If you are buying or selling a house or flat, your first contact will probably be with an estate agent.
Many agents belong to either the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) or the National Association of Estate Agents (NAEA), which have codes of practice for their members. You can download copies of these from the RICS and NAEA websites (see ‘Further help’). But whether or not an estate agent is a member of either of these organisations, there are laws that say how agents must deal with buyers and sellers.
For example, if you are a seller an agent must confirm in writing that you have instructed them to sell, and state when you will have to pay commission. So, if you grant the agent ‘sole agency’, the agent should make clear that you will still have to pay them commission if you then sell through another agent. If you grant them ‘sole selling rights’, they should say whether you will have to pay them even if you sell privately without using any agent (for example, to a friend).
If you are a buyer, an agent must:
not discriminate against you if you do not want to use other services they offer (such as mortgage advice or a recommended solicitor) – for example, by not telling the seller about your offer; and
tell your whether or not the seller is taking the property off the market after accepting your offer.
By law, sellers don’t have to point out defects in a property to buyers, but they must answer a buyer’s direct questions accurately. A buyer who has been given false information about the property before agreeing to buy it might have a claim against the estate agent or the seller under the Property Misdescriptions Act 1991.
If you are a seller and you want to change agents, for example because you are unhappy with the agent’s service, check the terms of ending your agreement. You will probably still have to pay the first estate agent’s commission if you sell to someone they had originally introduced to you. This could mean that you have to pay fees to both estate agents.
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