Q I have been trying to sell my leasehold flat in Portsmouth but I’ve had two buyers pull out because the estate agent has told them incorrect information about the lease. The flat has 85 years remaining on the lease, so it’s getting towards the point where any buyer would reasonably think about an extension. The agent has been telling them that the lease has 100 years on it. When the buyers found out the correct information from their solicitors they both pulled out of the purchase. I assumed the first time that it was simply a miscommunication, so I made a point of checking with the agent that the second buyer had the correct information. The agent assured me that the buyer knew the facts but that wasn’t true either. Is there anything I can do about their repeated lack of truthfulness causing sales to collapse?
A There are two things that you can do. First, you can make a formal complaint about your agent, using the estate agent’s in-house complaints’ procedure, which, under the Code of Practice for Residential Estate Agents, you must be made aware of. Second, you can – and should – change agents. From what you say, it appears that your current agent is not only not complying with the industry code of practice but he or she is also breaking the law.
Putting your general cynicism about estate agents aside, I would hazard a guess that most try very hard not to commit a criminal offence when going about their daily business, so finding one who doesn’t provide misleading information (in breach of the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations) should be relatively easy.
But when you do find a new agent, it would be worth checking that they will follow the guidance in the code of practice, which says that where leasehold properties are concerned, an agent “should include basic key information such as service charges, ground rent, the length of years remaining on the lease and any known special conditions”. The code also says that information given to buyers – whether in writing or orally – “must be accurate and not misleading”, so I think you can take it as read that law-abiding estate agents will do their best to provide buyers with accurate information about a property.
A third thing you could do would be to alert both sets of failed buyers to the fact that they, too, can make use of the in-house complaints procedure. If they can show that they wouldn’t have put an offer in if they had known that the lease had only 85 years left on it they may be able to get compensation for costs incurred in pursuing the purchase before they found out the truth.