Is my agent, local, an expert or even legal?! How do I check?

Dedicated to ‘Cyberduck’

Most people buying or selling a home assume that the agent they are dealing with probably has to be qualified or licensed in some way, knows the local area and has some experience of the local market and the job they do (especially if that agent describes themselves as an expert, local, property professional or, a ‘maven‘).

Sadly, many people are badly mistaken in this view. There are very few legal barriers to entry as an estate agent and absolutely no requirement to have any formal qualifications (though they certainly exist and many agents choose to take them)

To visit someones’ home or property investment as an employed agent to provide marketing and pricing advice, to (possibly) conduct viewings, actively try to sell that property, conduct negotiations on your behalf which may run into the millions of pounds and, then, to successfully coax it through the archaic and combative English conveyancing system (and equally bad Scottish system) requires no legal checks, no qualifications and no experience. No wonder there are some horror stories out there. There is no definitive legal definition of an expert or ‘local’ (though the ASA is currently looking at whether or not such claims by some agents may be misleading)

robot football fail gif

The Crown Prosecution Service says this about what defines an ‘expert’:

It is a matter for the court to rule upon in each case. However for the purposes of this guidance, an expert is defined as: “a person whose evidence is intended to be tendered before a court and who has relevant skill or knowledge achieved through research, experience or professional application within a specific field sufficient to entitle them to give evidence of their opinion and upon which the court may require independent, impartial assistance”.


However, I would argue that LinkedIn profiles showing someone was working in the fitness and entertainment business one week and describing themselves as a property expert the next, does not classify them as an ‘expert’.

As a self employed agent, franchisee, or as a sole trader, there is greater protection for consumers but, few know where or how to check. This post aims to show the reader how and where to look.

The following list is not exhaustive but covers the basic requirements that a customer should be able to expect from an estate agency business or franchise/ licensee.

“if carrying out estate agency work by way of business then you must register with HMRC under the Money Laundering Regulations” – HMRC Money Laundering Team. May 2017

  • Agents must, by law, be members of an approved redress scheme such as The Property Ombudsman (TPOS)
  • Agents must register with HMRC to help prevent money laundering
  • Agents must (usually*) be registered with the Information Commissioners Office (ICO) for data protection “failure to register is a criminal offence”
  • Agents must have suitable public liability insurance and professional indemnity insurance (TPOS)

How do I check my agent is local and legal?

  1. To search the TPOS website find a member section enter the name of the company and area (e.g. for my loyal reader Cyberduck from Twitter, I’ll  use the example of Purplebricks – Cornwall) – If they are registered you should also check how long have they been trading/ been a member by contacting TPOS
  2. To check if your personal data will be held and processed correctly, you need to check the ICO website (you’ll only need the postcode from ‘1’ above to check).
  3. If there are more than one company listed at that address, you can check which one by looking on companies house here (make sure you also try the registered office postcode as well as the address in ‘1’ above). This will also enable you to see how long that business has been trading and compare the commencement of trading dates with membership of TPOS in ‘1’, ICO registration in ‘2’ and HMRC registration in ‘4’.
  4. To check if the company in question is complying with HMRC money laundering regulations for registration, click here 
  5. Not a legal requirement but, a good place to start is to check to see if the agent is a licensed and protected Propertymark agent

Propertmark logos before and after v4 JF

 

MAKE A COMPLAINT TO THE ICO

*Dependent on how they process personal data. Here is an example of the ICOs’ reference guide for a typical franchised agent.Registration self assessment ICO

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