Adviser blasts estate agent ‘dirty tactics’

Brian Brotherton, mortgage adviser for Essex-based The Partnership, said he regularly encountered the practice where agents withheld his clients’ offers and hid behind terms of business agreements with vendors to protect them from “time-wasters”.

He claimed these “dirty tactics” were often a ruse to increase revenue for agents who were working towards sales targets. Mr Brotherton alleged they were also used to obligate buyers into using other service providers, such as surveyors and solicitors, who may have links to the agencies.

A spokesman for the Office of Fair Trading said rules were in place to stop agents from restricting buyers from taking the in-house route.

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The rules include a warning that estate agents must not “discriminate against a potential buyer who does not want to take up other services an agent provides”. Agents must also not misrepresent the details or existence of any offer or the existence or status of any potential purchaser.

Mr Brotherton added: “This is not treating customers fairly and should be stopped. I find it strange that mortgage advisers are regulated yet those who sell homes can do as they please.”

A spokesman for the FCA said he could not comment on the practice as it did not regulate estate agents. He did not comment when asked if this would be re-examined in April 2014 when the mortgage market review was implemented.

Industry views

Robert Sinclair, chief executive of the Association of Mortgage Intermediaries, said: “I’m aware of isolated incidents where this is concerned and it is in breach of the OFT rules and the law.

“I would argue, however, that the current rules, where the OFT can use the legal framework, are more strict for offenders than if the sector were to be regulated more by the FCA.”

Jan Hytch, president of the National Association of Estate Agents, said: “Unscrupulous agents who make it difficult for buyers to offer or proceed to buy without speaking to their own mortgage service provider are acting against OFT guidance which states it is illegal to put undue pressure on buyers to use their ancillary services, such as mortgages.

“Violating this legislation has severe consequences and could result in the agent receiving fines or even a prison sentence. Not only that, but the agent’s client – the property seller – may miss the best buyer for their property.”