High street estate agents under investigation for sole agency agreements

The high street estate agency sector is currently under investigation for their implementation of excessive Sole Agency Agreements (SAA). The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) are investigating following a complaint against the practice, which penalises UK sellers and creates a void between the customer needs and the agent’s service.

The complaint has been lodged by Russell Quirk, founder and CEO of eMoov.co.uk, on the advice of a legal counsel. They state that these lengthy periods of exclusivity are likely to breach the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trade Regulations 2008 (CPUTR) and the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulation 1999 (UTCCR), amongst others.

Sole Agency Agreements lock consumers in to a period of exclusivity, usually extending to as long as 20 weeks, but often continuing indefinitely until written notice to cancel is provided by the seller. Throughout this time, they are contractually prevented from instructing another agent to list their property regardless of the agent’s performance. If they do breach the often very tough contract terms, consumers are then liable for penalty fees which can be up to 3% of the eventual sale price.

The nature of these agreements, coupled with a number of additional small print clauses, designed to further increase the agent’s monetary gain, are putting UK sellers at a severe disadvantage.

Russell Quirk, eMoov.co.uk, commented:

“These excessive periods of exclusivity, especially when taken together with the other restrictive clauses, are quite plainly not in line with consumer interests.”

“As with many aspects of the high street sector, it’s a Jurassic and outdated practice. Imagine going out for a meal, only to find the food and service are diabolical, but being told that actually you can’t leave and you even have to have pudding. Once you’ve choked the meal down, you’re then landed with a substantial bill, including an extortionate service charge, with no choice but to pay it.”

“The mind boggles as to how in a country where the laws on marriage, hunting, workplace conduct, consumer rights and so much more, are constantly being updated to align themselves with the society we live in, something as backwards and regressive as a Sole Agency Agreement still remains.”

“Just because it exists now, it doesn’t mean things can’t change. In years to come, property sellers will look back at Sole Agency Agreements and think why would anyone have stood for that?”

The complaint lodged with the CMA is specifically aimed at the widespread and unfair use of excessive sole agency and selling right agreements, deployed by agents predominantly in the high street sector. eMoov have requested the CMA investigate the use of excessive periods of exclusivity and their anti-consumer nature and act as they see fit. A change to sole agency agreement rules would create huge financial implications to the estate agency sector.