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Last Updated: Wednesday, 28 April, 2004, 14:25 GMT 15:25 UK
Estate agent service 'no joke'
Estate agents are the butt of many a dinner party joke, but the estimated 24,000 homebuyers who complain each year about poor service levels are not laughing.

Complaints range from not passing on offers to vendors to misrepresentation, pressurising buyers into taking out expensive mortgages, and even fraud.

Alan Syrett's tale will seem all too familiar to many of the 1.8 million people who have moved home in the past year.

Mr Syrett's three bedroom property in New Romney, Kent, was on the market with a local estate agent for seven months in 2003.

Over time, Mr Syrett become exasperated at the service he was receiving.

"There was inconsistent contact - I always had a problem talking to the agent who was selling my home," he told BBC News Online.

Bogus papers

Faced with losing out on a dream move to a larger property, Mr Syrett took action.

I am not saying I will not pay something, but they did not do enough to justify their fee
Alan Syrett

"I did all the negotiating with the purchaser and pushed it through, ensuring that a long chain of house sales did not collapse," he said.

Nevertheless, on completion of his house sale Mr Syrett's agent asked for 3,600 in fees.

Mr Syrett refused to meet the demand and last Christmas he received what appeared to be a court summons.

"I took this as legitimate and was obviously very worried. It was only after taking legal advice that I discovered the court papers had no claim number and as a result was not legitimate."

"This was a very heavy-handed tactic and I feel embittered," Mr Syrett added.

As yet, Mr Syrett still has not settled with the estate agent.

"I am not saying I will not pay something, but they did not do enough to justify their fee," he said.

"I don't think I will move again. I feel sorry for those people who are forced to roll over and pay high estate agents' fees. We need regulation."

All I had to do was pay 143 to register as a business and I could start advising people on the biggest purchase of their lives
Nick Stace, Consumers' Association

All-time low

The reputation of estate agents in England and Wales has reached an all-time low, according to the Consumers' Association.

They are calling for licensing and regulation of the industry, as at present anyone can set up business as an estate agency.

To reinforce the point, on Wednesday Nick Stace, director of campaigns and communications at the Consumers' Association set up business for one day as a London estate agency called Cheatem & Ripoff.

"I have no knowledge of the housing market and no idea of the law governing estate agency, yet all I had to do was pay 143 to register as a business and I could start advising people on the biggest purchase of their lives," Mr Stace told BBC News Online.

Consumers' Association estate agency
Cheatem & Ripoff 'open for business'

Warning shot

In March, the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) revealed the findings of a two-year investigation into the estate agency industry.

The OFT suggested that estate agents should keep written records of offers to ensure that all offers are passed on to the vendor.

It also said that there was more scope for competition in pricing between estate agents.

But, crucially, the OFT concluded that a warning shot across the bows of the estate agency industry would suffice, and stopped short of imposing a compulsory code of conduct.

The Consumers' Association has called on the Department for Trade and Industry to reject the OFT report, and with it the concept of industry self regulation, within the next 30 days.

But the DTI told BBC News Online it would not be rushed and would respond to the OFT report some time in June.


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