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choosing an agent


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Fact: An estate agent needs no qualifications.
Fact: An estate agent need not be part of any recognised professional body.
Fact: An estate agent does not need to document or support a property valuation.

Put together, these facts are rather worrying. You could find that the person who is pushing you to sell your home at a bargain basement price is actually blatantly lying or utterly clueless about the market value and in fact trying to snap up bargain for a relative. This is not a common scenario, but it is one that would leave you with no comeback whatsoever.

The moral of this very short story is that you must make sure that an agent is a member of professional organisation.

The National Association of Estate Agents is the largest professional body representing practitioners in the property sale business. Whilst members of this organisation are not forcibly required to hold professional qualifications, they are likely to have undergone extensive training and will doubtless subscribe to the Estate Agent's Code of Practice.

The code of practice is a fairly simple set of rules that are aimed at ensuring good practice within the industry and stamping out some of the rather dodgy activities like the one in the example above. Amongst other things, it ensures that:

  • Any published material is accurate (this is now a legal requirement after the property misdescriptions act 1993, which outlawed hyperbolic exaggeration of property details).
  • There will be no discrimination against properties, buyers, or vendors.
  • There will be a formal complaints procedure.
  • The vendor will be informed of any offers received on a property.

Some estate agents may belong to RICS. Members of this organisation will have had to undergo training and gain some professional qualifications before being let loose on the public.

Some estate agents may belong only to ARLA - the Association of Residential Lettings Agents. This is principally for businesses whose main activity is letting. It is quite rare for an estate agent who regularly sells houses to belong to this organisation and no others, and you should question why it is the case if they do. That said, it does show a certain commitment to regulation and is better than them being members of nothing at all.

Another thing to look out for is the estate agent ombudsman scheme. Which gives you a formal channel for complaint and redress if things do go wrong. You can contact them by phoning 01722 333 306 or visiting their website www.oea.co.uk Be advised that membership to the scheme is voluntary and only around a quarter of agents subscribe to it.

The NAEA and RICS guarantee deposits that are held by their members, so if the agent does a bunk once your contracts have been exchanged, after your deposit has been paid but before you have completed the sale, you should be able to get all or most of your money back.

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