How To Complain About Your Estate Agent?
The relationship you have with your estate agent as you seek to buy and/or sell a house is one that should be built on trust. You need to have confidence that this professional can work effectively and efficiently to help you accomplish your goals. They are a critical member of your team during the transaction process – and with their help, you will see positive results.
Unless… you just don’t see any results. Unless you do trust them. Unless they are not performing up to your standards or there are issues with communication. Unless they are acting in ways that may not be compliant with the law. How do you resolve serious disputes and complain about your estate agent?
This guide will discuss these challenges and provide you with actionable advice on how to complain about your estate agent.
Find in this guide:
- Information on what your estate agent should be doing
- Steps to take if your estate agent has acted illegally or unethically
- Details on the complaints process and escalation from internal complaints procedures to the regulating bodies to the justice system
- Resources that can help you navigate the complaints process
- An alternative to using an estate agent
- Tips for preventing problems before they start
Understanding What Your Estate Agent Should Be Doing
The housing market can be volatile, and not every factor is under the control of an estate agent… even a highly experienced, skilled one! For example, you may not find the house you want at your desired price point or, conversely, you may not get the asking price that you feel your home is worth when selling. Sometimes, you must make compromises if you, with help from your estate, determine that it is in your best interests. We’re not talking about ‘complaining’ because you wanted to pay £10,000 less or get £10,000 more.
What we are exploring is the complaints process if your estate agent is not performing to expectations or in compliance with the law. The first step is to understand what they are legally required to do for you.
- Complying with standards under the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations (CPRs).
- Including specific information with property listings, including the council tax band or rate, the price, whether a property is freehold or leasehold, details of any reservation fees, etc.
- Informing sellers of any offers promptly and in writing.
- Making sure that all information they provide verbally, in writing or via images is accurate. They are prohibited from misrepresenting a property.
- Providing information that prospective buyers need to make good decisions.
- Refraining from pressuring any party to move more quickly to put in an offer, raise a price, forgo a survey or exchange contracts.
- Having a complaints procedure in place.
- Providing details of all fees in writing before finalising an agreement.
- Explaining what ‘sole selling rights,’ ‘sole agency’ and ‘ready, willing and able purchaser’ means if they are going to use those terms in their contract.
- Not showing or demonstrating bias against potential buyers.
Maybe your estate agent did break the law. Perhaps they skirted the lines while treating you unfairly or with a general lack of regard for ethics. Whatever the case, it is certainly frustrating and even frightening: what if it impacts your ability to buy or sell to meet your goals? Before you storm into court, let’s look at your options.
Complain Using Their Internal Complaints Procedure
As you go through the selection process for an estate agent, check to be sure that they have a robust complaints procedure. Yes, you do your homework and hope for the best, but it is important to build confidence into the process at every stage. Submit your complaint and allow them to investigate and work towards a resolution. Be prepared – this is why you save everything!
You will need:
- Ask your estate agent for a copy of their internal complaints policy and their code of conduct.
- Copies of every letter, email, document, note, image or recording of relevant conversations with your estate agent. Make record-keeping your new hobby.
- To write out your complaint and address it to the manager of the firm or agent if they are independent. Make it explicit and clear how the estate agent failed to live up to standards or violated their code of conduct.
- To explain what you would like to happen next. Don’t just bring a problem to the table; be prepared with a possible solution. You will be more likely to see a positive or satisfactory resolution when you straight out ask for it.
- To provide copies of all relevant documents, as explained previously.
- To ask for written confirmation giving you the name of the person who will be addressing your complaint.
- To ask for a timeline about their review. You should see a reply within 15 days.
This may be enough to remedy the situation and allow you to move forward on a more secure basis.
Make a Complaint with the Property Ombudsman or the Property Redress Scheme
You may not reach a satisfactory conclusion with an internal complaints procedure. Ask your estate agent which scheme they belong to – either the Property Ombudsman or the Property Redress Scheme – and take the next step. Both of these bodies serve to provide free, unbiased and independent services to help you handle disputes with your estate agent.
They can investigate your claim and offer solutions. The Ombudsman investigates impartially, taking information from both you and the estate agent and examining the facts of the case. They also decide if action is warranted and what that will look like in the event you cannot reach an agreement.
Ninety-five percent of estate agents are part of the Property Ombudsman body, which resolved over 5100 complaints in 2020 alone. It supported 65% of complaints. The problem is that awards are typically quite small (the average in 2020 was just £653). If you do accept an offer, make sure you do so on a ‘without prejudice basis’ and that you do not accept a full and final settlement. If you do, you may not be allowed to follow your complaint through with the Ombudsman.
Issue a Complaint with Their Trade Association
Again, as you search for the right estate agent, make sure that they belong two either the National Association of Estate Agents (NAEA) Propertymark or the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS). If they violate professional standards and regulations, break the rules of membership or commit an act which goes against the code of practice, they may face disciplinary action.
Make a Court Claim
This is a difficult option that is also time-consuming and costly. If they acted out of the bounds of the law, this may also be a difficult option that is also necessary. Judges are more likely to hear your case and take it seriously if you have already exhausted your other avenues for redress. They want to see that you have tried to resolve the issue or issues with your estate agent and their firm first, and that you then tried to escalate it up the chain if that did not work.
Resources That Can Help
If you feel compelled to issue a complaint against your estate agent, there are some resources that can help you navigate this process.
The Property Ombudsman
The Property Ombudsman has a host of helpful information and guidance on their website. They answer frequently asked questions, provide you with sample complaint letters, advise you as to when and how to make a complaint, offer guidance on when to escalate your complaint to the Property Ombudsman and much more. This is a tremendously useful resource as you decide what to do next.
This is another great resource that offers information that is independent and unbiased. They can answer the big questions on your mind and give you some idea of how to proceed.
Home Owners Alliance
Find helpful information regarding the responsibilities and obligations of estate agents and tips on resolving complaints.
Skip the Stress
There is another option on the table. Avoid challenges, misconduct and mistreatment related to estate agents by… avoiding estate agents. How?
First, we should emphasise the importance of working with a great estate agent. The house buying or selling process is highly complicated, and an experienced agent will help you navigate it in a streamlined manner. While there is no legal requirement to work with an estate agent, it is highly recommended that you do so in order to protect yourself and your investment.
That said, there are other options when it comes to selling your home. For example, depending on your circumstances and goals, you may find it more beneficial to pursue a quick sale. A cash house buyer has both the funding and the experience necessary to complete fast transactions. Within days, you can hand over your keys and access cash that is deposited directly into your bank account.
It is important to be aware that a cash house buyer will typically offer between 80% and 85% of total market value. It is equally important to consider the costs (and aggravation) that you avoid by taking this route. You do not have to worry about finding and selecting an estate agent. You do not have to worry about paying high fees. You do not have to worry about potential ethical or legal boundaries being crossed.
Additionally, you will not have to go to the often tremendous expense of making big repairs and improvements to get it market ready, paying solicitors’ fees, instructing surveyors, obtaining an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) and the myriad other steps involved in a sales process. The buyer handles these aspects, at no cost to you. Essentially, all you have to do is accept an offer if you choose – and start packing up.
If you have weighed the pros and cons, the benefits and drawbacks, and determined that you do not want to work with an estate agent and that you would prefer a fast sale, opting for a cash buyer may well be the ideal solution.
Alternatively, you could look into property auctions or For Sale By Owner situations. They are far from ideal in many circumstances, but again, depending on your goals, it may work for you.
Prevent Problems Before They Start
If you do work with an estate agent, take steps to mitigate the risk of encountering problems. The key is to spend time (and do some intense Googling) when selecting your estate agent. As mentioned, they should have an internal complaints procedure and belong to a recognised body that governs conduct and sets ethical and professional standards.
Additionally, the estate agent should have a clear and compelling website that helps answer your questions, a healthy number of great reviews and client testimonials, a track record of success in selling homes and completing transactions, a professional and clear communications style and rigorous internal processes that ensure optimal results for clients.
Putting the time and effort in at this point will help you avoid problems down the road. It’s not fool proof of course. Some people look terrific on paper but don’t live up to their promises and claims. But all the same, it will do a great deal in preventing issues that can impact your transaction and your future goals.
It is worth it to understand what an estate agent is bound to do for you when it comes to legal requirements and what they should do for you from an ethical and professional standpoint. It is equally critical that you know what to do if you feel that those obligations have not been honoured or that your trust has been broken.
Making a complaint about your estate agent is not easy. No one wants to do it. Sometimes, though, it is all too necessary. Know the steps you need to take and where to access assistance and guidance if you are unsure about how to proceed.