Estate agents are regulated under the Estate Agents Act 1979 and its subsequent amendments. As at 1 October 2008, this Act requires all estate agents undertaking residential property sales work to be a member of a government-approved 'estate agent redress scheme'. The schemes can be used by consumers who have a complaint against an estate agent. In addition many estate agents now follow codes of practice produced by the aforementioned schemes or those of a professional organisation, such as the.
You may have cause to complain against an estate agent for one or more of the following reasons:
If you have a complaint against an estate agent, then we recommend that you should firstly attempt to resolve the problem by talking to the agent or the manager of the local office. If the matter is not resolved, you should write to the head office or the person who deals with in-house complaints, following the estate agent's complaints procedure. Ask them for details of their internal complaints procedure if this has not already been provided. Your letter should set out full details of your complaint including any relevant background facts, how it arose and what efforts you have made to resolve the problem. You should set a reasonable deadline by which you expect the matter to be resolved.
If the problem still persists or you are not satisfied with the remedies (if any) offered, and if you instructed the estate agent in relation to the purchase or sale of a residential (as opposed to a commercial) property then you should raise a complaint with the particular 'estate agent redress scheme' that the estate agent has joined.
However, if your complaint does not involve the sale or purchase of a residential property, e.g. a complaint about the letting or management of a property, the sale or purchase of a commercial or overseas property, then you should consider raising a complaint with your local. You can also raise the complaint with any professional body (such as the National Association of Estate Agents) that the estate agent may have joined. To find your local Trading Standards department, visit the .
The estate agent redress schemes deal with all complaints about the buying and selling of residential property including those about Home Information Packs (HIPs) and their Scottish equivalent, Home Reports (Please note that there is currently no equivalent requirement for HIPs in Northern Ireland).
Estate agents that have failed to join an approved redress scheme can:
The Property Ombudsman
The PO has a code of conduct which its members may voluntarily agree to follow. You should check whether the estate agent you are complaining about has adopted the PO's code of conduct. If so, you may want to look at the code of conduct to check which parts of it have been breached. The PO can only deal with complaints if:
The Surveyors Ombudsman Service
The SOS performs a similar role as the PO and has similar powers.
When making a complaint in relation to an estate agent, it is important that you understand what your rights are. Estate agents have certain obligations to you and some of these are described below.
Pre contract information
Before you enter into a contract to sell your home (and become committed to any liability to the estate agent), you are legally entitled to receive the following information in writing from the estate agent:
Probably the most important term in the contract relates to the amount of commission that you will pay if the estate agent sells your property. You should always consider negotiating this term. Market forces such as the number of houses on the market, competition in the area and the general state of the property market will be factors that will influence whether or not the estate agent will agree to lower his or her commission fee.
However, there are other terms in the contract which you must be aware of including, whether the estate agent has an exclusive right to market and sell the property and the circumstances in which the estate agent will be entitled to receive their commission.
Sole or multiple agency agreements
You should make sure whether the contract is either a:
You should be cautious if the following terms are used in the contract:
In addition, you should be aware of any terms which impose a fee for advertising, marketing or other services provided by the estate agent whether or not a sale occurs.
The estate agent must inform you of any fee or payment that they may receive from third parties in connection with the sale, i.e. they must not make a secret profit. For example, this may include obtaining a commission from someone they have recommended to you. The estate agent must obtain your express consent for this, although they are not obliged to reveal how much they will be paid. If they fail to obtain your consent then you may be able to recover the payment that they have received and any commission paid by you to the estate agent even where the agent has not acted improperly or you have not suffered any loss yourself.
If the estate agent, or a connected person, has any personal interest in your sale then they must reveal this promptly to you in writing. This may include:
Theprovides details of estate agents who are currently banned from engaging in estate agency work or who have received a formal warning under the Estate Agents Act 1979.
Estate agents are able to hold deposits on behalf of their clients and are subject to strict rules related to how they are handled.
When a deposit may be held
There are two circumstances when a deposit may be paid to an estate agent:
Estate agents holding a deposit must:
In addition to an estate agent's obligations under the Estate Agents Act 1979, there are other regulations applicable to estate agents, as a profession that delivers services to the public. Some of these regulations are described below:
The Supply of Goods and Services Act 1982
This act applies in the same way to estate agents as it does to any other service provider. Estate agents are obliged to provide their services with reasonable care and skill, within a reasonable time and at a reasonable cost. The 'care and skill' that you can expect would be that which can be expected from any reasonably competent estate agent. While not all of the provisions in this Act are covered in Scotland, Scottish common law offers similar protection.
Unfair Contract Terms Act 1977 and Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations 1999
Any service provider providing a consumer with a service can only restrict or exclude their liability for breach of contract or allow themselves to provide an inadequate service if they can show that the term or condition satisfies the test of 'reasonableness'.
Generally, a consumer is not bound by a standard term in a contract with a seller or supplier if that term is unreasonable. Standard terms are those devised by a business in advance and not individually negotiated with a consumer. A standard term is unfair if it creates a significant imbalance between the parties' rights under the contract, to the detriment of the consumer. All the terms of the contract must be in plain, intelligible language, otherwise they are open to challenge as being unfair.
The courts decide whether or not a term is unreasonable - if a term were to be challenged, it would be for the party imposing it to prove to the court that it is reasonable.
The Property Misdescriptions Act 1991
This act states that an estate agent must not make statements that are false or misleading about land or property offered for sale. There is no obligation to disclose information (good or bad), but the information that is provided must be accurate and not misleading. The Act imposes a test of whether or not a reasonable person would be misled by the estate agent's description of the property. Although it is not possible to regulate the description of the decoration in a property, there are objective matters such as the number of bedrooms, for example, that must not be misleading. Breaches of the act can be a criminal offence. If a misstatement is due to the carelessness or negligence of the estate agent then it may be possible to sue them, although in practice most estate agents will disclaim any liability in the terms of their contract.