When an older couple decided not to downsize after all their estate agent hit them with a huge bill
The outrageous injustice Sheila Merritt and her disabled husband Vincent say they were subjected to by The Purple Property Shop in Bolton left them frantic with worry.
But the pair, in their late 70s, resisted the offer of a £1,250 discount to settle quickly and asked Crusader to fight their corner.
“We’re more than willing of course to pay the agency their expenses. But forcing us to pay this huge sum for not selling our property cannot be right,” says Sheila.
The Merritt’s experience is a chilling reminder of the need for buyers to beware before signing up to agreements.
But then we got this extortionate bill. When I called them they insisted they had sold our home.
Last spring Vincent’s serious health problems decided the pair that, although reluctant to leave their home of 47 years, they should move to a ground floor flat.
Seeing one they liked they put their house with The Purple Property Shop that was also marketing the one they had their eye on.
Sheila explains: “The agency’s director Matthew Jones came to our home, read out the terms on several pages and we signed. Our clear understanding was that we had 14 days to change our minds and if after that we cancelled we would pay a fee of £180 to cover their expenses.”
Several viewings took place, but offers were substantially below the asking price and the one on target was then withdrawn. The couple also learned the flat they wanted had been sold.
However Vincent, although still on a ventilator, was getting much better “and that meant we could stay put after all,” continues Sheila.
++ If you’ve been affected by this issue or feel you’ve been a victim of injustice, please contact consumer champion Maisha Frost on email@example.com ++
Make sure that you check the implications before signing any paperwork
“But then we got this extortionate bill. When I called them they insisted they had sold our home. But they hadn’t and besides we never would have agreed to a contract that tied us in to paying £2,499 without any sale.”
Legal experts that Crusader spoke to slammed the contract as being “poorly drafted and sub-standard”.
Among the flaws was its layout, two pages setting out the terms, but then another separate page not incorporated so potentially rendering it invalid, crammed with 23 clauses in minuscule print.
The few figures quoted were confusing and imprecise, a percentage fee was mentioned but the amount not specified.
While the very small print sets out terms when a commission fee is paid, these are based on a seller accepting an offer or offered the full market price but then rejecting it. Neither of those however happened in the Merritt’s case.
And a cancellation condition in the main agreement directly contradicts these too, stating a charge of just £180 would be levied – precisely what the couple were expecting.
We challenged The Purple Property Shop and it responded promptly through its solicitors by withdrawing the claim and saying “on this occasion there does seem to have been a misunderstanding”.
Sheila and Vincent told Crusader: “The prospect of going to court horrified us, we can never thank you enough for your support.”
If you are selling your home, know your rights warn experts
When appointing an agent to sell your home know exactly what you are paying for, be clear what any figures or cancellation terms mean, then confirm your understanding in writing – before signing.
The Property Ombudsman (www.tpos.co.uk) provides conflict resolution for its member agencies and clients. Its code, explains deputy ombudsman Jane Erskine, expects all agents to ensure that their terms of business are clear and transparent.
“It is not acceptable for an agent to seek to rely on a clause that is ‘hidden’ in the small print of terms and conditions,” she says.
“Any ‘fee earning event’ – i.e. the event that triggers a fee liability – should be clearly set out within the agreement and actively flagged.
When appointing an estate agent be clear of the cancellation terms before signing
“This is set out in our Code of Practice and seeks to ensure that no consumer is faced with an unexpected fee.
“The pivotal paragraph states: ‘All fees and additional costs must be included in your terms of business. They must be fully explained, clearly and unambiguously stated in writing before the client is committed to the contract’.
“Should a case be referred to TPO against a member agent, we will consider the visibility of such a clause within the terms of business – ‘would the average consumer have been aware?’ ‘Was it drawn to their attention?’ If it was, we will consider if the agent has carried out the fee earning event. If an agent is claiming a fee on the basis of having introduced a buyer, we will consider whether the agent did in fact introduce.”
Mark Hayward, chief executive of leading estate agent trade body NAEA Propertymark recommends: “It is best practice for estate agents to draw consumers’ attention to onerous implications and any unusual terms before entering an agreement, to ensure they understand all the terms and conditions.”
The Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 also give people the right to have a contract set aside, advises consumer law expert solicitor Joanne Lezemore (www.consumer-genie.co.uk), if the seller has used misleading, aggressive or unfair commercial practices.
If you plan on selling your home, you must ensure that you are aware of your rights
“Whenever you sign a contract, in most cases, the law presumes that you have read and understood the terms of the contract,” she says.
“However, pretty much all of us a guilty, at one time or another, of ticking the box to say you have read the terms, or signing on the dotted line, without reading it properly first. And if you have read the contract, and do not understand any part of it, then ask for an explanation.
“As a consumer, you can rely on statements made and/or explanations given by the seller before a contract is entered into. Under the Misrepresentation Act 1977, if you enter into a contract based on statements made that turn out not to be true, then you can have the contract set aside.
“Also, the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 give consumers the right to have a contract set aside if the seller has used misleading, aggressive or unfair commercial practices if certain criteria is met – they could also have committed a criminal offence.
“If you enter into a contract after being told, for example, you can cancel it at no cost, but later find you cannot, then you may be able to rely on the Regulations however, time limits apply. If you feel that a seller has breached the Regulations you can report them to your local Trading Standards Authority who have the power to prosecute.”