Buying a house Estate agents: registering and your rights

Couple viewing properties in an estate agent's window

Look at the types of properties an estate agent is selling before you register

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.

Download our checklist

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.

 

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Video transcript

We went to see a property, we went to second view of a property, and on the second viewing, it was quite different to the first. On the first view we went to see it at night, so it was quite dark. It was in the winter as well so it was really dark. Went into the garden, and there was like a puddle, and been told it was something about a dishwasher, and it will be fixed in a week.

When we went back the second time, we could see the extent of the damage in the light, and the previous, the first few who we'd known, so the stage was really trying to pressure me into putting an offer in.

Yeah, they generally say we've
already had a lot of interest, we've already had several people putting offers, and they put pressure on you.

So we felt, we like this place we don't want to miss out, so we've got to put in an offer, which we did, just to kind of secure it. We went back again and found all of this damage that had been going on for years, and would cost thousands of pounds to repair that they tried to brush over as just a broken washing machine.

It was clearly a lot worse than that. And that is something that you have to be careful of it. Don't be pressured into putting offers into something while making any movements onto something because of an estate agent, because they're trying to make their sale. It's your money at the end of the day.

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:

Find out more: visit our guide on how to sell a house for information on dealing with estate agents when you're selling

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