Avoid estate agent in-house services
It may seem like the easiest option to get your mortgage and conveyancing solicitor from the estate agent from whom you are buying your house, but there are downsides. We take a look at why this may not be the best option and set out what to do if you’re feeling pressured into using estate agent in-house services.
Should I use the estate agent’s mortgage broker or conveyancing solicitor?
After months of searching, you’ve found the house of your dreams and now you want to get things moving. Luckily for you, the estate agent selling the house you want to buy has a number of financial service providers they recommend you use. Not only do they have a mortgage adviser, but also a conveyancing solicitor that they recommend.
While simply going with an estate agent in-house services is the most convenient option, it is not necessarily the best option. We recommend you shop around. And here’s why.
Downsides to using estate agent in-house services
1. You might not get the best deal
In order for a mortgage broker to find the best possible mortgage for you, they need to be able to access as wide a range of products as possible. Brokers who can do this are known as ‘whole of market’. But not all mortgage brokers are equal. Some can only access mortgages from a limited panel of lenders. This means you might not get the best deal and end up paying more for your mortgage. So always shop around.
Don’t forget, the wider range of mortgage products your broker can consider for you, the more likely you are to get a cheaper mortgage deal.
The same goes for estate agent-recommended conveyancing solicitors. Shop around to ensure the legal firm you choose has the expertise you need (for example experience of dealing with new builds), to check customer reviews and to ensure you get a good price. We would recommend getting at least three quotes and comparing the cost and levels of service they offer.
By all means get a quote for both mortgage and conveyancing services, but you must shop around and compare.
2. Using in-house services might not work in your favour
When you are selling a property, the estate agent will often offer a discounted package if you use their chosen solicitor. This can seem like an attractive offer but you should ask for a full written quote from the conveyancing solicitors firm (including any possible extras) before accepting.
All solicitors must give you independent, impartial advice. But if you estate agent knows the conveyancing solicitor you use, they may be able to get information on what exactly is happening in your sale. If the person buying your house should pull out of the sale, for example, you’ll probably not want to tell the seller of the house you’re buying straight away, in the hope you can find another buyer quickly and keep the sale together. If you’re using the conveyancing solicitors attached to the seller’s agent keeping this information quiet could be tricky!
3. You don’t want to give too much away
No one is suggesting your need to be all cloak and dagger when it comes to your finances. Indeed, it’s important to be upfront and honest about what you can afford and what you’re willing to pay. However, if the estate agent marketing a house – for the seller (let’s remember who their paying client is!) – persuades you to let their in-house adviser vet your finances, the agent will have a clear idea about what you can afford and may encourage the seller to push for a higher offer. Once the agent knows what you’re able to pay (rather than what you’re willing to pay), your negotiating position is completely undermined.
With the introduction of Anti-Money Laundering Regulations, we hear from increasing numbers of home buyers who are being asked to see the estate agent’s mortgage adviser to check they are legitimate. But at the point of viewing houses a Mortgage In Principle should demonstrate you have the funds ready to draw down. You will be asked to give further evidence of source of funds for money laundering checks, but that comes later. And it shouldn’t involve showing your bank statements to the estate agent’s mortgage adviser. Our recent guide on Estate Agents and Proof of Funds explains more.
Will using in-house services get me preferential treatment?
We have heard reports of buyers being put to the front of the queue, or having their offer conveyed in the best light, or getting early viewings, all if they simply use the estate agent’s in-house services.
Particularly brazen agents may imply that you won’t be allowed to view certain properties or that your offer will not be passed on to the seller if you’re not willing to speak with the in-house financial adviser.
All of this discriminatory behaviour is illegal. See below for more details.
You might be thinking, well, I’ll play along if this means I get the house of my dreams. But do you really want to do the biggest financial transaction of your life with an individual acting illegally?
What can I do if I feel pressured to use the estate agent in-house services?
You aren’t alone.
The Financial Conduct Authority was so concerned about the way estate agents have been offering mortgage brokers to consumers that they launched an investigation. In their 2019 Mortgage Market Study Final Report, they highlighted that nearly a quarter of buyers chose an estate agent’s in-house broker because it was recommended to them by an estate agent, and of those one in four felt they had to do so.
But you don’t have to. While it will be hard to resist, remember you are under no obligation to speak with an agent’s in-house or partnered mortgage broker or use the conveyancing solicitor they recommend. You can put the estate agent in contact with your mortgage broker to help them verify your financial situation.
Here are some facts and tips to help you push back:
1. Know your rights
You can tell the agent that if they persist with the pressure or allude to preferential treatment for using their services, then you will report them to Trading Standards via the Citizen’s Advice Consumer Service, Propertymark, the national trade association for estate agents, and the Property Ombudsman. (www.tpos.co.uk)
TPO guidance is very clear and states: “Be aware that you are under no obligation to use any associated services offered by the agent. You are entitled to use your own financial adviser, legal representative (unless you wish to do your own conveyancing), and surveyor if you wish a more detailed examination of the property than the lender requires. Refusal of additional services should not prejudice any offers or viewings through the agent.”
And the law is very clear as well. The Estate Agents Act 1979, agents “must not discriminate against potential buyers because they don’t want, or might refuse, to take services from you or a connected person.” This means agents must not “refuse to provide information about a property to these buyers, take longer to send property information to these buyers, compared to others or set additional requirements, as a condition of passing on an offer.”
2. Make a formal complaint
Start by making a formal complaint through the estate agents complaints procedure. To do this you’ll need to get together all documents, emails, notes or recordings of the correspondence you’ve had with the agent. Ask for a copy of the company’s internal complaints policy and put your complaint in writing to the branch manager. Give as much detail as possible. State what you’d like to happen now and ask for written confirmation that your complaint is being dealt with. If your complaint surrounds the agent’s in house mortgage broker service copy your complaint to the Financial Conduct Authority. If it’s about conveyancing services send it to the Solicitor’s Regulation Authority (SRA), The Legal Ombudsman or the Council for Licensed Conveyancers (CLC)
Both the SRA and the CLC rigorously state that its members are meant to ensure that their client has chosen them to act without pressure being exerted upon them to do so. If you are being pressurised into choosing a solicitor as outlined above refuse firmly and advise that you will seek the advice of the SRA or CLC – this usually does the trick!
3. Contact the seller
If you think the estate agent is discriminating against you because you’re not using their in-house services it could be worth contacting the seller to let them know. Sellers want to feel confident that their agent is marketing their property far and wide, not restricting the number of viewings they get. If they find the agent is not acting in their best interests they’re not likely to be happy.
4. Get proof
Feel you’re not being heard? Unless your agent outright refuses to pass on your offer, it can be difficult to prove that they are treating you differently because you won’t use their services. Recording your conversation with the agent is a good way of obtaining proof that they’re behaving incorrectly and may make your complaints more powerful.