The number of complaints reported against estate agents has increased by 25%, according to the annual report of the Ombudsman for Estate Agents.
More worrying, the report said over one-third of complaints last year could not be handled by the Ombudsman as the estate agents in question did not belong to the voluntary scheme.
The Ombudsman is an impartial body that responds to complaints and provides financial compensation where appropriate. The increase in complaints against non-members rose by 33%, while complaints about members increased by just 6%.
Stephen Carr-Smith, the Ombudsman, said sellers should be encouraged to deal only with member firms.
‘I would urge sellers to find out whether an agent belongs to the scheme before they decide to do business with them. We are seeing great improvements in the way member agents co-operate with my office in the handling of complaints and I believe the majority provide a professional level of service most of the time,’ he said.
Hugh Dunsmore-Hardy, chair-man of the National Association of Estate Agents (NAEA), said the report’s findings did not necessarily mean standards were slipping.
‘The scheme is growing in significance and importance which can be seen in the increased levels of complaints. It is not that estate agents are doing more to encourage complaints, but that the scheme is working. Customers are now more likely to report complaints to the Ombudsman than they ever have been before,’ he said.
According to the report, the total number of complaints handled by the Ombudsman in 2001 rose to 551. Of these, 37% were found to be in favour of the complainant, 34% were in favour of the agent and 28% managed to negotiate settlement.
Dunsmore-Hardy added: ‘My advice to those not on the scheme would be to get on board. We wish all NAEA members would join up and are encouraging them to do so.’