Sometimes things don't work out, or mistakes are made. When it comes to moving house, problems with estate agents can be incredibly stressful, and expensive.
Often any issues can be resolved between you and the agent. However, if you don't feel like your complaint is dealt with appropriately, or you think something illegal has occurred, you have options.
This article outlines the steps for getting your complaint heard, and resolved. We'll also offer some tips on how to pick a new, trustworthy, agent.
The first step to making a complaint is to go directly to your estate agent.
Your estate agent should have a formal internal complaints procedure. If they have not already given you information about this they are required to provide it when you ask.
Usually submitting a formal complaint will involve laying out in writing (either a letter or email): the reasons why you are unhappy, the specifics of the problem, and what you want to happen to resolve your complaint.
Make sure to keep a record of your complaints letter, and the date you sent it. It's a good idea to keep all of your conversations relating to the complaint in writing. If your estate agent calls you to discuss the complaint, follow up with an email setting out everything that was discussed, so that you have a record.
Top Tip: Add a read receipt to your emails to the estate agent, so you know exactly when they have received and opened your messages.
If you're still in the process of selling your home, but are unhappy with the service your agent has provided, it is possible to switch.
In many cases, you can switch agent without having to pay the original agent anything, and you can still pursue your complaint. Placing your home sale into trustworthy hands can be a massive relief during the complaints process.
Once you've submitted the complaint, your estate agent should respond within 3 days, letting you know that they've received it. You should then expect a full response within 15 days. In the unlikely event that you don't get any response within this time frame, we'd recommend following up by email.
In their response the agent will lay out their version of events, refuting your complaint, or they will accept that there is a problem. Either way, they should attempt to offer a solution.
At this stage, you can either decide to accept or reject their suggestion. If you are unhappy with the estate agent's offer, you should write back explaining why you're unsatisfied with their response.
Your agent will review your complaint again, and then send a 'final viewpoint' letter. This should attempt to offer a solution, or provide details of how to escalate your complaint to The Property Ombudsman.
The Property Ombudsman is an independent redress scheme. They offer an impartial mediation service for estate agents and their clients in the event that complaints can't be resolved.
If you remain unsatisfied with the handling of your complaint after getting your agent's 'final viewpoint' letter, or 8 weeks have passed and you haven't found a resolution, you can escalate your complaint to the Property Ombudsman (TPO).
In order to do this, you'll need to complete TPO's complaints form, and send with it any evidence that supports your complaint. This could include your correspondence with the estate agent, and if you have it, your estate agent's final viewpoint letter.
You should get confirmation about whether your complaint will be taken forward to the review process within 15 working days. You may also need to send further information.
Note: If you decide to progress your complaint to the Ombudsman, any offers made by the estate agent, including for financial compensation, will no longer be valid. You'll have to wait until the Ombudsman makes their decision to see if you will receive any compensation, which may be more, or less, than the agent's original offer.
The Property Ombudsman will approach your estate agent and ask them to provide a statement, and evidence for their version of events. This is then all reviewed by an independent adjudicator, who will make a recommendation on how the complaint should be resolved.
Reviews are based on the Ombudsman 'Codes of Practice' - which you can read here. They'll also take into account: 'legal principles, common sense and what is fair and reasonable in the specific circumstances.'
This recommendation will be sent for review by the Ombudsman, or Deputy Ombudsman, who will make the final decision on your case.
It's important to remember, that TPO is a property redress scheme, and not a regulator or legal avenue. The decision they make may not be the same decision as one made in court. For example, although TPO is able to offer compensation to you, they can't impose fines on the agent.
In most cases, the Property Ombudsman will be able to provide adequate resolution to any complaints. However, if you are still unsatisfied, or you believe the agent's behaviour to warrant tougher action, they is another step: escalate to the National Association of Estate Agents.
The NAEA will only hear complaints that have already been through an agents internal complaints process, and then through TPO's process - so it's not a quick way to get things resolved. They can also only investigate agents who are members of the association.
The NAEA will review situations where an estate agent has broken the association's Conduct and Membership Rules - which you can read here. These include things like:
Misusing of client money
Failing to protect client interests
Failing to answer correspondence
To submit a complaints for review by the NAEA, head here.
Whether you decide to take legal action or go through TPO's mediation service, will depend upon the specifics of your complaint.
If you believe your agent has committed a crime, such as fraud, you should seek legal advice. However, if your complaint is not about illegal conduct, the property redress scheme is probably the correct course of action.
Note: TPO won't consider a complaint that has been through court process
In some cases, you may receive financial compensation, however this will vary depending on the seriousness of your complaint.
Some estate agents will award financial compensation as part of their proposed solution to a complaint. TPO can also award compensation up to £25,000. Whether they make any financial award will depend upon the results of their review. There is no guarantee that you will receive compensation, even if your complaint is upheld.
Yes, you should pay anything you are contractually obligated to. However, you should record in writing that you are paying 'without prejudice'. This means that your payment can not be used to support estate agent behaviour during the review.
If you do not pay any amount you owe, the agent could begin legal proceedings against you.
Complaining to the agent directly first gives them a reasonable opportunity to try and rectify the issue internally. Many estate agents will be keen to find a solution, as their reputation is a key part of their business.
If an agent doesn't respond to your formal complaint, you can refer the complaint to TPO after 8 weeks. You should submit evidence that you've repeatedly attempted to contact the agent in that time.
When you're choosing an agent, make sure they are a member of the Property Ombudsman and the NAEA. This means they are bound by certain codes of conduct, and can make it easier if you do need to make a complaint.
Online reviews are a great source of information when you're figuring out who to work with. Make sure to look at reviews from both sellers and buyers. While an agent might be lovely to the person paying them, they might be unresponsive or unhelpful to buyers; this will ultimately damage your sale.
As well as reviews, support your choice with data on their performance. Agents with a lot of properties on the market in your area are likely to have good reputations, and high levels of expertise. These are the sorts of agents that'll make your sale pain-free. You can check out data on agents in your local area here.
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