How to Complain About an Estate Agent

How to Complain About an Estate Agent

Written by Zenyx Griffiths
Written by Zenyx Griffiths
3rd November 2020 (Last updated on Wednesday 25th November 2020)

There are several ways to complain about an estate agent, but you should always first discuss the issue directly with the agent before taking the issue further. Think carefully before filing a complaint and ensure you give your agent enough time to respond. 

Selling a home can be stressful enough without having to deal with complaints. However, if you do unfortunately find yourself in that circumstance, then we have everything you need to begin the process.

To take you through the steps of selling your home, Compare My Move creates insightful guides with the help of our highly-skilled finance and property experts. In this article, we will discuss the process of making a complaint against an estate agent and who you should contact to begin the procedure.

What Are the Main Responsibilities of an Estate Agent?

An estate agent works for the seller, not the buyer, and has many responsibilities when it comes to helping you sell your home. Some of the main responsibilities include:

  • Valuing your home
  • Marketing your home
  • Conducting viewings
  • Negotiating offers
  • Keeping the process moving smoothly

The exceptions to these responsibilities relate to online estate agents; many of these leave it to the sellers themselves to handle viewings, and sometimes even negotiate offers directly with buyers. These issues should always be discussed clearly between the seller and online agent before any decision is taken to use an online firm.

With their local knowledge and expert experience, traditional high street agents can help you put your home up for sale and ensure it is sold to its fullest potential. However, they do also have legal obligations that you should be aware of before starting the process.

Estate agents must not deliberately mislead a potential buyer when they enquire about a property. They must also abide by the Estate Agents Act 1979 which states that they must:

  • Provide you with the details of all fees included in the contract.
  • Not show bias towards or against any potential buyers interested in the property. 
  • Pass on any offer a buyer makes to the seller.
  • Explain to you, in writing, the meaning of all terms used in the contract.

In 2013, the government altered the law ensuring that all estate agents must also comply with the stricter measures put in place under Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations (CPRs). These strict measures mean that estate agents must:

  • Ensure that any and all information they provide is accurate. This includes written information, pictures or verbal information. 
  • Not leave out or neglect any information that potential buyers need to make informed decisions. 
  • Not pressurise any party to act quickly - this includes both buyers and sellers. 
  • Have a complaints procedure in place that must be followed by all members of staff who will come in contact with the public. 

Any breaches of these rules can be classed as a cause for complaint. It’s important to research the estate agent you’d like to work with beforehand to ensure they have an appropriate complaint procedure in place. Don’t forget to ask them about their fees when selling to ensure nothing is hidden.

Making a Complaint Directly to the Estate Agent

In 2017, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy released a report stating that even though there was a low percentage of sellers who were dissatisfied with their estate agents, only one-third went on to make a complaint. Although they did not officially complain, 24% stated that they would use a different estate agent if they were given the opportunity.

This data shows the importance of being aware of the process of making a complaint and knowing how to open a line of communication. 

You should always speak directly to your estate agent; this will then give the agent an opportunity to put things right before you take your complaint any further. 

The agent may not be able to resolve your complaint immediately due to other work commitments. It would be wise to establish some sort of deadline to adhere to. This usually means giving them a minimum of one week and a maximum of four weeks to address your complaint. 

During this time, you should make notes of any conversations you’ve had with anyone regarding the complaint, noting the date and time as well as who you spoke to. Keep copies of any communication you’ve had with the agent as well.

If they do not respond to your complaint or you’re unhappy with the way that they handled it, you should then make a formal complaint. This should be done through the agent’s internal complaints procedure.

Escalating Your Complaint Against an Estate Agent

There are a number of ways to escalate your complaint after contacting the estate agent. If they do not handle the complaint to a satisfactory level, you can either complain to their trade association or to a redress body such as The Property Ombudsman or The Property Redress Scheme.  

In 2007, it became mandatory for estate agents to be a member of an ombudsman scheme and so it should be fairly simple to discover which body they belong to.

Complain Via The Property Ombudsman (TPO) 

To make a complaint via The Property Ombudsman, you must first contact the estate agent directly and wait up to eight weeks for a reply. If the reply is insufficient or if they didn’t reply at all, you can contact the Ombudsman either by telephone, email or letter. You can then discuss the complaint with a caseworker.

You can view a template of their complaints letter here.

TPO is a redress body that was established to provide a free, fair and independent service to help customers deal with disputes between them and their estate agents. If a member doesn’t abide by their code of practice, TPO may accept the complaint and carry out a formal investigation to reach an agreement between you and the estate agent. 

One of the Ombudsman’s responsibilities is to investigate all complaints fairly and impartially and to listen to both sides of the story. It is their job to decide what action is taken and what happens if you and the estate agent cannot agree on an outcome. If you do not wish to accept the final decision, you can ask for a formal review. 

TPO  is easily the biggest of the two redress organisations.; it may help to see the nature of the complaints TPO handles in a typical year.

In the calendar year 2019, The Property Ombudsman dealt with 1,669 complaints relating to sales (estate agents), 2,518 relating to rentals (lettings agents) and 780 for residential leasehold management. 

On the sales side, some 63% of complaints were supported by the Ombudsman with the average sales award (compensation for the complainant) being £742. Of the formal complaints about letting agents, 67% were supported by the Ombudsman: 50% of those complaints were made by landlords. 

Complain Via The Property Redress Scheme (TPRS)

Much like The Property Ombudsman, the Property Redress Scheme is another redress body established to ensure a fair and independent service for dealing with complaints against property agents. 

If your estate agent is a member of this particular body, then these are who you must contact to escalate your complaint. The estate agent will likely either be a member of The Property Redress Scheme or The Property Ombudsman. 

The complaint process is very similar to TPO as, once you contact them, they will offer an independent investigation of the complaint. They will be fair and unbiased and will look for both sides of the story for further information.

Again, make sure you’ve first discussed your complaint directly with the property agent and have gone through their personal complaints procedure before contacting TPRS.

Complain to a Trade Association

Your estate agent should be a member of a trade association or professional body. Ask them directly if you’re unsure and don’t forget to check their website or paperwork. If they breach the rules set out by this body or they breach its code of conduct, then the estate agent could face disciplinary action. 

The biggest and most common trade association is the National Association of Estate Agents (NAEA).

The NAEA’s website allows you to check if your estate agent is a current member and can also provide you with its code of conduct. All members are bound by strict rules and so the NAEA can take action on your behalf if necessary.

However, the NAEA does not guarantee it will look into a complaint even if the agent concerned is a member; and the NAEA does not operate a compensation scheme.

Escalate Further to Trading Standards

If you believe an agent is trading in a way that may be illegal or unfair, you can contact the National Trading Standards Estate and Letting Agent Team. However, this does not handle individual queries (it leaves this to the two major redress organisations).

What to Do If You Still Can’t Get Your Problem Fixed

If your issue still isn’t resolved, you may be able to take legal action. However, this can be very costly. The more you’ve exhausted your other options to complain, the better your case will look to a court judge. 

It’s important to gather as much evidence as possible if you wish to go down this route. This is why it’s often advised that you first go through the other processes of settling a dispute. Go through the estate agents internal complaints procedure first and then, if necessary, take your complaint further.  

If you still believe your only option is to take legal action, then you should contact a solicitor to discuss your situation. They may suggest you go through the small claims court to resolve the issue.

Don't forget that you can cancel your contract with the estate agent, but you may incur a cancellation fee depending on the type of contract you've signed. However, the fee will likely be less than the cost of taking your complaint to court.  

Common Complaints Made Against Estate Agents

In The Property Ombudsman’s 2019 Report, it’s stated that the ombudsman handled approximately 5,106 complaints in total, which was a 20% increase compared to 2018. Of that total, 1,669 were sales complaints (estate agents), which was a 27% increase on the previous year - 1,038 of the sales-related complaints were made by sellers.

The most common reasons for complaints included issues regarding:

  • Communication and record-keeping
  • Complaints handling
  • Marketing and advertising 
  • Instructions, terms of business, commission and termination 

These issues highlight the importance of researching the agency before choosing an estate agent. To potentially avoid having to make a complaint, ask the agency questions regarding these topics and read any and all reviews. They should be able to show proof of a competent complaints procedure as well as the full terms and conditions that will be included in their contract.

Tips for Choosing a Reliable Estate Agent

Not all agencies will be the same meaning some may be more helpful than others, depending on your personal preferences and circumstances. To help you find a more professional estate agent, one who will hopefully not result in a complaint, we’ve created a quick list of top tips for choosing a reliable estate agent:

  1. Ask for recommendations - This may be an obvious tip for some, but it’s important to get recommendations from people you trust. If a friend or family member has recently moved house, ask them about the agency they used and whether they’d recommend them. 
  2. Find a local agency - When searching for an estate agent, take a look at any ‘for sale’ signs that are hung within your local area. This will help you find an agent within the area you’re selling, ensuring they have the necessary local knowledge and experience. 
  3. Invite at least 3 agents to value your property - Don’t be afraid to shop around and shortlist your choice of agents. If possible, try to get at least 3 estate agents to value your property. You’re looking for an honest and realistic agent so don’t be too impressed if one values it higher than the others.  
  4. Ask questions - Don’t be afraid to ask your estate agent questions before working with them. From asking about accreditations to how they advertise the property, the more you ask, the better you’ll understand their background and process. 
  5. Do your research - Narrow down your choices by doing a lot of research concerning the agency’s experience, qualifications and reputation. Find out if they are part of a trade association or redress body. 
  6. Read the contract carefully - As with any contract, read the fine print thoroughly. Make sure you clearly understand the fees included as well as the terms and conditions involved before singing.

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