Flooding Aftermath Will Test Agents

The aftermath of the UK’s heaviest rainfall for two centuries will not only be a test of government will and the Environment Agency’s capacity to restore confidence - it will also be the first major test of new legislation covering estate agents.

The estate agency industry is already exercised over how it applies the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations (CPRs) of 2008. It obliges agents to disclose all information which may influence a prospective buyer’s decision relating to a purchase, whether positive or negative.

So if the description and photographs of a home do not reveal it is near a motorway, this has to be made clear. Even if a home is next to a more socially-acceptable building – say, a primary school – this should be mentioned in case a prospective purchaser is deterred by the noise or traffic level which would be generated.

There are practical issues: for example, one agent told me this week it is having pictures of a property re-taken to include a busy road which had been cropped from the original photographs.

But the floods present a significant and high-profile test. For example:

- should details, in print or online, now include references to the fact that a local area suffered flooding in winter 2014, even if the property itself did not suffer?

- if a vendor fails to tell an agent about flooding, and the agent does not know, should the agent’s duty of care to a buyer (irrespective of the contract with a seller) oblige them to find out and tell prospective purchasers?

- should every agent selling a home in a flood-affected area (like, say, the westcountry which is heavily reliant on London, SE England and West Midlands buyers) tell prospective purchasers online and/or by telephone about floods, to prevent them making what may have been wasted journeys to view homes?

The hypothetical questions are numerous and obvious. As soon as the buyers resurface - in a week or two, when floods are no longer headline news - hypothesis turns into reality.

In the area in which I live (and which did indeed flood) I can imagine some agents being appropriately and legally candid to buyers: about a few others, I have my doubts.

You get the point. Agents now have to be honest and forthright. Euphemisms may be acceptable but most prospective buyers will see through them; complete omissions may come to haunt the agents if disgruntled purchasers take action at a later date.

The floods may be waning, but they could live on through arguments over property sales later in 2014.

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