Record level of disputes with estate agents

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The Property Ombudsman said complaints against estate agents were “unacceptably” high after he handled a record level of disputes during 2010.

The Ombudsman, Christopher Hamer, received 1,338 new referrals against property professionals during the year, the highest level recorded since the scheme was set up 20 years ago, and 28 per cent above the previous peak reached in 2008.

The level of complaints was 40 per cent ahead of his prediction for the year, and came despite the fact that property transactions are currently running significantly below normal.

Mr Hamer blamed the rise on an increase in disputes involving property sales, with 646 complaints made against estate agents during the year and 672 made against letting agents. The remaining disputes related to home information packs and residential leasehold management.

But he said that while complaints against sales agents were “unacceptably high”, the Property Ombudsman’s Code of Practice was having an effect on the industry.

He said: “The impact of the TPO Code of Practice is further borne out by my average award to compensate complainants for the agent’s actions for sales in 2010 being £258 when in 2007 it was £547, an indicator the gravity of complaints is diminished.”

The single biggest cause of complaint was a communication failure between the agent and the consumer, which was cited in 214 disputes, followed by the way an agent had handled a complaint in 163 disputes and problems with sales details, advertising and marketing cited in 138 referrals.