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Written by rosalind renshaw

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”.


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    @ @ oh for the old days on 2013-10-31 11:57:19

    You are quite right!

    Hawkins (Norfolk)? was the first to sell out but not to the Prudential. ED&H were the first to sell to the Pru - a disaster for the industry (profession as it was then) but good for the partners?

    • 31 October 2013 13:36 PM
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    It was Ekins Dilley and Handley which sold to the Pru, the first to sell. One of the worst ideas they had, they sold out too soon and cheap!

    It was the time of introducing regulation, the Pru were very soon followed by most banks, building societies and insurance companies and many of us were and still are grateful for their panic buying!!! Many then simply bought them back for pennies when accountants got in charge and turned them into loss making companies. Still happening today, Halifax given to LSL for example.

    This shaped the industry to what we see today with the likes of Skipton Connells buying up the old Royal offices for example.

    • 31 October 2013 11:57 AM
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    Just name and shame these firms on review sites like allagents . That will soon get picked up by consumers and more journalists

    • 31 October 2013 09:04 AM
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    My civil claim will be pending thanks.

    • 30 October 2013 16:21 PM
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    Please think on this.

    The 'Corporates' now control what used to be a 'profession',
    It all started in the 'seventies' when a large insurance company, Prudential, bought their first small estate agent in Norfolk, Hawkins Estate Agency I believe.

    Why would they do this? Could it be to start cross selling INSURANCE and associated products immediately people bought a property - after all Prudential was built on door knocking salesmen! The principle has since greatly expanded. Everything to do with property is now mainly merged together in the corporates, agents must get used to it.

    • 30 October 2013 13:08 PM
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    "The over-arching aim of the Organisation and its Divisions is to promote the highest standards of professionalism and integrity among those working within the property industry, and to encourage members of the public to proactively seek out our members when involved in any kind of property transaction." NFOPP

    And still no response from the professional bodies, you gutless, pointless, self appointed, useless bunch of handwringers and that is putting it politely.

    • 30 October 2013 12:56 PM
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    @ Big Al,

    Never worn braces in my nearly 30 years in the industry, perhaps that's where I'm going wrong :)

    I think the programme lost all credibility much earlier. I could find and empty building, furnish it with a desk, chair, an examination couch, put a sign up above the door that said surgery, but it would not make me a doctor!

    • 30 October 2013 10:58 AM
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    @ Stonehenge,

    You'll notice I differentiated between 'regulatory authorities' and 'professional bodies' in my post below. But the fact remains that NAEA, RICS, and ARLA set themselves up as the authorities to 'represent' the industry, but do very little to maintain standards or ethics other than some window dressing. They like to think they have some clout, and maybe would be taken more seriously if they did actually did something. There are senior employees in all the 'usual suspects' and regardless of the actions of their staff, the buck stops with them, but do any of those venerable bodies revoke membership of those senior employees?

    'The people who are supposed to regulate are Trading Standards and the OFT. But do they?' I suspect we both know the answer to that!

    • 30 October 2013 10:50 AM
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    It's interesting to read everyone's comments on this, the corporates have always (and will continue) to run their businesses as distribution channels for extra services - selling/letting properties are secondary.

    No one has mentioned the braces yet "I'm going to become an estate agent" says the reporter as he slips on some red braces - the whole programme lost any credibility at that point.

    Anyway, I look good in mine!

    • 30 October 2013 10:41 AM
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    Will people please stop banging on about regulation from NAEA, ARLA, RICS as they are trade associations; they are not allowed to regulate, only react to complaints about their member agents.

    This just shows the lack of knowledge of some posters.

    The people who are supposed to regulate are Trading Standards and the OFT. But do they?

    • 30 October 2013 09:28 AM
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    Are you going through a break down?

    • 30 October 2013 09:20 AM
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    I think I love you, wonna Keebab?

    • 30 October 2013 08:23 AM
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    There's been no sea change in agency PBK, jeez I'm embarrassed for you. This was just foreplay so quit getting a semi and go undercover a few months, that'll really rock your world.

    It's the air we breathe and short of wholesale mystery shopping we're not going cold turkey anytime soon so don't kid yourself about Foxtons suddenly all vanilla...

    It's just the right amount of shitty, enough to stay off the general public radar but online Twitter will hurt your feelings. Sure we can use words like corporate, targets and pressure right along with affiliated, professional and trusted, you say tomato...

    Time to 'man up' because only one agent took action when caught, reason to be cheerful or have we just made our peace with this? Fact is we chase the sale and ethics are a bitch. Pound notes or a warm fuzzy feeling in your tummy, tough call...

    • 29 October 2013 22:31 PM
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    Worth pointing out to The Frank Knight after his robust defence of Foxtons, that they are also the only agent I know who have facebook and twitter pages dedicated to complaints against them!

    I've just watched the programme on 4od, first thought, is Peter Bolton King really as naïve as he came across? Pretty appalling journalism too! I was waiting for someone to challenge Bolton King as to what he proposed to do about the issues raised and standards in the industry, but that did not happen.

    The fact is that the 'professional bodies' in the industry are a bunch of chinless wonders, who will continue to allow the all powerful corporates to run rings round them. Perhaps it is time for proper regulation!

    A few years ago, for a brief while, I took on the role of managing an office for SpicerHaart, when I was instructed (by email) by my regional director to knock on doors where there was a sold board, and tell the sellers we could have got a better price for them and try to persuade them to 'blow out' the sale and give the property to us, I quit! I copied the email containing this instruction to the 'regulatory' and 'professional' bodies. Did I get a response from anyone?.......You guess!!

    One simple answer would be to divorce the selling of mortgage and legal services from agency, no mortgage consultant in the office, or 'in house' legal department, but merely to allow referral to a completely independent and properly regulated professional, and with no financial kick back. Instant end of problem and removal of immoral cross selling. The by product of this would also be the end of the corporates, who as we all know, rely on cross selling and would not survive as a viable business on selling property alone!

    • 29 October 2013 22:21 PM
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    Lets put it in context. There are bad eggs working in corporates and independents and every other industry out there. I'm no corporate fan, but lets be honest, they were never going to make a show about how good an estate agents services are, just would be good TV. How many agents did they need to visit before they found the bad stuff. Mortgage fraud isn't big and clever, but what about the customers willing to go along with it.

    Thought it was a pretty poor show with no real conclusion.

    • 29 October 2013 21:51 PM
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    I beg to differ with some of the comments made regarding EA's. I have worked for both independent and corporate over a span of five years. I currently manage a branch in a town in the north. My staff are local people and I have always tried to sell our service wherever I have worked on us being better customer service people. In my opinion, the industry is teeming with mediocre who give people who generally care about delivering an excellent service a bad name,

    • 29 October 2013 20:56 PM
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    @KB - "Nothing happened to Foxtons after the BBC Watchdog programme a few years back"

    You couln't be more wrong. They lost a benchmark legal action on T&C's. They were sold. They were run by banks. They joined ARLA and TPOS. They were founder members of SAFEagent. The have higher ratings on review sites than KFH. The floated on the stock market and are now one of the most compliant agents around.

    Facts are far more interesting.

    • 29 October 2013 20:47 PM
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    Nothing happened to Foxtons after the BBC Warchdog programme a few years back and noithing will happen to these guys.
    Toothless regulation? This is where NAEA, ARLA, RICS etc have a chance to stand up and prove their value but will they..........I wont hold my breath!
    Until they do so, the public wont take them seriously and recognise them and they wont gain any genuine standing and value.
    We are members of numerous but purely for marketing purposes nothing else.
    Shock horror- bad/illegal behaviour goes unpunished so public pereception stays low. Rewind & repeat.

    • 29 October 2013 19:21 PM
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    These selling techniques are widespread particularly by the big corporates. Yet no comments from various associations on this article, what do the NAEA and INEA have to say??? What do the corporates investigated have to say??

    • 29 October 2013 19:04 PM
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    Well said Nathan H. Corporates were formed back in the 80s, as they first bought up firms with more than 5 offices. Made the partners very rich and gave them a job for 2 years, before they retired early or opened up on their own, round the corner. The corporates were initially interested in the mortgage and insurance business, which could have lead to pension and savings etc. Nothing changed today then. If you pay peanuts ..... It makes for a bad culture, where low salaries and commissions encourage desperate selling, just to earn a living. It is a sales environment, not a service lead business. Independents are generally the latter and generally see repeat business.

    • 29 October 2013 18:34 PM
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    All this talk of roguery and here it is in full view of the public and the industry. I wonder if heads will role like it would in the public sector when minnions are caught flouting the rules.

    • 29 October 2013 17:17 PM
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    Happens all the time USUAL suspects at it one again. IT WON'T STOP

    • 29 October 2013 16:13 PM
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    Did they only go at Corporates, no Independant agents in the frame or were they clean or not get caught? A bit of balance would be good.

    Why are the Consumer Regs not being used to fine them??

    • 29 October 2013 14:15 PM
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    Reporter: will you sell me something ?
    Agent : yes if you want
    Reporter: my conscience is clear, ive got 3 blokes sacked for trying to earn a living and get to say i am a nice person,

    • 29 October 2013 13:54 PM
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    Careful if you recommend and just have a lunch,,you will still get dragged down by the company if you referred them. What makes you so special ? if you let your customers go to a company you have no control over...

    • 29 October 2013 13:49 PM
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    It is illegal to murder someone but it still happens...why do do gooders think regualtion will stop it... we are governed by our reputations you fools

    • 29 October 2013 13:45 PM
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    Interesting program but to be honest no surprises.

    In the past I have worked telesales, sold insurance and even sold timeshare and no matter how motivational the happy clappy morning staff meetings, in my experience if you apply enough pressure to your staff to meet targets with the threat of unemployment looming over their heads, rules and regulations will always be broken.

    Offering the world over the phone to get a credit card number, crying in front of clients to sell insurance and bribing, holiday makers with bottles of whisky and free fags to sell timeshare.

    Pressure from the bosses will often cause sales negotiators to stoop to any level to hit that target.

    And if you think the bosses are oblivious, then think again, in order to keep the company shareholders sweet, they sow the seed of just how far over the line you will need to go if you want to keep your job..

    • 29 October 2013 12:26 PM
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    The corporate model is flawed. They don't care about customers, just hitting targets at ANY cost.

    Conveyancing is a case in point. Nearly half the lawyers fee goes to the agent resulting in the law firm struggling to pay for the staff to meet the volume affecting service.

    Many staff would love to recommend a local lawyer, but their hands are tied to the bucket shops with junior / trainee staff doing the donkey work.

    Mortgages and life policies are the same - anything to get a deal and bump up conversion rates. Such is the pressure, best advice is not the priority.

    Incentive may be history, but these have been replaced by threats and onerous pressure. What's worse, the staff sales commission can be adversely affected by not selling these extra products.

    It will end in tears.

    • 29 October 2013 12:18 PM
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    Well said Michael.

    As another single office family run 'only agent in the village' operation myself I abhor the pressure put on buyers by the big boys in particular. I previously worked for a large independent North West London company that linked arms with a mortgage broker. We were told to offer their services but that, surprise surprise, alienated us from our savvy buyers. In the end the negotiators dug their heels in and refused to mix agency work with financial services and the link was broken.

    • 29 October 2013 11:24 AM
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    Like many I started off working for Countrywide (Palmer Snell) and experienced all of the above and more. At one area managers meeting I asked whether or not our US parent was based in Chicago as I felt that some of the tactics we managers were being told to introduce were, whilst legal, not within my personal code of ethical behaviour.

    I was told to like it or lump it, so I left to work for an independent as soon as I could and bought the company a few years later. We are now successful as we have established a local reputation for treating clients and buyers properly, and we have a low staff turnover with no staff targets whatsoever.

    Am I clever? No, its just that being a family business with only one branch there is no need to set targets, and there is no need to behave in ways that whilst legal are a bit short on the ethics. As for deliberately behaving in an illegal manner .... never, it'd risk the reputation and employment of 3 members of my family just to begin with.

    The corporate model can be efficient ... not always .... is it appropriate for estate agency? Yes I think it is, but I hope it does not happen for my sake. If a large corporate could find a way to behave like an amalgam of very small businesses where staff were not churned, and where local reputation rather than brand penetration of the market mattered, then I could be in trouble. As is, roll on these exposes.

    Mind you I think that a recent Sunday Express 'expose' was utter rubbish. How often will a situation rise where an agent is in cahoots with a buyer so underprices, hides the property from buyers and eventually sells ultra cheap to that buyer in return for a back-hander! What sort of seller would fail to notice that the agent was not marketing their house anywhere?! Rubbish article.

    • 29 October 2013 10:51 AM
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    I've worked in the corporate area, and hated the pressure for mortgages, I actually had one 'colleague' butt in on a conversation I was having with a buyer, and talk over me to book the appointment, as she was running 'low' that week! Impressed I was not, especially when my manager agreed with her, and said I should have booked it before she had the chance!

    Now on the independent side, we offer the services of an independent firm, if they choose to take a mortgage through them then we get a small referral fee, same as we do with our local solicitors, but there are no targets, and the main benefit we tell our clients about is that we can push for updates due to our relationship.

    • 29 October 2013 10:11 AM
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    As a corporate agent and work for one of the mentioned companies i can say this is just the tip of the iceberg!

    In the vast majority of cases its not the employees fault it is the fault of the companies.

    If you raise an issue on the service you are having to offer you are met with, "You are paid a basic and a commission on top, if you do not like the preassure you are under maybe we should look at another role for you"

    There is a bullying culture at my firm and if an issue is raised formally it is brushed under the carpet as they are looking out for the company rather then any issues that need resolving.

    Sad fact is they want the sale no matter what the tact used......however they will drop you like a hot rock if you are caught to be seen doing anything unethical, far to much preassure on the employees.

    i would welcome an undercover reporter working inside for 6 months and see how it really works!

    in regard to Peter Bolton King - shows what a joke the guy is! - he is surprised? least be honest and say he is aware this poor practise happens and is not encouraged and steps will be taken.

    btw i am not a "Low Level Performer!"

    • 29 October 2013 09:50 AM
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    Typical corporate greed from C*ntrywide - there is no 'potential' about it; the practice is illegal under the Estate Agents Act.

    And what are NAEA going to do about it? Nothing, because just like ARLA they are completely toothless an unable to enforce anything other than their annual membership fees.

    The only slapped wrists will be from Countrywide to their employees... warning them not to get found out again.

    • 29 October 2013 09:44 AM
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    Typical countrywide practices, in my area Countrywide/Mann/King & Chasemore are telling old people EPCs need renewing with them if a property goes back on the market

    • 29 October 2013 09:19 AM
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    Yes Mark - agreed. We dont do mortgages - we recommend an independent broker IF ASKED but that's all. We dont seek a fee - they recommend us to sell or rent their clients properties and we have a nice lunch now and then.

    Its the same with local lawyers - reciprocal recommendations, lunch, the odd golf day.

    In both cases we get great service as do our customers.

    • 29 October 2013 09:16 AM
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    Try working for Your Move. Appointment numbers, not quality. If you fail to hit the target, you are told you 'have chosen not to'

    MA's under pressure to convert - area managers under threat if the don't. No one cares about advice, its all about % figures and hitting a magic number of sign ups and life penetration. Its the same with conveyancing and 'marketing packs'

    Sales seems to come second these days.

    • 29 October 2013 09:13 AM
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    I was delighted to see the programme slating "estate agents" based on the tiny proportion of the industry that are bad eggs.

    Just as all reporters have been bribing police and hacking phones.

    • 29 October 2013 09:11 AM
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    To me it shows the problem with estate agency pay structures. Poor basic wages topped up by commission leads to this sort of practice unfortunately. Countrywide pay very poor salaries hence their shocking staff retention and staff willing to try almost anything to make a living, then to add to this, the extreme pressure put on staff by greedy bosses expecting the earth with ridiculous targets. Will corporate comanies ever learn....

    • 29 October 2013 08:57 AM
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    The truth is that ALL the big corporates generate some 15-20% of their revenue from Financial services and conveyancing products.

    The staff are all put under huge pressure to hit targeted penetration rates and face serious sanctions if they do not.

    The Financial Services police has made a meal of brokers not getting incentives, commissions or even bottles of wine as a thank you or well done, but have failed to address the effects of the pressure senior management place the under.

    I was threatened with disciplinary action on more than occasion and felt under extreme pressure to sign up at any cost - anything else was an excuse.

    If sales don't get appointments they get penalised - FA's must get sign ups and life penetration rates or they earn disproportionally less and work in fear of their jobs.

    Estate agents should stick to selling. This is a serious issue which will lead to claims like PPI in the future.

    • 29 October 2013 08:54 AM
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    Actually this this is a very good example of how despite the very tight regulation of Financial services, the training and testing needed before one can sell any individual product there will always be someone to work outside the rules.

    • 29 October 2013 08:51 AM
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    The main message I got from the show is "are we entering into another property bubble?"

    And that Countrywide push far too much then is necessary, it's just greed.

    • 29 October 2013 08:47 AM
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    Oh dear, Abbotts in Essex!

    • 29 October 2013 08:47 AM
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    Regulators can only enforce when they are aware of the problem. This program has clearly highlighted the problem so it now up to the regulators to act - and be seen to act.

    • 29 October 2013 08:44 AM
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    Perhaps this particular King will start to understand how effective his reign over the industry has been.

    The calls for regulation , licensing and compulsory CMP have allienated the stalwarts of best practice within the industry leaving the field wide open for the weeds to flourish.

    • 29 October 2013 08:43 AM
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    Yet another example of a failure of Regulation and Enforcement ..... imagine if football matches were played without any officials to enforce the rules. Those teams that played by the rules would get kicked off the park by those who didn't. It's about time that the red card was shown to those who engage in this sort of foul play.

    • 29 October 2013 08:41 AM
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