Crackdown on estate agents

20 June 2008

The Office of Trading (OFT) has approved the first compensation scheme for consumers unhappy about the way an estate agent handles a property sale, such as giving inaccurate descriptions of properties or delaying
passing offers on to sellers.

From 1 October, consumers buying and selling residential property will be able to refer complaints about estate agents for free to the Ombudsman for Estate Agents (OEA). Although around 60% of estate agents already belong to a redress scheme on a voluntary basis, it is not currently compulsory for all agents to be members, leaving disgruntled homebuyers and sellers with little alternative than to take their complaints to court.

For those grievances referred to the OEA, the watchdog has the power to make a range of awards, including ordering compensation payments. The ombudsman's decision will be binding on the estate agent, although a customer can still choose to reject the decision and pursue their complaint through the courts.

John Fingleton, chief executive of the OFT, said: “The OEA scheme has successfully met all the criteria applied by the OFT. Homebuyers and sellers will soon have access to a free, easily accessible and speedy estate agent
redress scheme that will ensure independence, fairness and transparency. We are also actively considering other applications to operate similar redress schemes.”

The move has also been welcomed by the National Association of Estate agents (NAEA). “We have always maintained that our members belong to a redress scheme, and have been waiting for this announcement for two years,” says Peter Bolton-King, chief executive of the NAEA.

“But whilst it is absolutely right that consumers have a right to complain about estate agents, the scheme does not apply to lettings agents. This is why we are calling on the government to level the playing field.”

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