The director of strategy at the Council for Licensed Conveyancers says “the onus is very much on estate agents” to respond positively to a government initiative to make referral fees more transparent.
The National Treading Standards Estate Agency Team last week issued guidance saying agents should disclose referral fees upfront to both buyers and sellers at the earliest opportunity in a transaction. The disclosure should include the amount of the fee and the identity of the recipient.
This follows a long-standing government commitment to bring greater transparency to the house buying process, and to make it quicker and cheaper if possible.
Now the Council for Licensed Conveyancers has welcomed the NTSEAT and government moves, but its strategy director Stephen Ward says: “The [government] minister has made it clear that if estate agents do not respond positively to this initiative she has not ruled out legislating against such fees. So the onus is now very much on estate agents to make consumers aware when fees are being paid.”
Ward describes the move as “another welcome step in improving the homebuying process for consumers” adding that “transparency across the whole market is essential and this is a very positive step.”
He says: “We want consumers to be able to make an informed choice based on all the available information and our recent research found that most home-buyers did not know whether their conveyancer paid a fee to an estate agent in return for a recommendation.
“Further, with estate agent recommendation one of the primary factors in influencing a consumers’ choice of conveyancer, it’s crucial that consumers are aware that such relationships exist before they make a decision.
“The publication of this guidance, along with transparency requirements introduced by the CLC and other regulators from December last year requiring all property lawyers to publish certain price, service and quality information on their websites means consumers will be more empowered than ever before.”
Since November CLC members have been obliged to put some price and service information on their websites and in other media.
Firms have been able to decide the best way to display cost information, such as examples of fixed fees based on specific values or a range of values of properties, hourly rates of members of staff with indicative timescales for transactions, or through instant estimate generators.
However, the CLC cautions that any estimate generator should produce an instant result directly to the consumer.