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OFT Investigating Property Quick Sale Companies

OFT Investigating Property Quick Sale Companies

Property Quick Sale Companies Face
Investigation By Office Of fair Trading

The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) have announced that they are investigating 3 property quick sale companies for unfair practices after it was alleged that some customers had lost out on many thousands of pounds.

Property quick sale companies offer to buy property from distressed vendors within a short time frame, however some companies have brought the practice into disrepute.

The announcement comes as the Office of Fair Trading publishes a report on the sector, which found that property quick sale firms can be beneficial to consumers who need a fast, hassle-free property sale.

In fact the OFT found that many other property quick sale companies in the sector were operating in an “open and fair” manner.

Quick sale property providers offer to purchase properties from struggling consumers within as little as seven days, but at a discount – typically between 10% and 25% – of the property’s full market value.

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How Estate Agents Are Regulated And Who Regulates Them

Currently estate agency as a profession is self-regulated. The Office of Fair Trading has previously stated that it believes self-regulation within the industry serves to relieve unnecessary regulatory burdens. However, research carried out by the Guardian newspaper regarding the consumers view on estate agency shows that;

  • Just one in ten people asked thought that estate agents were trustworthy.
  • 70% of people interviewed were of the opinion that estate agents were prone to giving misleading advice.
  • 41% were under the false impression that estate agents need certain qualifications to enable them to practise.

Despite consumer bodies campaigning against self regulation, estate agents are not currently legally obliged to belong to an industry regulatory scheme. Just one third of estate agents in the United Kingdom currently belong to an industry regulatory scheme, according to the Guardian. This can be disconcerting for consumers as taking action against an agency which is guilty of miscode of conduct  that does not belong to such a scheme is not as straightforward; the complaint must be logged directly to the Office of Fair Trading. Even though estate agents are not legally obliged to belong to a scheme, legally they must abide by the rules set down by the Estate Agency Act 1979, amended for undesirable practices.

Within the confines of this Act a complaint may be registered by a consumer if they believe that the estate agent they have instructed has breached their duty of care; this could mean providing misleading information such as presenting a developer as a first time buyer with no chain or not displaying their terms and conditions clearly. If the estate agent concerned is a member of an approved scheme the complaint may be taken to the Property Ombudsman. They will subsequently  look at the case individually and compensation may be awarded to the affected consumer, compensation can be up to a maximum of £25,000. If the agency is not listed with an approved scheme however, the complaint may only be registered with the Office of Fair Trading; in this case the investigation will not look at the individual complaint, but at the agency as a whole, no compensation will be offered despite the conclusion of the investigation.

The most well-known scheme within the estate agency industry is the National Association of Estate Agents; this was founded in 1962 by estate agent Raymond Andrews. The scheme is only available to agents who pass the necessary exams and must abide by the NAEA code of practice. This practice includes protecting clients from fraud, misrepresentation and malpractice; Noncompliance of these rules can result in a fine of up to £5000 per branch and membership will be revoked. Another approved scheme is the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors, founded in 1968. It is an independent scheme which regulates property professionals and surveyors; it is suited mainly to agents working with commercial property transactions.

From October 1st 2008, estate agents were legally required to register with an Estate Agents Redress Scheme. This was an Order made under the Estate Agents Act 1979 by the Secretary of State for Business Enterprise and Regulatory Reform. Each of these redress schemes must be approved by the Office of Fair Trading for the registration to be legally binding, one of the approved schemes includes the Property Ombudsman. This was created on May 1st 2009 and was formerly the Ombudsman for Estate Agents created in 1998. The title was changed to reflect the broadening of authority in relation to complaints including commercial and overseas property. The scheme is only available to companies whose director or partner is a member of the National Association of Estate Agents or the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors.

The Property Ombudsman provides impartial assistance to any customer who feels they have been treated unfairly. For the complaint to be considered by the Property Ombudsman the agent must have either infringed the legal rights of the consumer, breached the terms of any practice that they are working under or be guilty of maladministration. Although this scheme is voluntary, it is recommended to instruct an agent who is registered with The Property Ombudsman, any complaint about an agency which does not belong to the scheme should be submitted to the Office of Fair Trading.

When selling a property, it is recommended that research is carried out before instructing an estate agent. By choosing an agent who is a member of the National Association of Estate Agents the property vendor can be assured that the necessary qualifications will have been obtained.

If in doubt consumers may verify an agency’s NAEA membership by calling 0844 387 0555.

Written by Urban Sales and Lettings Nationwide Online Estate Agents

Despite the 2010 landmark ruling, where the OFT secured a High Court order against lettings agent Foxtons, forcing them to change the terms and conditions of their contracts, the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) has warned that some letting agents are still using unfair terms and conditions for landlords.

The OFT has urged letting and managing agents to ensure their terms and conditions are fair and transparent. In some cases the office has written to a number of agents and industry associations to re-emphasise the results of the legal case.

The OFT secured a High Court order against Foxtons last year after High Court Judge, Mr Justice Mann, said “Some of its fees were like a trap for landlords, many of whom were buy-to-let investors. Such important terms should be flagged up prominently not just in the contract, but also in any sales literature, as consumers would not expect important obligations to be tucked away in the small print and not be specifically brought to their attention

Mr Justice Mann highlighted a number of terms and conditions that he considered to be unfair, including

  • Landlords to pay commission of 11% of the annual rent if a tenant remained in a property beyond the initial term (even if Foxtons played no part in persuading them to stay, or was no longer collecting rent or managing the property).
  • Commission of 2.5% of the property’s price if the landlord sold it to the tenant, even if Foxtons had not helped to broker the deal, (in some cases landlords had to continue paying commission even after the property had been sold).

Research conducted by the Office of Fair Trading showed the ruling had saved landlords at least £4.4 Million (GBP) a year.

However, many landlords and lettings agents were still unaware of the 2010 ruling and potentially unfair terms were still appearing on contracts.

OFT chief economist, Amelia Fletcher, said: “This research clearly demonstrates that there has been an immediate financial benefit for consumers from our intervention, and also evidence of knock-on benefits from making this market more competitive. However, there is evidence of continuing poor practice by some letting agents, which need to go further to make their contracts transparent and fair.”

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