What is an estate agent and what do they do?

An estate agent is somebody employed to sell, rent or manage a property. An agent who works on sales will meet people who wish to sell a property and work with them to agree on a timescale and asking price. They handle marketing for the property which involves things like choosing where it should be advertised in order to target the most desirable potential buyers, according to the type of property, price and area.

They meet potential buyers, discuss what they're looking for and take them to view houses that they think are suitable. When they succeed in finding a buyer for one of their properties they will generally hand over to the lawyers who handle the legal side of things. (Although estate agents initiate and manage the selling process, the legal side of the transaction is undertaken by solicitors.

Estate agents make their money by charging the seller of a property a percentage of the selling price as their fee. The buyer of a property does not have to pay the estate agent. The exact percentage varies between agencies, but will generally be between 1.5 – 3% of the value, plus VAT, with Londoners paying more for estate agency services than the North of the country.

No formal training is required to register and operate as an estate agent; most people start by working their way up in an existing firm before taking on more responsibility or setting up on their own. The Office of Fair Trading prevents people who are undischarged bankrupts from becoming estate agents, although they can work for estate agency companies belonging to other people. The OFT also has the right to ban any individual they feel to be unsuitable – usually because of previous misdemeanours - from practising in the field.

Currently, estate agents in the UK are not closely regulated, although they do have to comply with the Estate Agent Act 1979, amended for undesirable practices in 1992.

By far the most common complaints about estate agents relate to errors in administration, often to incorrect payments, rather than to malicious or dishonest behaviour! Other common complaints involve agents who claim a fee higher than the one initially agreed, and agents failing to let a buyer know about particular attributes of a property. Sellers frequently complain that agents have not given them information on all offers made for their property, although legally they are required to pass on details of all offers, or that agencies have been inefficient in arranging viewings for potential

The Property Misdescriptions Act of 1991 makes it an offence to make false or misleading statements about property offered for sale. As registered businesses, estate agents are required to deal fairly with their customers, but of course seeking legal redress once things have gone wrong can be difficult and time consuming. Therefore, it is very important to check the agency thoroughly before you commit to buying or selling a property through them.

As a seller you can set a time limit for making the sale, after which, if the property remains