The top ten dodgy estate agent tricks

Close up of keys and miniature house being held by male estate agent against snow falling
Close up of keys and miniature house being held by male estate agent against snow falling

In survey after survey, estate agents are revealed as one of the most-loathed professions in the UK.

Mostly, of course, their reputation for being lazy crooks is undeserved.

See also: The Fixer: Selling your home

See also: Estate agents make selling homes harder

However, estate agent Lee from James Pendleton says the industry still has a long way to go to clean up its act, and that over the years he and his team have come across some truly unethical behaviour.

Topping the list is the cheeky trick of putting up 'for sale' signs outside properties they haven't even been asked to sell. The aim is to give potential buyers and sellers the impression they are the most popular local firm.

Another common con is to invent buyers making low offers - to make it look as if they are generating interest in the property - before advising clients to stick out for a higher price.

Agents have also been known to keep a vendor in the dark about a sale falling through, while they frantically try to find another buyer in case they take their instruction elsewhere.

Pendleton, founder director of James Pendleton, is calling for more regulation in the industry.

"We have a situation in Britain where someone with £5,000 in a savings account is protected by the full force of proper financial regulation, but those selling their biggest financial asset can only escalate a complaint to an ombudsman," he says.

"The sums changing hands in property transactions can dwarf those in banking, insurance and investing. The risk of serious loss to the consumer due to wrongdoing is therefore magnified."

When it comes to choosing an estate agent, research has shown that most vendors go largely on price. But while this is important, there are more important considerations. Will the agent market your property professionally and enthusiastically, or leave it languishing on the shelf?

"Don't fall into the trap of assuming all estate agencies are born equal - far from it," says Pendleton. "It's vital consumers realise this and shop around."

A useful first point of call is the Homeowners Alliance's agent-finding tool - particularly if you're house-hunting in an unfamiliar area. Input the postcode and type of property you're looking for, and it will list the available agents.

It can also tell you the average time they take to sell a property like yours and how close they get to the asking price.

And if you can, ask around: word of mouth recommendations can be worth their weight in gold.

"As with most services, a firm recommendation from a family member or friend can be helpful, advises property website PrimeLocation.

"It does not always mean that their experience will necessarily be replicated in yours, but it should be an indication of the professionalism and performance of an estate agents."

But if you do find you're flying blind, just remember the ten dodgy tactics below, and make sure you call your agent out on it if you have any suspicions.

Top ten dodgy estate agent tricks

1. Putting boards up on properties they haven't been asked to sell or let, in order to make themselves look more popular.

2. Advising clients on offers from fictional buyers - which always fall through - in order to make you think success is just around the corner.

3. Not revealing to a seller that a deal has fallen through, while scrambling to find another buyer before they lose the instruction.

4. Dreaming up fictional offers from non-existent viewings to push buyers into raising their offer.

5. Refusing to hand over the keys to rival firms when a property is being marketed by more than one agent.

6. Refusing to pass on an acceptable offer to the vendor knowing the buyer will go higher and boost their commission.

7. Competing with their own co-workers by deleting applicants and their offers from the firm's database, so buyers registered with colleagues are out of the running.

8. Gazumping their own buyers with a better offer from another customer, again to bump up their commission.

9. Under-valuing a property in order to sell or let it to a developer or friend - sometimes, even to buy it themselves.

10. Recommending offers from buyers simply because they are signed up to their own partner solicitors and brokers.