Estate agents will be required to obtain a professional qualification and disclose payments for referring customers to solicitors, surveyors or mortgage brokers under government plans aimed at streamline property sales.
The measures announced by the housing secretary, Sajid Javid, will also discourage agents from taking part in gazumping, whereby higher offers are accepted after a deal has already been agreed.
Promoted as a means of improving professionalism and cracking down on “rogue agents”, the reforms follow a consultation on how to improve the process of buying and selling property. There are about 20,000 estate agent companies in England and anyone can practice as an estate agent.
Javid said buyers and sellers had been trapped in a stressful system full of delays and uncertainty for too long.
“We will require estate agents to hold a qualification so that people are no longer at risk from a minority of ‘rogue agents’ and can trust the process when buying or selling their home,” he said.
Mark Hayward, the chief executive of NAEA Propertymark, which represents estate agents, welcomed the commitment to further regulation. “We have long argued that estate agents should be recognised as professionals. This is an important step towards achieving this and we look forward to working with the government,” he said.
The proposals from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government involve encouraging the use of voluntary reservation agreements to help prevent sales falling through and reduce gazumping.
The new measures will also involve setting a timeline for local authority searches so buyers find the information they need within 10 days, and requiring managing agents and freeholders to provide up-to-date lease information for a set fee. An agreed timetable, it is hoped, will end the situation where leaseholders are at the mercy of freeholders and their agents.
The government also intends to strengthen the National Trading Standards Estate Agency Team so that it can carry out more enforcement action, such as banning agents.
Guides on how to buy and how to sell will be published to ensure customers are better informed about the process and know what questions they should be asking.
Source: The Guardian