Questionable – and potentially illegal – practices by estate agents and mortgage advisers came under the spotlight in a Channel 4 Dispatches programme last night.
Once again, agents in large chains were accused of favouring buyers who would use the agent’s mortgage services.
The programme also showed a researcher setting up an “estate agent”, Help2BuyProperties, apparently to prove that anyone can start a business as an estate agent.
However, this point did not seem to be pursued and the particular venture shut up its doors at the end of the programme, without making any further arguments apparent.
Last night’s programme secretly filmed two Countrywide mortgage advisers apparently telling prospective purchasers – who were in fact, TV researchers – to apply for buy-to-let mortgages to get round lending rules. However, it conceded that five other Countrywide advisers had not suggested something that could have been mortgage fraud.
The two mortgage advisers featured in the film have, says Countrywide, been suspended and face investigation.
Earlier, the programme’s blurb had said: “As house prices soar once again and the government's 'Help to Buy' scheme kicks in early, Channel 4 Dispatches goes undercover to investigate this property market boom.
“Reporter Antony Barnett secretly films the latest tactics used by estate agents to secure sales and commissions and asks whether some agents are even willing to lie to seal the deal.”
The programme, The Property Market Undercover, did apparently reveal how some agents offer buyers preferential treatment if they use their in-house financial services. One, Barnard Marcus, offered to cancel other viewings.
The programme specifically named Barnard Marcus – part of Connells – as well as Spicerhart brand Felicity J Lord, and Countrywide’s Palmer Snell, as well as Countrywide’s Abbotts in Essex.
Peter Bolton King, of the RICS, featured prominently in last night’s programme. He said he was staggered to learn “that this sort of thing might still be going on because I thought we had seen the last of misleading selling”.