“Rollin’, rollin’, rollin’ Keep them dogies movin…”

The reason for channelling my inner Rowdy Yates ( the real star over his boss Gil Favor), is that yesterday on Radio 4’s You and Yours, the world of selling houses and estate agency in general was likened to the ‘Wild West’. Now I would like to think that I can work a pair of buffalo-hide chaps better than most (without looking like the really camp, hirsute one from The Village People), but I prefer to meet the general public wearing a suit.  Each to their own though.  The comparison was made by a an American lady who holds the position of chief executive of The Homeowners’ Alliance (HA).  This is an organisation that has self-styled itself as, “the voice of the homeowner”[sic] that aims to support and serve Britain’s 17 million homeowners and 5 million prospective homeowners.  At a cost, incidentally, of £29.  Now this is not a huge outlay nor am I knocking the formation of a support group. ‘Hello, I’m Gareth and I’m an estate agent”. (Apologies to anyone who has been offended – have a drink on me).  The reason for their presence on prime time radio was the publication of a report compiled by them that focussed primarily on the secretive nature of estate agents in revealing to prospective vendors the actual cost of selling their property.  Hidden fees, additional clauses and the demand for additional marketing payments were amongst the examples of unprofessional behaviour.  According to the septic (tank – for those of you who aren’t au fait with rhyming slang), the HA visited 169 websites and  rang 41 agents to try and establish the cost of selling a property and the vast majority of the agents were less than forthcoming about the fees that they would charge.  On the subject of roguish behaviour, articles in yesterday’s written press commented on the “return of rogue agents”  [sic] Daily Mail , Friday 7 March 2014, in tandem with soaring house prices.  Again, the subject of agents signing people up to 6 month contracts without there being any interest in their property was the main thrust of the article.  I will let you into a little secret; this has been going on for years and I could name half a dozen agents, (invariably part of large, target-driven national chains) who operate in the NP44 postcode who have always done this and will continue to do so.  It is not condonable in any way; and at Cheshire and Co – as a small independent – we never ask a prospective vendor to sign such a contract.  But one thing should be pointed out, nobody has to sign the contract and if you are asked to do so, don’t.  The wonders of modern technology mean that if considering selling your house, you are able to research agents from wherever you may be based.  Also on Radio 4 was a lady from the National Association of Estate Agents (NAEA), who advised that when choosing an estate agent one should always choose an NAEA member.  Why?  Firstly, her fellow guest said that most of those whom they had identified from their survey who were purveyors of dodgy practices were actually NAEA members and secondly, what can the NAEA actually do for you the vendor (or as an agent)?  To quote from the NAEA’s website, “every year, unlicensed agents cause Britain’s homebuyers and sellers unnecessary stress and hassle” [sic] and they as a body aim to, “reduce this through self-regulation” [sic].  Very commendable, but I refer you to my earlier question. And I must point out a couple of issues that are raised from the NAEA blurb.  “Unlicensed agents”, implies that to operate as an estate agent one has to hold some form of licence akin to the legally binding document required to drive a car or watch a television.  No such license exists. The “unlicensed” bit refers to not being a member of the NAEA that as our American friend reports has dubious quality control measures.  This segues neatly with my next comment.  Membership of the NAEA is voluntary and the organisation itself is self-regulating. Having reported agents  who proudly proclaimed that they were NAEA members, but whose business practices were spectacularly in breach of the NAEA voluntary code of practice, I awaited definitive self-regulatory action to be taken. I am still waiting.  As always, the body that everyone who operates a business should be hugely respectful of, is Trading Standards. They don’t charge you a £1500 fee plus VAT to list their acronym on your website, they just shut you down.  Self-regulation my £$%&, they regulate through the law of the land and if you don’t play by the rules, you aren’t allowed to play.

As they said when setting out on the Sedalia Trail, “Head ’em up! Move ’em out! Saddle up! Ride around!”  I’m not sure how well that will go down as I bellow it out of the car window on Cwmbran Drive…