Estate Agents

Published on 21 March 2006 in , , ,

The BBC News website’s article, The Secret Agent, about dirty tricks and scamster estate agents makes depressing reading. Anyone who has bought or sold property knows that it’s an extremely stressful experience.

It also reminded me that I’d never blogged about the estate agent hell we had when we were trying to complete the purchase of our lovely little house.

I mentioned at the time that C James weren’t exactly on the top of our top estate agents list, but never actually spoke about the worst of it.

Everything had been going along pretty well – our solicitors were very helpful and attentive, and everything seemed to be fine on the vendors side as well. Then we started getting calls from C. James telling us that we’re not moving fast enough and that the vendors were threatening to pull out.

The blame (we were told) was because our solicitor had gone on holiday for a week. We spoke to our solicitors who said that everything was under control and as paperwork was flowing, we didn’t worry.

There were a few similar incidents until we were close to exchanging contracts. We were literally days away from exchange. We’d followed all the instructions and had sent the money off (in the form of a cheque as I recall) to our solicitors so that they would have it ready to transfer. All was fine.

It was a very bright and sunny Friday and I was on a Project Management course at the time, learning all about Gantt charts and such like, so was away from the office (we were doing the course in a room at the Thistle Barbican) and had my mobile turned off.

It being lunchtime, I turned it on to see if there were any messages.

There were two frantic messages from C.James. Why had we sent a cheque? The vendor of the person who was selling the next property in the chain wanted their money today else they’d pull out. What were we playing at?

It was lunchtime and being first time buyers, I was a bit edgy. I phoned Catherine so she could get on to the solicitor, whilst I made arrangements to rush as fast as I could to Old Street where the nearest branch of the Halifax was, in order to try and make the payment.

I spoke to the course instructor who wished me well, and I dashed off, extremely stressed.

I’d got to Old Street when I spoke to Catherine – she hadn’t got through to the solicitors at that point (they’d been out to lunch), but had been on to the Halifax. It was past the cut off point for same day transfers. It was tough. The money wasn’t going anywhere.

I started wandering back the long walk to the Thistle Barbican, arrived back at my course feeling a little hot, sweaty and fed up.

Catherine in the meantime had got through to the solicitors. They told us all were fine – no one was threatening to pull out, and that everyone was happy. It was all nice and smooth.

But what came next was more revealing. The solicitors told us that the woman we were dealing with at C.James was off on holiday that very day. If we’d got the money transferred on that day, she would have had her commission that day. Sure enough, it turned out that she was going on holiday, and whilst we obviously don’t know what were motives were, we do know that she didn’t go on holiday with her cut of the cash in her pocket.

We were very lucky in that in the main, our house purchase was very smooth, very straightforward. There were only three parties in the chain, and our solicitors (a company called Harris Cooper Walsh who we got them through a website called were always wonderfully helpful, nice and efficient.

However it would have been a far nicer experience had we not been put under unnecessary pressure and stress. Next time I’ll be wiser to these things. But no one should be put under this stress in the first place.

And given these things are not isolated occurrences – almost everyone I know who has bought property has had a traumatic experience with it – it raises the serious question of why no one seems to think that tidying it up, is a good idea…

Others may have had brilliant experiences of C.James. I can’t speak for them. I only know what I saw of them. My experience of C.James in 2004 has left a mark. When it comes to selling this house in the future, they are one company who won’t be getting the job.


  • From April 2008, it will be compulsory for every estate agent to belong to a “redress scheme”. If the same thing were to happen then, would you be entitled to redress? No, but the seller would.
    The grounds for complaint, under a redress scheme, will be breaches of the existing law – nothing more and nothing less – which affords scant relief for buyers.
    The estate agent is the agent of the seller. Therefore, the acts of the estate agent are the acts of the seller, regardless of whether they are done with the seller’s knowledge or instructions.
    In this case, the estate agent told a lie – that the seller’s seller would pull out if contracts were not exchanged that day. This was the seller’s lie. Did the seller instruct the estate agent to tell the lie, or even know about it? If not, the estate agent was in breach of the fundamental obligation to obey the seller’s instructions.
    This would be a clear ground for complaint under a redress scheme, but it would be the seller’s, not the buyer’s, complaint. The buyer would have no ground for complaint, because there is no law against telling such a lie (unlike inventing a rival offer).
    The Seller could go further and refuse to pay the estate agent’s commission, under the principle: “A principal is entitled to have an honest agent, and it is only the honest agent who is entitled to any commission”. This would be a very attractive idea to many sellers, who would welcome complaints from buyers giving the opportunity to avoid commission.

  • Andrew Bowden says:

    Interesting stuff – and it has to be said, if enough people with geniune gripes, complained (or even withheld commissions), it would certainly send a message!

  • John Nxon says:

    I am not in any way ashamed to say that I am an estate agent but I am most certainly ashamed of the disreputable behaviour of a minority of agents.
    Estate agents are an easy target and I would love our critics to spend a month working as an estate agent gaining an insight in to all the trials , pitfalls, conflicting interests and unrealistic expectations that are an every day part of being an estate agent.They would soon understand that while it is relatively easy to be an agent it is not easy to provide the standard of service that people expect.
    In most countries estate agents or realtors are licensed and therefore have to undergo training, achieve qualifications and conduct their business to a standard laid down by the appropriate governing a body. Why is the UK one of the few countries not to adopt this measure which would have the effect of dramatically raising the standard of service and professionalism within our industry.

  • Marcus Hill says:

    Solicitors are a total nightmare to deal with, I’ve also had many problems with them.

  • Michelle says:

    I hear so many stories like this and have gone through similar myself! I think its terrible that the Estate Agents are there to ensure the sale and purchases of the properties go through smoothly and as a reward they get commission which is fair enough but unfortunately you do get the rogue agents who want their commission sooner for one reason or another!!
    I do understand that they work long hours and almost everyday and that is admirable but to act in this way is awful and they should be ashamed of themselves! anyway rant over now, nice post!

  • I read the article and it is quite shocking the things that they do! But anybody who works for commission and when it is higher level of commission, will devise devious plans to secure deals

  • Mark says:

    There is right and wrong common sense tells you which. I don’t know how some agents sleep at night doing what they do the opportunity is there to make a good living from honest work.

  • Tim Giles says:

    Estate Agents – clean up your act…
    This is the day and age of customer service and repeat business.
    Why just go for the quick buck. Build a reputable business that gets praise…
    This is not a difficult business as long as you are honest. A wise old man once said to me:
    Think about a judge sitting on your shoulder before you do anything ask the judge if you should…

  • I’ve started a petition to No10 about estate agents – given the tenderness of the market, which is partly their fault.
    It suggests that if agents give free appraisals, they should be committed to purchasing the house at the price they name, if they can’t find a buyer within say 4 months max.
    That should make initial asking prices bear a close resemblance to current values?
    Anyone in agreement – please sign, ta

  • ryan says:

    realising reality- Your petition idea is totally unrealistic.the reason prices are often over inflated lies with the fact that some agents go in with a higher price just to get the instruction and the naive vendor sees pounds signs and goes with that agent and then sits on the market for months and reduces the price to what it should be and sells.