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18/10 18 February 2010
A shake-up in how homes are sold, including updating legislation to allow new entrants into the market, could lead to a better deal for house buyers and sellers, the OFT said today.
The OFT's study into home buying and selling, published today, found that the housing market remains dominated by traditional estate agents with weak competition between them on price. As property prices rise during housing booms, so too do estate agents' fees.
Overall satisfaction with estate agents, however, has improved in recent years, according to research conducted as part of the study. Where there are problems with transactions, consumers generally do not think the estate agent was at fault.
The OFT believes that innovation in this sector, in particular through online services, could have a dramatic impact on the cost of buying and selling a home.
More than a quarter of sellers (27 per cent) who used a traditional estate agent have considered using an alternative selling method, and experience from the US suggests that alternative brokerage models have the potential to put competitive pressure on traditional ways of buying and selling a home.
However, the way current legislation, dating from 1979, is framed may be hindering the development of new business models and needs reform so that new entrants, for example those that only introduce private sellers and buyers to each other, are not burdened with inappropriate regulation.
Beyond this, the OFT has found existing legislation as it applies to traditional estate agents is comprehensive and wide ranging, and that further regulation is unnecessary. Instead, the report says the focus should be on improving the enforcement of current rules to guard against serious breaches.
The only area where the OFT recommends the Government should consider additional rules is around fees received by estate agents for referring buyers to providers of ancillary services such as mortgage advice, surveys, and conveyancing. The OFT believes this could cause an estate agent to favour one buyer over another, to the seller's disadvantage.
The OFT is also encouraging more consumers to negotiate on commissions paid to estate agents. Whilst almost a third (32 per cent) of those who had used a traditional estate agent believed that the fees they had paid to their estate agent represented slightly or very poor value for money, 64 per cent of sellers in the OFT's survey in England and Wales did not negotiate a lower fee. Failing to shop around and negotiate on estate agents' fees could be costing these house sellers up to £570 million a year, according to OFT analysis. The OFT's advice service, Consumer Direct has created key tips for consumers which can be found at www.consumerdirect.gov.uk/hometips
John Fingleton, OFT Chief Executive, said:
'In the present economic climate it is more important than ever that people get a good deal when buying or selling a home.
'Encouraging new business models, online estate agents and private seller platforms could put useful competitive pressure on traditional models and lead to better value for buyers and sellers. The Government can help this process by updating legislation and making sure regulation only applies where it is essential to protect consumers.
'We also encourage home sellers to negotiate hard on commission fees and consider using alternatives to traditional estate agents.'
The market study and accompanying research reports can be found at www.oft.gov.uk/homes
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