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FACTSHEET and Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Subject:  Estate Agents

Relevant or Related Legislation:

Estate Agents Act 1979 and Property Misdescriptions Act 1991.

Key Facts:

·         Estate agents have to comply with the Estate Agents Act 1979 and the Property Misdescriptions Act 1991 when they act for people who are buying or selling property.

 

·        The Office of Fair Trading can ban people from acting as estate agents if it considers them to be unfit to carry on estate agency work.

 

·         Complaints about estate agents should be directed to Trading Standards or the Office of Fair Trading.

 

·        The Government is committed to reforming the house buying process in England and Wales and plans to require sellers to provide Home Information Packs when homes are put on the market.

 

·        The Government recently responded to the Office of Fair Trading report on the market for estate agency services in England and Wales. The Government proposed a package of measures to improve the current regulatory system and provide a cost effective means of redress for consumers.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Q1. Are estate agents regulated?
Q2. What should I do if I have a complaint about an estate agent?

Q3. What is the Government doing to deal with problems in the housing market such as gazumping?
Q4.
What has the Government proposed in its response to the OFT report on estate agents?


Q1. Are estate agents regulated?

Estate agents are regulated by the Estate Agents Act 1979, which:

·  Regulates the conduct of estate agents in the course of estate agency work. It does not cover the letting of properties.

 

· Lays down the duties that agents owe to clients - such as the passing on of offers, handling money and giving details of charges - and to third parties - such as disclosure of personal interest.

 

· Gives the Office of Fair Trading the power to issue warning or prohibition notices against those persons whom it considers to be unfit to carry on estate agency work.

Estate agents also have to comply with the Property Misdescriptions Act 1991, which makes it an offence to make false or misleading statements about property offered for sale.

Q2. What should I do if I have a complaint about an estate agent?

You should contact your local trading standards department or the Office of Fair Trading, which enforce the Estate Agents and Property Misdescriptions Acts. The Department of Trade and Industry does not have a role in investigating individual complaints.

For further information contact your local trading standards department or the Office of Fair Trading.

Office of Fair Trading
Fleetbank House
2-6 Salisbury Square
London EC4Y 8JX

Phone: 020 7211 8000
Fax: 020 7211 8800
E-mail: enquiries@oft.gov.uk
Web-site: www.oft.gov.uk

Some estate agents belong to the Ombudsman for Estate Agents (OEA) Scheme. The OEA scheme is devised to address disputes between member agencies and consumers who are actual or potential buyers or sellers of residential property in the UK.

The Ombudsman will consider complaints where it is believed a member agency has infringed a consumer's legal rights, not complied with the OEA Code of Practice, acted unfairly, or been guilty of maladministration (including inefficiency or undue delay). The Ombudsman cannot deal with disputes about surveys and/or valuations of properties, or property letting and management.

For further information on the OEA Scheme contact:

Office of the Ombudsman for Estate Agents
Beckett House
4 Bridge Street
Salisbury
Wiltshire SP1 2LX

Phone: 01722 333306
Fax: 01722 332296
E-mail: admin@oea.co.uk
Web-site: www.oea.co.uk

Q3. What is the Government doing to deal with problems in the housing market such as gazumping?

The Government is committed to reform of the house buying process in England and Wales in order to make the buying and selling of homes quicker, easier and more efficient.

The Government plans to introduce Home Information Packs (HIPs) containing standard information and documents for prospective buyers including evidence of title, local searches and a home condition report. Providing this information at the start of the house buying process will reduce delays and uncertainties experienced by both buyers and sellers.

Measures for introducing HIPs were included in the Housing Bill, which gained Royal Assent on 18 November 2004.

HIPs are to be introduced on a voluntary basis in 2006, but from 2007 it will be compulsory for home sellers to provide a HIP when putting a property on the market.

Further information on HIPs is available from the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister.

Office of the Deputy Prime Minister
Eland House
Bressenden Place
London SW1E 5DU

Tel: 020 7944 4400
Fax: 020 7944 6589
E-Mail: ODPM enquiry e-mail addresses
Web-site: www.odpm.gov.uk

Q4. What has the Government proposed in its response to the OFT report on estate agents?

The OFT published a report on the estate agency market in England and Wales on 23 March 2004. The report concluded that the estate agency market works well in many respects, but there is significant consumer dissatisfaction with estate agency services and customers find it difficult to complain and obtain redress.

 

The Government responded to the OFT report on 22 July. The Government proposed a package of measures building on and strengthening the OFT's proposals to:

· give enforcers the regulatory tools they need to tackle rogue agents without unnecessarily driving up costs to house sellers; and

 

· provide a cost-effective means by which consumers may win compensation from estate agents through a free independent redress mechanism such as an Ombudsman scheme.

The key elements of the Government response are:

• Consult on how the OFT’s proposals could be brought into effect and what more could be done to strengthen the regulation of estate agents.

• Take a power to require estate agents to belong to any industry redress scheme approved for the purpose by the Secretary of State.

• Work with stakeholders to develop methods to evaluate trends in consumer detriment in the estate agency market and the case for an industry qualification and national quality standards for estate agents.

The Housing Bill was amended in 2004 to require estate agents to belong to industry redress schemes, but the scope of the Bill meant that they can only deal with complaints about HIPs (see above). This is a much narrower scope than we had originally envisaged. We are therefore looking for a suitable legislative vehicle to extend the coverage of redress schemes to other kinds of consumer complaints against estate agents. This also applies to extending coverage to Scotland.

The Government response.

http://www.dti.gov.uk/ccp/topics1/Gov_resp_to_OFT_estate_agents_report.pdf

Comments on the Government response may be sent to:

Consumer and Competition Policy Directorate
V416
Department of Trade and Industry
1 Victoria Street
London SW1H 0ET

Tel: 020 7215 2115
Fax: 020 7215 0357
E-mail:
Estate.Agents@dti.gsi.gov.uk
Web-
site: www.dti.gov.uk/ccp/topics1/business.htm - estate

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Last updated 12 July 2005


Department of Trade and Industry

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