Commons to scrutinise Estate Agents' tactics

Industry malpractice becomes subject of Parliamentary debate

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BBC One's Whistleblower, the programme that exposed the less scrupulous side of the estate agency industry, has sparked a commons debate.  So serious were the programme's findings, the entire estate agency industry is set to be subjected to parliamentary scrutiny.

The Whistleblower programme, which aired this week, showed undercover journalists Anna Adams and Emma Clarke working with a number of agency sales teams across London. 

During their two month stint in West London offices of Foxtons, the two women uncovered a whole host of underhand methods employed to maximise commissions. As part of the investigation, Adams spoke to several ex-employees of Foxton’s one of whom spoke of a 'circle of deceit' at the firm in which vendors, buyers, tenants and landlords were routinely lied to.

Vendors reluctant to sell below the valuations given to them by Foxton's were given false offers to convince them to cut their selling price, mortgage valuers where given bogus documentation to ensure that they granted loans on over-valued properties and landlords' signatures were routinely forged in a process that was known as 'chop-chop.

The programme also revealed how mortgage brokers Alexander Hall routinely shared information about buyers with Foxton's estate agents. This gave the agent inside knowledge as to how much the buyer was likely to be able to afford. Alexander Hall was presented to buyers as an independent company but it is owned by Jonathan Hunt who also owns Foxton's and their staff are based in Foxton's offices.

Although shocking, the misdemeanours of Foxton's employees were not the most serious featured in the programme. Estate agents employed by the Remax and Chard agencies were featured colluding to sell a deliberately undervalued flat to a developer in return for a cash payment.

After watching the documentary, MP Richard Younger-Ross asked for Patricia Hewitt (Secretary of State for Trade and Industry) to "make a statement about the conduct and regulation of estate agents".

Leader of the House, Geoff Hoon said he had, "read about the estate agents apparent and alleged poor behaviour. On this occasion, I choose to give such reports some credibility. Members will need to return to this issue."

Such a programme was bound to increase calls for more regulation and higher professional standards within the industry and for compulsory membership of the Estate Agent's Ombudsman to which only 40% of agents currently belong.

Collette Browne of Chiswick's said, " I was approached by the BBC who monitored – with my staff – some of our for sale boards. We got footage of a chap stealing a board from Troubridge Court and although we can identify him we cannot link him to a particular agent in Chiswick – yet. The programme's production team worked within the libel limits and as such did not show the some of the other murky footage – hopefully there will be a follow up programme.

She went on to say "I strongly recommend that you check your agent has sat recent exams such as the NAEA – you can be a Fellow member without ever having sat exams about the law of selling – simply ask to see the certificate of technical award examination – that will assure you your agent will know what the laws are – it’s a start!”

March 28, 2006