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Last Updated: Thursday, 28 September 2006, 23:52 GMT 00:52 UK
Tougher rules for estate agents
People looking in an estate agent's window
The ombudsman wants the licence scheme to be compulsory
People buying or selling a house are to be offered clearer information by estate agents as a strengthened code of conduct is introduced for the industry.

From 1 October the Ombudsman for Estate Agents (OEA) code will oblige its 2,380 member firms to be clearer on charges and give more information to buyers.

Agents breaking the code could have to pay compensation of up to 25,000.

Fewer than 50% of agents belong to the OEA scheme and consumer groups have called for membership to be mandatory.

The government is expect to outline plans to make membership of the OEA scheme obligatory for estate agents in the Queen's Speech outlining parlimentary business for the next year.

Rise in complaints

Under the new code of conduct, OEA members have to inform anyone viewing a property if an offer has already been made.

If a buyer has made an offer, the estate agent must also confirm in writing that their approach has been passed to the seller in written form.

To improve transparency, estate agencies whose fee is based on a per centage of the selling price must express this as an actual amount and explain that this will change if the selling price moves up or down.

Ombudsman for Estate Agents Stephen Carr-Smith said he was in talks with the National Association of Estate Agents and the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors about having a single code of conduct for the whole industry, and hoped to achieve this within the next few months.

His most recent annual report showed a 9% rise - to 6,021 - in the number of complaints made in the previous year about agents.

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