Buying a House 2 - Estate Agents

Posted on 3 August 2004 in House (3 comments)

It's taken me a while to get round to doing the second part of the story telling how Catherine and myself ended up owning a home, but here goes... part two sees us going to the estate agents.

It's a rare person who has ever gone near an estate agent who has something good to say about them. Which didn't exactly make me feel good when, just after Christmas, we decided to get on the house hunting trail.

House Seeking Missile

Living around 12 miles (and an hours tube ride) away from the place we were looking to buy didn't make life too easy, so I started scouring websites like findaproperty.com and Right Move both of which allow you to contact estate agents online to arrange viewings.

Of course just because the website allows you to, doesn't mean they'll bother to get in touch back. So you phone. But the person you need to speak to is out of the office, or talking to someone else. So someone takes down your name and number, tells you they'll phone back, and promptly throws the number in the bin so that you never hear from them again. Or a myriad of other infuriating results, which wound me up so much that I ended up writing an entire post about it in February..

The Great and the Good

Even when you could get to speak to them, they promised to phone back if they got anything but rarely did. Kudos then to Josh at Kingleigh Folkhard and Heyward's Tooting office who did actually phone us with new properties when he got them, and was a very helpful bloke, and to Ellisons' Wimbledon office who did stick to their word and put us on their mailing list. Shame neither of them had anything that we liked.

Extending Radar

Pretty quick we extended our search to include Tooting as well as Colliers Wood. As the weeks dragged on, we even started looking at completely new areas like Ham, Northolt and Greenford - all of which promised afordable properties but had some major drawback - Greenford was too noisy thanks to a major road, Northolt was just plain awful, and Ham's affordability was mainly due to the fact that there was one bus and no tube.

After seeing several mid-terrace Edwardian maisonettes, gave up on them up as an overpriced and far too popular - even ones that needed about £40,000 of refurbishment, cost a fortune. We saw conversions, flats - even one place above a shop. Nothing was right. Tooting was a nuisance as every estate agent seemed to have the same five properties on.

The bad...

It was getting very depressing. I'd be checking the various websites almost daily looking for anything new. But more often than not, there was nothing there, or what was, was already under offer. Even worse were sites like that of estate agent ludlowthompson.com who claimed to be fantastic as running their agency via the web. When I did log on, everything was under offer - except there was absolutely nothing to say this which is why I got a terse email saying so. Impressively for a company supposedly taking the internet seriously it took them several days to say so.

Most estate agents were incredibly brusque and un-helpful. Over progressive weeks we phoned and emailed a multitude of estate agents and saw something like 13 places. We saw a couple which were good bar the location (too far from tube) and we saw a lot that were to be quite frank, awful.

...and the ugly

And seeing as we've mentioned two top estate agents, let's mention the worst one we dealt with. C. James in Colliers Wood.

Ironically they got off to a good start - they responded to email requests for starters. But as we dealt more with them, things rapidly degenerated.

The staff ranged from the dis-interested to the down-right patronising if you dared tell them what you didn't want (there was a reason we couldn't want to live in Mitcham - not that they'd have taken any notice of it if we'd told them). Getting hold of them on the phone was impossible, and their attempts to arrange viewings... Urgh. Even when you went round a place, they may have not been there at all - they just siddled in the shadows and didn't know anything about the property when asked.

The whole outfit was incredibly infuriating - not least because of their diabolical service, but because their prominent location near Colliers Wood tube station meant they had the majority of the properties in the area. If you wanted anything in the area, you have to go to them.

Towards the end of our hunt they booked us in to see somewhere on a Friday night, only for us to traipse all the way from work to their office to find out they couldn't get the keys and hadn't bothered to call us. Can you come back tomorrow and we'll try and sort it out? <sigh>.

The ugly provide a duckling

We did - the place looked good on paper so it was worth traipsing out again. But before we left that Friday they showed us a sheet with a new addition. It was in an area we had tried to avoid - it looked a bit naff when we first went round it in November, but with the benefit of hindsight, we'd probably set our standards too high initially and it was better than many of the areas we'd also looked at more recently. I said yes (Catherine looked unsure as I recall) and the following day we came down.

Needless to say the place we'd wanted to see was pretty crap (everything too small, living room puny etc). But the place we opted to see at the last minute.... Well that was the very place we're living now.

Most people say you can tell straight away. And I think I did. On the platform of Colliers Wood station we discussed it. We went and wandered round the wonderful Borough Market and discussed more. We had a pint in the Market Porter and discussed some more. And decided to put an offer in. Ironically the incompetence of an estate agent brought us just the right place.

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jeff peters said:

Having just spent 7 months trying to sell our house, my wife and I are at wits end. We've sold twice in this time only to have people at the bottom of the chain pull out before completion.

When will England ever sort out it's home buying/selling laws to protect people? We have now lost £2000 and are still no closer to moving than we were back in May!

Posted on 12 December 2007 at 12:14 AM

Chris Jones said:

i am sorry to hear about your unfortunate dealings with local agents

feel free to contact us for all your property needs and hopefully dealing with us will not leave such sour aftertaste

regards

chris

Posted on 13 December 2007 at 12:10 AM

a disgruntled Gascoigne Pees (Cobham) customer said:

We made the much regretted mistake of putting our property on the market with Gascoigne Pees in Cobham / Surrey. After our meeting with Gascoigne Pees in December 2006, Gascoigne Pees announced a viewing for mid- December. It was then up to us to call Gascoigne Pees office the following Monday to find out that the viewing never took place, as the interested party had allegedly cancelled. No courtesy note had been left, nor had Gascoigne Pees initiated the communication.
We were told to expect more viewings very shortly, and were asked to consider viewings over the Christmas holiday period when we were away. On calling Gascoigne Pees’ office shortly before Christmas to follow up, we found that a member of staff, who was supposed to be in charge, had gone on holiday until the New Year. Her colleague, to whom we had to explain ourselves, was polite, but appeared to know nothing about our case, and assured us that “nobody want[ed] a bungalow in Cobham.” His behaviour indicated that, contrary to Gascoigne Pees’ claim, nobody was covering in his colleague’s absence.
January 2007, we called Gascoigne Pees office, having to explain ourselves to yet another member of staff whom we had not met. Again, Gascoigne Pees had not initiated the communication. The known member of staff explained that she had gone on holiday and that it had turned out to be difficult to arrange viewings in the run up to Christmas and not to worry, things were moving. No apology was offered.
After we sent an instruction by email to put everything on hold, she phoned back, reiterated her point about Christmas and finally apologised; we responded that we would have expected to have had that call before she went on holiday, and could she please wait to hear from us.
We then proposed an amicable dissolution of the agency agreement. A secretary at Gascoigne Pees was professional enough to confirm receipt of our email, yet the branch manager did not respond to our proposal to dissolve the contract amicably, until a stronger message a week later. His response was entirely unacceptable, and included allegations which are not true. Later emails merely reiterated Gascoigne Pees’ blunt insistence on our agreement, refusing to accept responsibility for their action quoting, with provocative repetition, their rights and our obligations under the agreement. We rightly turned down their offers for a meeting to “resolve issues”, as the issue of loss of trust in them cannot be resolved by such a meeting; it is obvious that Gascoigne Pees were unwilling to agree to a severance of the agreement. We later escalated matters within Gascoigne Pees and received an outrageous suggestion that nothing was wrong for them, and that we should sell our property through them after all. We felt extremely strongly that, on the basis of equity, Gascoigne Pees’ minimal amount of work for us was more than outweighed by the inconvenience caused.
Gascoigne Pees’ behaviour is unacceptable, and they are entirely responsible for the complete breakdown of our relationship with them. We have every reason not to have any trust in Gascoigne Pees, and cannot reasonably be expected to work any further with them. Therefore, it was unreasonable for them to withhold their consent to an immediate severance of the agreement.
We took the property off the market, filing a formal complaint with the Ombudsman for estate agents at the same time. We were shocked to discover that such a complaint took 3 months to process – 3 hours should have been more than enough. It became clear that the estate agent’s position is far stronger than the complaints procedure suggests, as they are de facto able to force us off the market for prolonged periods of time. Perhaps to their surprise, we did not bow to their attempted blackmail, but signed up with a different, very professional and honest local agent after the period lapsed.

We were eventually granted a small financial compensation by the Ombudsman, which Gascoigne Pees paid, and are still waiting for the formal apology. It was a sad joke compared to the pain and inconvenience, demonstrating how weak the Ombudsman scheme is in keeping rogue agents under control.

Should anybody have the misfortune of dealing with Gascoigne Pees in Cobham, ask them whether they had any formal complaints through the Ombudsman scheme and whether clients were awarded any compensation. If they deny it, ask them to confirm in writing, and send to the Ombudsman for information. If they own up to the above story, it will take some interesting explaining. In any case, why would anybody want to deal with those people, given any choice?

Posted on 8 April 2008 at 5:41 PM

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