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Can we bypass the estate agent to buy a property?

Q My partner and I saw a house on the Rightmove website. We rang the estate agent and told them we wanted to view the house on Saturday. They said they would call back. When they eventually did – we had to ring to remind them – we agreed on a time to view the property.

3500

We arrived at the house to be greeted by one of the owners (a couple who are separating), but the house was different from the pictures on the website. The owner explained that their estate agent was useless. We did our research and discovered that the agent was using images from 2011 to advertise the house now.

After we had viewed the property, we had no follow-up from the agent, so my partner called a few days later to put in an offer, which the agent told us had been rejected. We asked why but the agent said they hadn’t asked the owner and was generally unhelpful.

As we have the owner’s number, we asked them for another look around the house last Saturday. On Monday, the agent called to ask if we wanted to look at other houses in the area, and we told him that we had had a second viewing. The owner then rang to say that the agent had called them and had told them off for going behind the agent’s back.

We are still interested in the house but feel that the estate agent has been useless. From the outdated pictures and description to the lack of information about the state of the property: the bathroom needs gutting, there is cat poo and we in the house, plus damp. As the current advert is a lie, do estate agents not even view a house before advertising it?

Either way, we feel the owner did not go behind the agent’s back; they only gave us their number as the estate agent has been so useless. Is there a way to bypass the estate agent or go through someone else? KT

To answer your last question first, until the seller of a property withdraws from their contract with an estate agent and puts a property up for sale privately, a buyer must make an offer to the estate agent that a property is being sold through. That said, however, estate agents are required to show any offers promptly and in writing to the person selling the property. Agents are also legally obliged to pass on any offers for the property right until contracts are signed. So no, you can’t bypass the agent. However, it’s up to the agent who has the contract to complain if they think the agent has been deficient in passing on offers. In your case, it seems that your offer was passed on but rejected by the seller, so, on the face of it, there’s nothing to complain about.

As far as the description of the property goes, you have every right to complain. In England and Wales, descriptions used by estate agents and lettings agents are controlled by the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 (known as the CPRs). They replaced the Property Misdescriptions Act 1991, which was repealed in 2013. These regulations prohibit “misleading actions” and “misleading omissions” that lead to the average consumer making a decision – which includes the decision to view a property – that they would not otherwise have done. How “misleading action” is defined is very detailed, but in essence, it means something that contains false information or, overall, deceives a consumer.

It could be argued that outdated photographs and no mention of the state of the house fall into this category. But in the agent’s defense, the house might have been clean when he viewed it, and if he was not specifically aware of the damp problem, he’s not guilty of a misleading omission in the property’s particulars. Agents are also allowed to present a property in its best light, so if there weren’t a photo of the rundown bathroom, the particulars wouldn’t necessarily have been misleading. But they would be if there was a photo of the bathroom, but it didn’t show it in its current condition.

If you want to make a complaint about the estate agent’s misleading particulars, you should complain to the local trading standards service. Estate agents whose property descriptions don’t stick to the regulations are committing a criminal offense, which has a maximum penalty, on conviction, of an unlimited fine and two years’ imprisonment.

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