LONDON: Regulator the Office of Fair Trading has given approval for a code of practice governing the estate agency industry, designed to ensure that homebuyers and sellers get a fair deal and the consumers get protection beyond the basic provisions of the law.
The code, prepared by the Ombudsman for Estate Agents Company (OEA), is the first such code to be approved by the OFT. The estate agents can use the code as best practice when valuing property and when things go wrong provide access the aggrieved customer to free resolution of the dispute through the Ombudsman scheme.
The OEA has powers to award compensation to property buyers or sellers if it finds that they have been badly treated.
Agents who are members of the OEA (nearly 40 per cent of all estate agents are members and in April members of the National Association of Estate Agents are set to join it) will be required to sign up to the code.
John Fingleton, OFT chief executive described the establishment of the code as a great achievement for the OEA and a step that “reflects their commitment to a higher standard of customer service”.
He said consumers can be rest assured that when they select an estate agent who has the OEA/OFT Approved Code logo, they will get a fair treatment if they have a complaint.
The establishment of the code coincides with the revelation made by a team of BBC journalists on the illegal and unscrupulous practices by a number of estate agents. An unnamed property developer had told the BBC that estate agents were willing to sell him houses well below their true value in exchange for a substantial fee. And he said this practice is very much in prevalence in the industry. A BBC reporter then discovered that some of the estate agents even resorted to erecting “for sale” boards outside properties that were not on their books and lying to clients about false offers. The reporter also found that overvaluing a property and then making up the price of comparable properties in the area to influence surveyors was a common practice among them.
Another reporter came across instances of how a firm of financial advisers — recommended to would-be buyers by a particular estate agent — passes supposedly confidential personal financial information back to agency staff to help them evaluate the clients. Another estate agent provided the reporter, who posed as a world-be buyer of property with a false British passport for 750 pounds and false Customs and Revenue documentation, to facilitate obtaining a mortgage.