Skip to content

New review of estate agent sector in UK aimed at protecting property buyers and sellers

The Office of Fair Trading, a consumer watchdog, said it will investigate competition between service providers and the amount of support and protection offered to first time buyers in particular.

It last examined the estate agency industry four years ago and as a result concluded that estate agents needed to be better self regulated. It also called for clearer pricing controls by estate agents.

Since then there have been significant changes in the sector as well as a boom and now a downturn in the market. Home Information Packs have also been introduced and each estate agent has to be a member of a free ombudsman service that deals with complaints and compensation.

There is also new legislation protecting consumers from unfair practices. The study, expected to be completed by the end of 2009, will review whether consumers are adequately covered by these new rules.

The review will also look at how easy it is for new agents to gain a foothold in the market, especially online property retailers. The quality and prices charged by all providers will also come under the spotlight.

'We want to ensure that consumers are supported by an effective, competitive and innovative market. Buying or selling a home is something most people do only a few times in their life, but it is usually the biggest transaction they will make,' said OFT chief executive John Fingleton.

Peter Bolton King, chief executive of the National Association of Estate Agents, welcomed the announcement of the upcoming review. 'There is nothing to stop anybody from becoming an estate agent and there is a real need for consumers to be aware of this,' he said.

'There is clearly a lot of competition between internet retailers, and many people will certainly initially begin their search for a property online. To be safe, consumers should use the professional agents,' he added.

The OFT does have powers to ban any agents who break the laws about mis-describing a property, handling a client's money, not declaring an interest in a property, or are found to have engaged in some other form of dishonesty.