How to buy a house Buying through estate agents
Although our research points to widespread consumer dissatisfaction with estate agents, it’s still likely you’ll have to deal with one when buying a house.
Find the right estate agents
Some estate agents specialise in particular types of properties, or price ranges, so look around for one that meets your needs.
Don’t restrict yourself to one agent. There’s no harm in registering with a wide selection.
All estate agents have to be members of an ombudsman scheme which handles complaints. There are two ombudsman schemes for estate agents - The Property Ombudsman (formerly known as the Ombudsman for Estate Agents) or Ombudsman Services: Property. Visit their websites to check whether an agent is a member.
Remember who pays estate agents' fees
Estate agents are in business to arrange the sale of a property on behalf of the seller. They make their living from the commission (estate agents' fees are around 1.5%) they charge the seller, so their duty is to them, not you.
Legislation is weighted in favour of protecting the seller against sharp 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 your 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.
Buying through estate agents
Since you’re unlikely to be able to avoid using an estate agent, you need to take certain steps that will ensure the process runs as smoothly as possible.
Make regular contact
The more contact you have with your estate agent, the more likely they’ll think of you when something suitable comes on the market.
Record details of any phone conversations, including who you spoke to, on what date and what was said. This will help to avoid any disputes further down the line if something you’d thought was agreed is later denied.
Get a copy of your offer
Once you’ve made an offer, the estate agent is obliged to send it on to the seller by letter, so ask them for a copy.
Visit our guide to how to sell a house for more information on dealing with estate agents when you are a seller.
For more property advice, see our book Buy, Sell & Move House which contains everything you need to know to navigate the property maze.