Estate Agents Have To Speak Up

I’ve just written this story in the Independent on Sunday about consumer legislation being applied to the estate agency industry. It’s going to mean a big change but, in addition to the changes I’ve set out in the article, the ‘new regime’ has already been tested in court.

Beresford Adams - part of the giant Countrywide empire which handles about 10 per cent of all house sales in the UK - is believed to be the first estate agent taken to court for allegedly breaching the 2008 Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations.

Late last year it was challenged by Wrexham council trading standards department and found guilty of failing to tell prospective purchasers of a home that a mineshaft was close by. The would-be buyers paid for a survey despite the agency allegedly knowing that a previous purchaser withdrew after finding out about the mine through an earlier survey.

Magistrates imposed a fine of £3,500 and ordered the firm to pay the council’s costs of £5,000 plus another £515 in compensation for the complainant’s survey.

However, Beresford Adams had the decision overturned on appeal last month (February 2013) because it was discovered the trading standards department had not put the findings to the agency directly before initiating the legal action.

"This is disappointing for the council but it is important to note although this case has been overturned, it was lost on a technicality" claims a spokesman for the local authority while a statement from the agency says: “We note the court's decision in relation to the appeal and have nothing further to add on the specific case."

Until the reach of the CPRs were extended to housing transactions, any buyer upset at omitted or inaccurate information had little choice but to take action against the seller directly, rather than the estate agent. Prosecutions were rare.

One of the few involved a York buyer in 2002 who claimed the sellers of a house failed to inform him about loud overnight noise which allegedly came from the next door property. The buyer, who said he had to take time off work from stress caused by the noise, won undisclosed damages from the previous owners.

Now the emphasis swings to agents to admit the problems.


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