The Inside Edge
The Property Ombudsman received a record number of complaints last year against estate agents. The number of complaints raised in 2010 was the most the office has received since it was first established 20 years ago. The previous peak was in 2008.
In total, there have been 1338 new cases raised; a number which the Property Ombudsman, Christopher Hamer, said was unacceptably high especially when property transactions were well below the normal levels. He also blamed this dramatic rise on an increase in the number of disputes involving property sales.
The number of disputes was split quite equally between letting agents (672) and estate agents (646) whilst the rest of the reported complaints were related to the management of residential leaseholds, home information packs, and problems with advertising and marketing.
Agents operating in the South East of England received the most complaints accounting for approximately 26% of the total complaints raised.
Mr Hamer has called for the Government to impose stricter measures and improved protection for landlords and tenants so they do not become a victim of the practices performed by rogue letting agents. Letting agents, unlike estate agents, are not required to belong to an ombudsman scheme.
The figure reported by the Property Ombudsman shows a 40% rise in complaints since the office first opened its doors. So why the sudden increase and what are people complaining about? Quite worryingly, the Property Ombudsman has admitted it is “baffled” by the sudden sharp rise, but that one obvious explanation could be the current slump in the market. Seasonal factors may also play a part in these figures – general business in the housing market tends to slow down during the build-up to Christmas before picking up pace again in the New Year.
Desperate times call for desperate measures and this could also be a key factor in the number of complaints raised. Many of the complaint cases released by the Property Ombudsman cite problems with underhand marketing, issues with estate agents taking commission even when they had been dis-instructed, and issues with the small print in contracts.
However, what should become clear is that the number of successful transactions far outweighs the number of complaints and there are a decent number of estate agents who are focused on doing a good job. It’s simply a case of avoiding those agents who take shortcuts or who fail to deliver a good service. A good estate agent will explain their contract to you, explain the fees payable and tell you exactly how they are going to market your property. There are of course complaints that never reach the Property Ombudsman as they have been resolved by the estate agent themselves and it’s always a good idea to raise any concerns early on in proceedings.
If you feel you do need to make a complaint against your estate agent, the Property Ombudsman offers independent, impartial and free advice to members of the public who are not happy with the services provided by their estate agent.