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Estate agent disputes mirror property market

But disputes involving lettings agents showed a slight rise of 3% this quarter – this is way down on the 200% over the whole of last year as many more lettings agents joined the redress scheme.

As in 2008, the most prominent reasons for disputes arising from lettings related to the standards of referencing carried out by agents, whether or not inspection visits had taken place and, to a lesser extent, administration of the deposit, Hamer said.

During the first quarter of 2009, Hamer received 3157 inquiries regarding disputes with estate agents, both for sale and lettings, up from 3011 in the last three months of 2008. As a result, 102 new cases were opened regarding sales (162 in October to December 2008) and 90 involving lettings (87).

Lettings agents are not required to join a redress scheme such as The Property Ombudsman through legislation, unlike sales agents, but the numbers joining continue to rise, making them subject to the Property Ombudsman’s Lettings Code of Practice.

The OFT is being asked to recognise The Property Ombudsman lettings Code of Practice under its Consumer Codes Approval Scheme which will ensure consistency in the standards of services delivered across both the sales and lettings markets. It would also mean that both Property Ombudsman codes had received independent scrutiny and accreditation, enhancing their credibility for consumers.

By the end of March, 2009, 5639 lettings offices in the UK had voluntarily joined the Ombudsman scheme compared with 5100 at the start of the year, a rise of 10.5%.

Hamer is now visiting agents around the UK to discuss how he deals with cases and explain to member agents how legislative changes will impact on the practices of the scheme.

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