Let me say first and foremost that most agents and indeed all the independents we deal with are fine.
Several corporates however are not, and it’s about time that they were dealt with by trading standards and/or the ombudsman.
What appears to have happened in the case causing the spluttering is that a large corporate agent, possibly an urban predator, refused to put forward an offer someone made unless the potential buyer instructed the agents preferred solicitor.
Now to an extent we all get work from agents. We get a lot of referrals because we are good, we do not mess about and get on with things and if there is a problem we explain it and deal with it.
This however is a different matter because knowing the agents concerned, they were going to get a large referral fee which they did not disclose to the prospective buyer thus breaching the rules solicitors operate under. We do do some referral work but we have strict agreements in place that the agent must tell the client the details and we also advise of the details.
There is no way that any of the agents we deal with would apply that sort of pressure and if they did they would be in breach of their own codes.
There was also a reported case where the offer would not be put forward unless the buyer used the agents financial services which are not independent and would not give advice other than on their own products on which needless to say they would get even more fees on.
This sort of thing is insidious and should be stamped on.
It is particularly annoying as and I know that this will sound like whining, there is no level playing field.
The suggested lawyers are licensed conveyancers. I have no problem with this, they are mostly good and competent but their rules are different from ours and so we can not compete in the same way.
For example they can act for a buyer and seller without restriction – we can not as there is a high risk of a conflict of interest if for example the price needed negotiation or an indemnity policy was needed.
Their rules on referral fees are different to ours.
They get most of their work from agents and this can mean they may not exercise their independence regarding advice as they will not want to upset the agent. We have to check we are not overly reliant on a source of work and must exercise our own judgment. Indeed when agreeing to some referral work we refused to accept some of the referrers requirements as we did not think they were acceptable and in our clients best interests. Somewhat to my surprise they agreed.
Making acceptance or the putting forward of an offer conditional on the person agreeing to use services is not in accordance with the code and trading standards will take a dim view.
By Mike Bowen