What Legal Obligations Do Estate Agents Have to Buyers?
Estate agents have a reputation for being untrustworthy, willing to do or say anything to ensure they get the biggest profit. But this might now be an outdated attitude. There are now laws, regulations, and guidelines in place to ensure that estate agents treat the seller and all potential buyers fairly. These regulations include The Estate Agents Act 1979 and the more recent Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 which has further rules to protect buyers.
These rules are especially important for those buying a property, as it gives them the peace of mind that they can make the purchase with all the relevant information they need. Below are the legal obligations estate agents have to buyers.
Accurately Describing the Property
Estate agents have a legal obligation to accurately describe the property for potential buyers. This includes in the written description and also in the photos that are used for marketing. So, estate agents can’t describe a property as ‘recently decorated’ if actually only one room has been decorated. They can’t describe a property as being on a ‘quiet street’ if there is a motorway behind the garden – even though it is technically correct because the property is located on a quiet street, it is misleading as the property will still get a lot of road noise.
When taking photos for marketing, estate agents should not doctor the photos in any way. They’re also not allowed to take pictures from deliberate angles to hide flaws or negative features in and around the property. Estate agents are also not allowed to say anything verbally to potential buyers that would mislead them or inaccurately describe the property.
Even with these regulations, estate agents will still try to sell the property in the best light possible. So, buyers should still be aware when looking at photos, reading property descriptions, or speaking to estate agents and carefully consider the language that is used. For example, common estate agent buzzwords include describing a property as “in need of modernisation” – this means that money will need to be spent on the property to bring it up to standards. Sometimes a property will be described as a “blank canvas” for the buyer to make their mark on it – but this can also mean the interior needs some TLC.
Not Withholding Important Information
Estate agents have a legal obligation to be upfront with all of the relevant and necessary information that a buyer will need to know. If they are seen to have deliberately withheld information, they can face fines and even imprisonment.
The information that estate agents are obligated to pass on to buyers is varied. It includes things like whether there is planning permission or plans for development in the area. This is important for buyers, as it may affect their decision to want to buy and live somewhere if there is likely to be building work for a long period of time, or a new road being built that will make the area busy.
Estate agents are also obligated to pass on structural information, like whether a property has subsidence. Buyers should always have their own surveys carried out on a property before they complete the sale, to ensure all potential issues are highlighted. However, with these rules, buyers can save time and money by having the estate agent pass on this type of structural information straight away.
Estate agents must also provide relevant information about the local area that could affect the buyer, like whether there is a school nearby which could create noise and traffic, or a nightclub which could mean noise at unsociable hours. They will also need to pass on whether there have been any burglaries in the neighbourhood or if any neighbours have an ASBO.
Estate agents are obligated to pass on this information in a timely manner. This means they can’t leave it until the last minute or until it is too late for the buyer to pull out of the sale to let them know information that could potentially affect their decision to buy.
Passing on Offers to the Seller
Estate agents are legally obligated to pass on all offers to the seller. They must pass on all offers all the way up to contracts being exchanged and the sale is finalised. Estate agents must inform sellers of offers in writing – either letter, email, or fax – and they must be passed on promptly from the offer being made. This means that anytime a buyer makes a formal offer, the seller must be notified about it.
The only exception to an offer being passed on to the seller is if the seller has formally requested to not be informed of certain offers. For example, they may ask the estate agent not to pass on offers that are below a certain amount.
Not Showing Bias To or Against Buyers
Estate agents are legally required to not show any bias to or against any individual buyers. This means that all buyers will be treated the same and will have the same conditions. For example, estate agents will not be allowed to ask one buyer to hold a mortgage in principle before the offer is passed on, and not have this same condition for other buyers. Estate agents will also not be allowed to refuse to pass on information to a particular buyer, or take longer to send on requested information with one buyer compared to any others.
In an effort to reduce the risk of bias, estate agents are legally obligated to declare whether they have any connection to a party in the sale, whether that be the seller or another buyer.
How to Deal with a Bad Estate Agent
If you think an estate agent has been breaking the rules or acting unfairly, you should first raise the issue with the estate agent. If you can’t reach a resolution with them, you should then log a formal complaint with their relevant redress scheme, usually The Property Ombudsman but sometimes the Property Redress Scheme. You should ask the estate agent which scheme they belong to so you can report your grievance to the right one.
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