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The BBC's Rory Cellan-Jones: "Complaints are rising"
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Tuesday, 21 September, 1999, 16:04 GMT
'Rip-off' estate agents warned

Agencies are being warned not to break the rules


The Office of Fair Trading has warned estate agents to clean up their act as increasing numbers take advantage of the booming house market to rip off their customers.

The Property Maze
OFT director general John Bridgeman said some estate agents were bullying housebuyers into buying unwanted financial services or services they did not need.

Mr Bridgeman warned that he may consider banning the offering of linked financial services if estate agents did not end the unlawful practice of giving preference to customers who bought them.

The OFT has received 106 complaints about estate agents so far this year - compared with 102 for the whole of 1998.

Mr Bridgeman said: "It is extremely disappointing that some undesirable practices are making a comeback.

"Agents should take note that if I have evidence that they are failing to meet their obligations I can ban them from practising."

The OFT report highlighted some of the main underhand practices being used:

  • Clients being told they will be put on a 'preferential list' if they take financial services from the agent

  • Buyers beng told their offer would not be passed on unless 'qualifed' by the agency's financial adviser

  • Sellers being falsely told the law required them to sign agreements with an agent

  • For Sale boards being used inappropriately for free advertising

Mr Bridgeman said he shared the concern of Trade and Industry secretary Stephen Byers that self-regulation was not working in the estate agency industry.

He said: "The reputation of the sector is not enhanced by widespread reluctance to join the Ombudsman scheme and the publicly expressed views of some agents that they do not want to encourage people to complain."

The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors said malpractice was not as widespread as the OFT suggested

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See also:
05 Sep 99 |  The Economy
Rogue estate agents targeted
20 Jan 98 |  UK
Watchdog for UK estate agents

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