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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!

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!!

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

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.

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.]

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.

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.

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…..

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]

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?

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.

Andy McGhee says:
16 May 2012

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.

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!

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!

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]

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,

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?”.

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

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.

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?