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Problems with estate agents

This content applies to England & Wales

There are a number of issues that commonly arise in disputes with estate agents.

Contract claims

Usually, the estate agent acts as the seller's agent, and the agency contract is subject to ordinary contract law rules. The buyer may sometimes be able to establish a right of action against an estate agent, for example where the estate agent has made a misrepresentation about the property that is then bought.

Where a buyer or seller has a substantial claim against an estate agent, for example worth tens or hundreds of thousands of pounds, s/he should always get advice from a solicitor about the claim.

Redress schemes

An estate agent must be a member of an approved redress scheme for other work relating to the buying or selling of residential properties.[1] Estate agents who fail to sign up to an approved scheme can be fined by a local trading standards officer.[2] The National Trading Standards Estate Agency Team (see below), is responsible for the approval of redress schemes.

The following redress schemes have been approved:

  • Property Ombudsman
  • Ombudsman Services

Redress schemes provide a method for buyers or sellers to have an independent consideration of a complaint against an estate agent. The first step is usually for a complaint to be made to the estate agent. The complaint may be dealt with satisfactorily, but if not, the estate agent should provide information about which redress scheme is available and how to take up a complaint. High value claims, worth tens or hundreds of thousands of pounds, may not be covered by redress schemes, and advice should be obtained from a solicitor.

Office of Fair Trading (OFT) guidance on property sales helps estate agents and others involved in property sales understand their responsibilities under consumer and business protection regulations.[3] Although the OFT was abolished in April 2014 [4] the guidance has not been superseded and is still valid.

For information on redress schemes for letting and property management agencies, see Complaints against agencies: Redress schemes

Trading standards and National Trading Standards Estate Agency Team

Local authorities have trading standards officers, whose duties include investigating certain complaints about estate agents. The National Trading Standards Estate Agency Team has the same job at a national level.

Problems with estate agents can initially be reported through the Citizens Advice  Consumer Service

The trading standards officer or the National Trading Standards Estate Agency Team may investigate offences under the Estate Agents Act 1979, for example:

  • failure to declare any personal interest in a home sale or purchase
  • failure to set out the agent's terms and conditions clearly in writing
  • discrimination against a buyer who does not want to take any services from the agent, for example arranging a mortgage or insurance cover
  • failure to forward all offers promptly, and in writing, to the seller
  • dishonest misrepresentation of information about offers or purchasers
  • making a false or misleading description about a property
  • failure to be a member of an approved redress scheme.

The trading standards officer and the National Trading Standards Estate Agency Team have a range of powers available to them, including investigating and providing information, issuing a penalty charge, and prosecution in serious cases. They cannot award compensation.

The National Trading Standards Estate Agency Team publish an online register of estate agents who are banned from engaging in estate agency work or who have received a formal warning under the Estate Agents Act 1979.

[1] Estate Agents (Redress Scheme) Order 2008 SI 2008/1712.

[2] Estate Agents (Redress Scheme) (Penalty Charge) Regulations 2008 SI 2008/1713.

[3] The guidance considers responsibilities under the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 SI 2008/1277 and the Business Protection from Misleading Marketing Regulations 2008 SI 2008/1276.

[4] s.26 Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013.

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