At eMoov we’re passionate about putting our customers first but unfortunately the high street sector, for the large part, doesn’t share this passion. Luckily we aren’t alone and our friends at the HomeOwners Alliance are also on hand to help, if you feel like you’re being unfairly mistreated by a high street agent.

One of the most unfair practices by the high street, is how they lock customers in and charge them if they want to go elsewhere due to poor service. They do this by including ridiculous terms and conditions, resulting in hefty hidden fees, leaving customers no choice but to pay the ransom.

That’s why at eMoov we’re the only estate agent to offer no sole agency agreements and the option to only pay if you sell. We don’t force our customers to stay with us and ultimately pay us if they’re unhappy, because we’re confident we WILL deliver a world class service whilst selling your house.

However this isn’t the case for every one and is one of the most common complaints received by the HomeOwners Alliance. That’s why they’ve put together some advice if you’re looking to change your estate agent and want to know where you stand.

You can switch your energy supplier or bank – but why not your estate agent?

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Switching is an accepted part of life as a consumer. If we’re not happy, we act with our feet and go elsewhere. Well, except when it comes to selling your home with a high street agent where people continue to be trapped….

Switching is all the vogue. Whether it’s your mobile phone operator, you ISA, your current account or your gas or electricity company, the government has been working hard to ensure that you can switch supplier as quickly, smoothly and hassle-free as possible. It is an essential part of making sure companies compete with each other, helping to drive up levels of service and drive down prices.

Surely it’s easy to switch your estate agent?

It is good to make it easier to switch mobile phone companies, bank accounts and energy suppliers. But what about when it comes to the biggest financial transaction of your life – selling your home? How much you get for your home arguably depends on how good your estate agent is, but if they are not up to scratch, how easy is it to switch them?  The answer is – it is often almost impossible. This means that homeowners are often left trapped with a terrible agent in the biggest transaction in their lives – and the government are doing nothing about it.

Online agents vs high street agents

If you’re with an online agent which often ask you to pay upfront or after a certain amount of time, and want to swap provider, in most cases you can walk away, albeit having lost the £500 or so you paid to advertise with them. In fact one agency, eMoov, have just introduced a no sale no fee approach. So if you don’t like the service you can walk away without losing money.

With high street agents it can be more difficult to cut your ties. There is no law stopping you switching estate agents. But too many agents have one-sided anti-homeowner contracts that make it extremely difficult, slow or expensive to switch. It leads to huge legal conflicts between homeowners and their estate agents, who often end up suing the homeowner. It is probably the biggest single source of complaints that we get from our members, and we spend much of our days helping members sort out disputes with their agents.

It stops competition working within the estate agent business (which presumably is the point) and makes the home selling experience much more fraught than it should be.  We have seen cases where a homeowner’s life is on hold for months until they can safety switch from one estate agent to another one, or are at risk of getting a lower price than they should for their home because they have to pay estate agents twice.

Why is it difficult to switch?

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Contract periods

There are two main ways that estate agents make it difficult to switch. The first is through very lengthy contract periods, with notice periods of often two months, and up to 26 weeks (the worst we have seen). That compares to seven days to switch your bank account. It can mean if an unimpressive estate agent is failing to sell your home, you can’t move to another agent for another six months.  That is an excruciatingly – and utterly unjustifiably – long period for homeowners to wait. It can cause huge problems, if you have to move within a certain time because of your job or if you are buying another home. We have argued that there should be a maximum termination period of six weeks, and we know of decent estate agents who do not require any tie-in periods at all. Having a shorter notice period would certainly keep estate agents on their toes, and stop them being complacent knowing the seller can’t switch for months.

Future claims on commission

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The second way that estate agents make it difficult to switch is by insisting that they should get a share of commission even after you switch to a new agent, if the person you eventually sell the house to was in contact with the first agent at any point. This is an almost ubiquitous clause in estate agents’ contacts, and they justify it by saying that if they introduce the person (even if they don’t actually sell the house) then they should get a fee. This can sometimes be justified, if the first estate agent does much of the work, but often it is applied so widely that it can seriously hinder the house-selling process. Homeowners can even be at risk of having to pay TWO sets of commission, both to the old agent and the new one. When you go to a new agent, we advise consumers to provide a list of names that have been in touch with the previous agent, so the agent knows if they sell to any of those people, they may have to share commission with the old agent. Sometimes the contact the first person had with the estate agent is extremely tenuous – just answering a phone call – and so there can be a long list of people that the new agent will try and steer away from. Not great when you’re trying to maximise exposure of your home.

Time for change

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This problem of agents demanding commission even beyond the term of the contract is simple to solve: it should just be banned. If an agent introduced someone but failed to make the sale and behaved so badly that the homebuyer switched agent – well that’s their fault. In order to stop homeowners gaming the system, estate agents should still be able to get commission if the homeowner tried to sell direct to the buyer (as a way to avoid commission), or if the homeowner tried to switch to another agent with lower fees after a sale was agreed. And long tie in periods should not just be frowned on by the good estate agents. It should be banned too. At the moment, the guidance for estate agents issued by the National Trading Standards Estate Agency Team and The Property Ombudsman Code of Practise for Residential Agents
sadly do not mention ideal length of contract. Both have very recently been reviewed, but we think it’s already time for a re-draft.

What can I do in the meantime?

While we continue barking on for reform, you can take control by making sure you read the small print of your contract and getting it removed by the agent before signing or agreeing that they market your home. Anything you’re not sure about, then Join Us We’d be happy to look at the contracts of the agent’s you’re considering and highlight the clauses you’ll want removed.

In starting your search for an estate agent, use our comparison tools to find the right one for you.

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