth – I am still shocked and annoyed that I was taken in by her and she has my money!!
She was RUDE!!!!!
I cannot find emoveuk now….anybody had any joy with getting money back from her? Thanks, Tina,

Guest

If you are in the process of selling or buying a house it’s really worth looking at two other Conversations on here called “Are estate agents deliberately overvaluing properties?” and “How would you value estate agents?”.

Guest

Yes some estate agents really are bad.I am due in court over a commission claim and the agent a member of the NAEA states they dont have to comply with the NAEA regulations it is all a farce and needs proper regulation

Guest

Having recently had a very bad experience with a local well known Estate Agent, and after many hours of work in writhing many letters of complaint to the so called regulatory bodies, I can only come to the conclusion that they are all in it together, because even though the Estate Agent, had been found to have broken several of the regulatory regulations, I was only awarded the measly sum of £200, and a letter of apology by the Agent.Therefore, my advice to anyone, is to avoid Estate Agents at all costs and sell your own home, I have done this several times and will never use an Estate again as long as I live. Since their dishonesty in my experience, is beyond belief.

Guest

The latest scam by agents is to advertise a property with a “homewise” price in large type, with the real price (£150,000 more!) in smaller type later on in the advert. Apparently these homewise prices apply to those over 60, and involve some kind of equity withdrawal scheme. This company is based in Worthing, and may well be worth investigating by Which?

Guest

What gets me is when they charge full whack for a house they know they can sell with little or no effort. If you know you live in a desirable location or the catchment area of a good school, you should consider going it a lone. Perhaps use a site to list your house for free and judge the market. You can always bring in an estate agent when you are good and ready… if you really want to!

[This commented has been edited to align with Which? Conversation guidelines]

Guest
Hannah cooke says:
15 October 2014

Just in case anyone has sold their flat to a buyer who is using the home wise scheme – DON’T DO IT. I cannot speak for their home equity release side of the business, but I will share my experience to give you an idea of how this ‘business’ works and in my opinion, what bunch of liars this lot are.

I was offered a great price for my flat in June – was put under quite a lot of pressure by the pushy negotiator who insisted that they could close the sale and complete in 6 weeks, as this was a cash purchase with no chain.

‘Great’ I thought – hassle free chain free fast sale, just what I wanted.

LIE 1…….

After wondering when the surveys etc would take place and after a but of badgering a month later as to why we hadn’t heard anything, it turns out that the ‘cash sale’ is in fact being funded by the sale of buyers property. I don’t know which planet that constitutes a cash sale!

Now, I think I should have walked away at this point as I’ve clearly been mislead, but at the same time, the high offer was still very appealing, and was higher than I was likely to get from another buyer, so decided to hang in there, albeit with a question mark on the morals of Homewise to blatantly lie in writing about the cash sale/ chain situation.

LIE 2
We get to august – past the 6 week completion date, and I find out no legals have been issued yet. Cue panic, moany phone calls etc. Finally come September all legals completed bar a few nitpicky bits which seemed to be raised purely for the purpose of holding things up. What part of this is in line with the 6 week completion date?

Lie 3
Finally lose my rag in October, as after being told for 3 weeks that we would be ready to exchange ‘next week’ we find out NOT from homewise, but from the agent down the chain – i.e. people buying homewise customers property that he is no longer continuing with the sale of his property, nor the purchase of mine. So looks like they had no intention of bothering to tell us that the sale had fallen through.

So in conclusion, what started in June and should have been done and dusted by late august latest has been dragged on and on, and eventually ended in a chain collapse for 5 people.

Don’t risk selling your property to anyone using homewise, they will lie to your face to get your property and then cease communication as soon as an issue arises.

Doesn’t say much for how they do business, and is not a surprise that they are not selling a registered product via their ‘Equity release’ wing.

Scam artists through and through, don’t waste your time on these clowns.

Guest
S holliman says:
22 July 2015

We instructed an estate agent to sell our house at the beginning of June. It started off good but soon deteriorated. We were not getting any feedback for up to 2 days after the viewings and one viewing with one adviser from the Estate agents wouldn’t show prospective buyers the garden because she had the wrong shoes on! We feed this back to the agents and said is was unacceptable and should be prepared for this kind of thing. Then the viewings slowed down. We asked what was wrong with our house and to generally get some advice from their point of view. We had the Branch Manager come for a meeting with us to discuss an she acknowledged that our pictures and details on the particulars was incorrect and in one case our Workshop was completely missed off the details.. He suggested a plan and we said we would like to think about it and then contact him back about it. But when we called and left a message for him to say we would like to proceed we never heard from him for 4days in that time they had removed our house from the website. We raised an official complaint to their head office and they acknowledged by letter and email but since then it’s gone silent.
We then had a call from the Branch ?Manager who then proceeded to tell us that he won’t terminate our request to stay with them or even entertain the idea of multiagency and even if we remove our property from sale we cannot put it on with another agent for 20 weeks which at the initial start we were told 12weeks. My husband is going down to the offices today in person for a second time to try and resolve or at least get a reasonable answer from them on how to proceed or get our house keys back at which they are reluctant to hand over.? They are our property! We are now suffering a great deal of stress and upset over these agents and we cannot even go with another agent who is at present, trying to help us by offering advice on how to proceed. My husband will try and talk to them again today and see what happens.
Is there any advice that Which can offer us to try and resolve this horrendous experience?

Guest

Estate agents don’t get their fees until after completion of the sale so they are desperate to protect their commission by having long tie-ins for sole agency and no quick escape clauses if the sale drags for any reason. This state of affairs is bad enough, but when it is accompanied by an inflated valuation, or misleading statements on the saleability of the property or on the ‘readiness’ of a prospective buyer, it becomes almost unmanageable for the seller because there is more going on out of sight to do with the negotiator’s bonus, the branch’s sales performance, an invisible chain of interconnected sales behind the immediate prospective purchaser, potential mortgage and insurance sales commissions, and possible cosy deals with buy-to-let investors [on which the agency can look forward to future management fee income].

The whole process can be far from transparent and although agents are under a duty of care to their instructing sellers it is hard to avoid the conclusion that sometimes they are acting on both sides of the fence. The law requires an agent to declare if there is a conflict of interest [possibly because another member of the firm is involved] but compliance with these rules is frequently done in a virtually incomprehensible manner so it goes unchecked. It is almost impossible to find out from the internet what the terms of business and commission levels of the agents in a district are so it is vital to see them in their offices and get all relevant information about their sales process and meet the actual staff who will be handling the sale. Bear in mind that before an agent can sell the property he or she has to “sell” their firm to the seller of the property so there are two types of sales technique going on during that first interview. Personally, I would only instruct an agent with a lengthy track record in the district, seek the opinion of my solicitor/conveyancer [who deals with many different agents all the time], and who has a substantial street presence with real bricks and mortar with an active approach to marketing through several media. Estate agents’ adverts in local newspapers probably don’t sell many properties these days and they are more about recognition and presence in the market place, but tracking the adverts over a period of weeks before choosing an agent will show up which firms are really on the ball and working conscientiously for their sellers; those that stuff the pages with unsold properties or are constantly promoting ‘new’ [i.e. lower] prices for the same old stock should be regarded with caution. It’s also worth pretending to be a buyer and seeing how you get treated, and the quality of service and response that they provide.

I have no experience of dealing with on-line agencies and at the moment there is very little objective information about their performance. In the four years since this Conversation was started there have been seismic shifts in the property market and the conditions affecting it, and on-line agencies and new marketing platforms are appearing all the time. They all say they have the fullest market penetration and universal expertise but we know that can’t be true, so it is advisable to tread warily and not be lured by the unrealistic hyping of valuations, exaggeration of the selling potential, and optimistic market forecasts presented in a pseudo-scientific style. The problem is that once you have signed the terms of business you are stuck for a lengthy period. If I could change anything as a priority it would be the long exclusivity terms which are not equally balanced between the interests of the seller and the agent.

Guest
Deen Jones says:
17 August 2016

Estate agents are leeches who do nothing and blame anyone, only to come out of the situation caused by their incompetence! I worked as a supervisor in a company for residential services, many times agents accused our workers incompetence because of problems in houses / apartments arising from old age. In one case – the estate agent charge 800 GBP previous tenants for old carpets /over 5 years old/ damaged by natural wear and tear, the tenants had lived 1 year in the house, this is ridiculous! Another case – whole bathroom is in mould, ruined paint, damaged by limescale shower head /cheap new is 5-6 gbp in store/ and again – our workers are unproffecionals because they couldn’t restore it with cleaning! The bathroom and the whole property is crying for refurbishment and decorating but the estate agents have different opinion!
Not so dear “estate agents” – you are entrusted you to care for them, not only to dispose like a boss and wondering how to lie, to steal a deposit to someone, and not to invest and 1p in any houses. If you think that is not your job to make something for your customers – may be is not the right job for you!

Guest

haart is the most worst !!!!
they so crafty and give wromg wrong information, there is no communication.

Guest

Are you speaking as a seller, or buyer, or landlord, or tenant, Rev?

Guest
Mrred says:
25 February 2017

I signed up with EA1 as sole because my offer was accepted on a property they were selling. This was on the terms I can sell my property quick from the sellers because they have another buyer on that property with another estate agent.
The owners of that property then went with the the other estate agent after 2 week as they had completed exchange of contracts.
I was with EA1 for 2 weeks then verbally told them I no longer want to use them as the property got sold with the other EA and I did not get any viewings of my property during the 2 weeks with EA1.
1 week later my offer was excepted on another property with an online EA and I place my property back on the market with EA2.
Now EA1 has called me to inform if I sell my property with EA2 within 8 weeks I am liable to pay them a fee. And I should go back to EA1.
I did sign a contract with EA1 but he did not give me a copy and I have asked him to send that copy by email but got nothing.
Please could anyone give some advise on this.

Guest

You are in a difficult position, Mrred.

You state that you did sign a sole-agency agreement but did not keep, or were not given, a copy of it. The estate agent has told you that the agreement gives them exclusive selling rights for eight weeks from the date you signed it. You have accounted for three of those weeks and I presume therefore that you are tied in for a further four or five weeks but they will not produce a copy of your contract with them. My view is that you should write to the firm to state that since they have not responded to your e-mail request for a copy of your signed contract you regard the sole agency terms as inapplicable, and for that reason and also because they have not introduced any potential buyers since you engaged them, you are no longer bound by such terms and have placed your instructions with a different agent.

However, the first agent might now be able introduce a prospective purchaser and require payment of their commission. They might also be able to produce the sole-agency agreement you signed. A complication is that your second agent is an on-line agency that will charge you a set fee whether they sell your property or not and from what you have written I take it that you have already confirmed your instructions and that they are in the process of marketing your property. If the on-line agency manage to find a buyer for you before the eight weeks expires I think the first agent will be able to claim commission from you and although you might have a good defence for not paying it you could still be held liable as they will have done some work on your behalf albeit without success.

You will not have much control over what happens next because your first estate agent will submit a bill to your solicitor or conveyancing executive for payment of their commission which would normally be deducted from the sale proceeds before the remainder is available to put towards the purchase of your next property. The on-line agency will also expect full payment of their fee.

My advice is to speak urgently with your legal representative and explain the situation and ask them to negotiate with your first estate agent to seek a reduction in their commission on the basis of reasonable expenditure only. Since the commission on a sole-agency sale is lower than on a joint-agency sale the first agent might demand that the commission is payable at a higher rate [since you have breached the exclusivity agreement] so this will require some tricky negotiation. There is considerable animosity within the estate agency world between high street agents and on-line agents so I would expect resistance.

I think you are stuck with paying the on-line agent’s fee and at best could hope for a reduction in the first agent’s commission. The fact that they appear not to have achieved much in the first three weeks counts for little if you gave them eight weeks to act for you. There is a possibility that they over-valued the property or did not apply themselves to marketing it with sufficient duty of care and due diligence but arguing those points could take for ever and get you nowhere but your legal representative will advise. Bear in mind that fees will be payable on top of everything else for such further advice, negotiations and additional legal work. With any luck the first agent cannot turn up your sole-agency agreement and hold you to it, but that is a long-shot.