It seems rather odd that the residential rental market is now heavily regulated with significant penalties for landlords who break the rules (even accidentally) and yet the profession of estate agency is, still, largely unregulated.
This lack of regulation has two major implications for both buyers and sellers.
First of all, it means that it’s generally a very good idea to pay close attention to user reviews (while remembering that, quite bluntly, the user-review system can be gamed).
Secondly, it means that both buyers and sellers should familiarize themselves with the sort of tricks used by “rogue” estate agency to avoid falling victim to them. Here are some of the more common ones.
This is particularly common with estate agents who work on commission rather than a flat fee.
Basically, they will suggest a high sales value to the owner in order to obtain a sole-agency contract with an extended lock-in period, after which they can try to sell the property at their stated valuation. If, as is likely, it does not sell, the owner will either have to agree to let them put it on the market at a more realistic price or wait until the lock-in period has ended before moving elsewhere.
This trick has obvious implications for sellers, but also for buyers because it dovetails with another estate agent’s trick which is to take buyers to see overpriced properties before showing them a realistically-priced property, which will look much better as a result of the inaccurate comparison.
Having numerous “added extras”
This one, by contrast, is more of an issue with the “fixed-price” estate agents, which are mostly found online and it can be very confusing for sellers and buyers alike.
Most people grasp the idea that if something looks too good to be true then the chances are that it probably is and that therefore if a particular estate agent says that they can provide at least the same level of service as their competitors for a much lower price, then, as a minimum, you probably want to ask a lot of questions about how, exactly, they are able to do this.
The problem comes when a tactic is spread across an industry in general with the result that most companies have prices which look to be in the same ballpark and hence nothing stands out as a warning signal.
Because of this, it’s really important to check the small print and be clear about what is, and is not, included.
Trying to push customers towards their own services/affiliates
To be fair, in some cases there is a justification for this in that estate agents are often in a very good position to know the best property professionals in their area (especially surveyors, conveyancers and mortgage brokers) and have a legitimate reason for encouraging their customers to use these people as it can make life easier all round.
In other cases, however, this is purely about increasing the estate agent’s profits. In short, therefore, if an estate agent recommends you to use a particular service or service provider, then you may wish to listen to them but be ready to ask a lot of questions about why you should and to say no if you are unhappy with the answers to them.