Ministers in the United Kingdom are once again under fire for failing to roll out important reforms outlined in 2018 by Lord Best, which afford greater protections to customers working with estate agents.
A recent episode of BBC Radio 4’s Money Box program highlighted the extent to which unsuspecting customers continue to be misled and misinformed by rogue agents, often finding themselves tied into binding long-term agreements.
The program focused on the case of 65-year old Su Francis from Buckinghamshire, who spoke of being stuck “in limbo” after being duped by a quick-sale estate agent.
Interviewed by the BBC, Mrs Francis said that the quick-sale estate agent who visited her used high pressure tactics to coerce her into signing up. Unfortunately, it wasn’t until she received a phone call a few days later that she was made aware of the full details of the contract.
“They were quite hard about [me] signing up. Subsequently I found out I was signed up to them for a year,” Mrs Francis told the BBC.
“They provided no service whatsoever, they provided no viewings, nobody came to see it [the house] and when I phoned them it was just recorded messages,”
“It’s also left me quite worried about who I should take on and whether or not I can trust people,”
“It’s left me in limbo because I haven’t been able to sell my house. As far as the financial implications, until I can sell my house, it’s impossible for me to plan for my financial future.”
Mrs Francis’ was not alone in her negative experience working with state agents, as a second homeowner contacted the show to report similarly underhand tactics. Julia Armstrong claimed that the estate agent reduced the asking price of her property by £50,000 without first seeking her authorisation.
“A year later we have put our house on the market again and every viewing has said it’s overpriced now because it was listed at £50,000 less last year,” she told the BBC.
“It was a shock to us and our new agents advised us to drop the price this year immediately by £30,000 [to try to get people to even consider it].”
Evidence suggests that homeowners looking to close quick sales on their properties are facing the growing risk of losing money, or being dangerously misinformed by quick-sale estate agents.
When the government approached Lord Best in 2018 with a request for proposed reforms to improve estate agent operations in the UK, he responded with a series of urgent recommendations. One of which involved the creation of a new independent regulator for the industry, which would ensure all sales and letting agents were sufficiently licensed and qualified to offer such services.
Those found to be operating without appropriate licensing would subsequently be guilty of a criminal offence:
Lord Best says acting as a property agent without a licence should be a criminal offence.
“At the moment anybody can set up shop and the next morning be operating as an agent,” said Lord Best.
“They can take quite a lot of money off you… and they aren’t regulated,”
“Lawyers or accountants have proper qualifications and are properly regulated but not property agents,”
“We need you to get your head around these recommendations and get on with it.”
In response, the Ministry of Housing simply reaffirmed its commitment “to raising professionalism amongst property agents and welcomes the work of the independent Regulation of Property Agents working group, chaired by Lord Best.”
The government also promised a formal response to Lord Best’s proposals following full consideration, though refused to offer a timetable of any kind.