Estate agents are up there with journalists and MP’s in the list of those the public loves to hate. Agents and hacks have had an easy time of it in the last year as MP’s hog the headlines and compete almost daily it seems for the sleaze crown. Today we have had the annual report from The Property Ombudsman who provides a redress service for those who have a complaint against an estate agent.

Three years ago the imaginatively entitled ‘Consumer and Estate Agent Redress Act was crafted that requires all estate agents to sign up to a redress code. Just so you are clear, someone letting homes is not an estate agent (as defined by the 1979 Estate Agents Act) but a letting agent. Last year however, the largest industry group the Association or Residential Letting Agents (ARLA) took the lead and now requires it’s members to sign up to The Property Ombudsman although this leaves many letting agents still outside with no redress available to those who come into contact with them save for the Law.

How have agents done in the last 12 months?
So what does the Ombudsman’s report say? How have the third most reviled group done in 2009? Have they come a close second to the scandal of Duck Houses and Moat cleaning? Perhaps to your surprise they have lost and lost big!

During the year there were 845,000 houses sold. That 1.7 million buyers and sellers who could have had reason to complain to The Ombudsman. In addition, there were over a million new tenancies created so that’s another 2m landlords and tenants. Over 3.6m people could have had a poor experience from an agent and complained and sought redress from The Property Ombudsman.

Most complaints are about letting agents.
In 2009 he received over 12,000 enquires which resulted in 1,047 formal complaints being made. This is an increase of 7% and looks to be because of the additional 7,000 ARLA letting agents who came into the scheme last may.  Of these 1,047 complaints, 435 were new complaints about lettings agents. An increase from 300 in 2008. So in total just 0.03% of those who came into direct contact with agents actually complained!

The Ombudsman is able to make an award in case where he finds for the complainant of a maximum of £25,000. Last year his average award was £339.00 Down from an average of £666.00 the year before. 91% of complaints were dealt with in less than 120 days.

Moving home whether you are buying or renting, letting or selling is a stressful time so it may be that this is why we have such a low opinion of agents but whilst there appears to be more than enough evidence to damn the political classes and daily examples of why we think so little of journalists, agents – both sales and lettings agents seem to be rather better than we might have thought. At least that’s the official view.