A large number of UK consumers are dissatisfied with the service they received from their estate agents as one-quarter of recent sellers say they received poor value for money, delays in the sale and inadequate communication, according to a report by the Office of Fair Trading.
Scaringly, latest findings by the trading watchdog published today also reveal some serious complaints such as failures by agents to pass on offers or declare a personal interest, and suggestions buyers would be more successful if they used financial services offered by their estate agent.
OFT chairman John Vickers says: "There is widespread public dissatisfaction about the market for estate agency services."
To combat these problems, the OFT report suggests changes including increased price competition, more effective regulation and higher industry standards.
While the structure of the estate agency market is not uncompetitive, the OFT says, there is still room for more competition between agents when it comes to the issue of price, especially as the majority of consumers do not compare different rates.
A potential buyer or seller could currently save an average 14% if they shop around for the best fee, the OFT says. For the average property this would save the consumer about £300.
As a solution, the OFT recommends sellers shop around between agents at the same time as estate agents themselves make sure they will have access to fees quoted in both percentage terms and in real money.
The OFT also believes the government should amend the Estate Agent Act in order to increase the ability to take effective action when there is a suspicion the Act has been breached.
The EAA should also be altered to cater with new new methods of conducting business, such as over the internet, while statutory terms should be written in plain language in a bid to cut consumer confusion.
Furthermore, the OFT is urging the estate agency industry to raise standards of customer service through better and widespread self-regulation.
The government will have 90 days to respond to the report.
Estate agents in England and Wales earned around £2.5bn from the sale of residential property in 2002, with nine in ten consumers turning to an agent when selling or buying a home.
There are already suggestions estate agents could yet face government licensing.IFAonline
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