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Ombudsman for Estate Agents Consumer Guide

Using a Member Estate Agent to Buy or Sell Your Home

The Scheme
The Ombudsman for Estate Agents (OEA) Scheme provides a free, fair and independent service for dealing with unresolved disputes between Member Agents and people who are buying or selling residential property in the UK. The Ombudsman is a member of the British and Irish Ombudsman Association and follows the standards and rules of the Association. The Ombudsman is totally independent of the OEA Member Agents and reports directly to the OEA Council, which has a majority of non-industry members.

This webpage tells you
why you should choose an estate agent who belongs to the Scheme
what you can expect from a Member Agent
what type of complaints the Ombudsman can deal with
what happens if you have a complaint
how to contact the Ombudsman

Why should you choose an Estate Agent who belongs to the OEA Scheme?
• OEA Member Agents must follow the OEA Code of Practice. This sets out the framework within which Member Agents must operate and the standards of service they must provide for both buyers and sellers.
• The Code has been approved by the Office of Fair Trading under its Consumer Codes Approval Scheme.
• The Code is compulsory and rigorously applied. Compliance with the Code and levels of customer satisfaction are independently monitored and reported.
• Member Agents must belong to an Estate Agency professional association or be recommended for membership by two current Member Agents or suitable professional referees.
• Member Agents must have Professional Indemnity Insurance.
• Member Agents must have an in-house complaints system with written procedures; inform you how to refer any unresolved dispute to the Ombudsman; and co-operate with any investigation by the Ombudsman.
• Member Agents agree to pay compensation, in full and final settlement of a complaint, if this is awarded by the Ombudsman and is accepted by you as the complainant. This award must be paid promptly.
• The maximum award is £25,000.
• In the rare cases when a Member Agent fails repeatedly to comply with the Code or has seriously breached the Code, the Member Agent can be reprimanded or expelled from the Scheme.

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What can you expect from an OEA Member Agent?
The OEA Code of Practice requires Member Agents to meet all their legal obligations when acting as estate agents, but it goes above and beyond that by requiring Member Agents to adopt and follow “best practice”. This includes:

Duty of care. An estate agent must always work in the best interests of the client, that is to say the person who is paying for the estate agency services (usually the seller). But the Member Agent must also always treat fairly, and with courtesy, all those involved in the proposed sale or purchase. If the Member Agent or one of its staff has any personal or business interest in the property, you must be told.

Impartial advice. A Member Agent must make sure that no sellers or buyers are disadvantaged because they are unfamiliar with any aspect of the home buying and selling process. A Member Agent will offer appropriate advice, explanations and assistance to all regardless of age, experience, language, or physical ability.

Recommended asking prices. The figure given by the Member Agent must not misrepresent the value of the property but reflect current market conditions. The Member Agent must be able to support any figure given - and, wherever possible, it must be based on comparisons with similar properties in a similar location.

Terms of business. All estate agents must give you written Terms of Business. The Member Agent must also explain all fees and charges - including any liability to pay two fees - if you have instructed another agent to sell the property or will do so in the future. The Member Agent must also tell you if any fee will be payable if you withdraw your instructions to sell the property.

Fees and charges. The Member Agent must show these as an actual amount plus VAT. Unless the fee is a fixed price, the amount shown will be an illustration, based on the asking price of the property - and, should the selling price be higher or lower than the asking price, then it must be made clear that the fee payable will vary accordingly.

Marketing your property. The Member Agent must send the draft Sales Particulars describing the property to the seller to check their accuracy. The Member Agent must also ask if the seller wants a ‘For Sale’ board to be displayed.

Access. If the Member Agent holds the keys, staff from the agency must accompany those who are viewing and anyone else requiring access on behalf of the buyer – unless the seller gives authorisation to the contrary.

Viewings. The Member Agent must follow the seller’s instructions on how viewings should be conducted. He will record and pass on to the seller any feedback from viewings.

Offers. The Member Agent must record all offers received and pass a written copy of the offer to both the seller and the buyer. When an offer has been accepted “subject to contract”, the Member Agent must ask the seller if marketing should continue or if the property should be withdrawn from the market. If marketing is to continue, the Member Agent must advise the prospective buyer in writing. The Member Agent will do everything he reasonably can to tell all prospective buyers, who have recently made acceptable offers, of the existence of other offers submitted to the seller.

Financial assessment of buyers. When an offer is accepted, the Member Agent must find out and inform the seller how the buyer will fund the purchase - including whether the buyer must sell a property, obtain a mortgage, or is a cash buyer. Between acceptance of the offer and exchange of contracts, the Member Agent will monitor and report to the seller on the buyer’s progress in obtaining the money needed.

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What complaints can be dealt with by the Ombudsman?
Your complaint may be considered by the Ombudsman if you believe that the Member Agent has:
• infringed your legal rights or not complied with the OEA Code of Practice; or
• treated you unfairly; or
• been guilty of maladministration (including inefficiency or undue delay);
in a way that results in you losing money or suffering avoidable aggravation, distress and/ or inconvenience.

What complaints cannot be dealt with by the Ombudsman?
Broadly speaking, the Ombudsman cannot deal with your complaint if:
• Your complaint is not against a Member Agent.
• Your complaint is being, or has been, dealt with by a court or similar body. If, however, the matter being dealt with by a court only involves the non-payment of a commission fee, you can still bring your complaints about the Member Agent’s service to the Ombudsman.
• Your complaint is about a survey and/or a formal valuation of the property.
• Your complaint is about buying or selling a commercial property, or obtaining a mortgage, or the work of a solicitor.
• Your complaint refers to something that happened before the Agent became a Member of the OEA Scheme or more than 12 months before you complained in writing to the Member Agent.
• You refer your complaint to the Ombudsman more than six months after you receive the Member Agent’s final answer or offer of settlement.

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What will the Ombudsman do?
The Ombudsman can consider complaints from buyers and sellers who are customers of a Member Agent. The Ombudsman’s Office will send you a Complaints Form with guidance on how best to present your side of the case to the Ombudsman. At the same time you will receive full information about how the Ombudsman will try to resolve the dispute between you and the Member Agent or, if this is unsuccessful, how he will reach a fair and reasonable decision.

At each stage of the Ombudsman’s consideration you will be advised of the next steps that are available to you.

You can accept or reject the Ombudsman’s final decision. If you accept his award of financial compensation, you do so in full and final settlement of your dispute with the Member Agent. If you reject his final decision, it – and the award - will lapse, and you are free to do as you wish, including taking legal action against the Member Agent. Your legal rights will not have been affected by the Ombudsman’s decision.

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If you need any more information or advice you should contact:

The Ombudsman for Estate Agents
Beckett House
4 Bridge Street
Salisbury
Wiltshire
SP1 2LX

Telephone: 01722 333306
Facsimile: 01722 332296
(Enquiry line open 9.30am – 4.30pm)
Website: www.oea.co.uk
Email: admin@oea.co.uk

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