Buying a house Estate agents: registering and your rights
Love them or hate them, estate agents will play a key role when you're buying a property. In this guide, we explain how to decide which estate agents to register with, plus how to make sure you're the first person they call when your dream home hits the market.
While many people's property searches tend to begin with a browse on Rightmove.co.uk, in order to actually view a property you'll need to register your details with the estate agent that's selling it.
What's more, when a person puts their house on the market, the estate agent will sometimes inform registered buyers before they get round to uploading the details to the web. They'll often call their favourite house-hunters first, so getting into the local estate agents' good books is a wise move, particularly in areas where demand outweighs supply.
Even if you're house-hunting in a relatively slow-moving market where there's less competition among buyers, it can still pay to have a pre-existing relationship with the agent as they may be more likely to share details about the vendor or property that enable you to negotiate on price later down the line.
Expert tip: if you have a mortgage agreement in principle before you start viewing properties, you'll be taken much more seriously as a buyer. Call Which? Mortgage Advisers, the Which? Group's impartial advice service, on 0808 252 7987 for a free consultation.
Registering with estate agents
Take a walk down the local high street and look in estate agents' windows and you may notice that some firms specialise in particular types of homes, or lean towards the budget or luxury end of the market.
You'll soon get a feel for the agents most likely to sell properties that match your criteria. So, if possible, go in and introduce yourself so that you can register in person - being able to put a face to a name can work wonders. If you can't register in person, try to do it over the phone rather than online/via email as you're more likely to build up a rapport and give the agent an accurate idea of the type of home you're hoping to buy.
Don’t restrict yourself to one agent. The more you register with, the more likely you are to be called when your dream home goes up for sale.
Once you've registered, it's a good idea to maintain regular contact so that you're top of the estate agent's mind when new properties hit the market.
Checklist: buying a house through estate agents
Our printable checklist will help you get estate agents on your side as a buyer. It also lists the questions you should ask about properties you're interested in viewing or making an offer on.
Video: tips for buying a house through estate agents
Estate agents don't always have the best reputation. However, while this is sometimes deserved, a 2015 Which? survey found that actually only one in six people were dissatisfied with the service they received from their estate agent. Given that you're almost certain to deal with estate agents when you're moving house, it makes sense to try and ensure the process runs as smoothly as possible.
In this video, first-time buyers Lydia and Amanda share their experiences of viewing flats and explain the tactics some agents will use to pressure you into making an offer.
Estate agents and your rights as a buyer
An estate agents' job is to sell properties. They make their living from the commission they charge the seller (estate agents' fees are usually 1-2%), so their duty is to the vendor, not you.
Legislation is weighted in favour of protecting the seller against dishonest practice. As the buyer, you have a limited amount of protection.
It’s your legal right that estate agents:
- Can’t invent offers in order to force the price up
- Must use clear contract terms
- Must pass on your offer promptly - they can’t hold it back simply because you don’t want to use their other facilities, such as arranging a mortgage
- Must reveal any financial interest they have in the property that you’re looking at
- Must answer direct questions accurately, although they don’t have to reveal defects in a property - if you’re given false information, you might have a claim against the agent under the Property Misdescriptions Act.
If you suspect that an agent has acted in breach of these regulations, you should contact the local authority’s trading standards department.
To avoid disputes over whether things have or haven't been verbally agreed, it's a good idea to record details of any conversations you have, including who you spoke to, on what date and what was said.
All estate agents have to be members of an ombudsman scheme that handles complaints, so check whether an agent is a member of one of these two ombudsman schemes:
- The Property Ombudsman (formerly known as the Ombudsman for Estate Agents)
- Ombudsman Services: Property
Find out more: visit our guide on how to sell a house for information on dealing with estate agents when you're selling
Which Ltd is an Introducer Appointed Representative of Which? Financial Services Ltd, which is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority. Which? Mortgage Advisers and Which? Money Compare are trading names of Which? Financial Services Limited. Your home may be repossessed if you do not keep up repayments on your mortgage.