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As you may already know, all estate and letting agents must be a member of a government-approved redress scheme; the Hunters property group are members of The Property Ombudsman.

The work of The Property Ombudsman (TPO) is critical in ensuring estate agents, letting agents, and organisations involved with the sale and leasing of domestic and commercial property are held accountable for all their business interactions. The Property Ombudsman identifies trends in consumer dissatisfaction and investigates all enquiries and formal complaints with impartiality.

Last year saw a record level of enquiries to TPO, over 29,000, an increase of 22% on 2017 figures; from these enquiries, 4,246 developed into formal complaints that represent a staggering 16% rise from the previous year. Most of these upheld complaints required financial award to be made to the complainant; this saw the amount of financial pay-out by TPO in 2018 to be double that of 2016 at a record breaking £2.1M.

The area that proved to demonstrate the highest levels of discontent was property letting agents; of the 2757 letting cases resolved by the ombudsman, 54% were from landlords, 42% from tenants, and the remaining few percent were instigated by other 3rd parties allegedly affected by poor practice. In the property sales sector, the 1465 cases resolved by TPO saw 60% of complaints brought by the seller, 34% by buyers or potential buyers, with a further 6% of complaints taken to the ombudsman by 3rd parties. The lettings and sales complaints shared two main reasons for claimants to approach the ombudsman in an attempt to seek recompense and resolution; these were poor communication and record keeping, and complaint handling. Other reasons were cited as being due to poor or inaccurate marketing, management, terms of business, tenancy agreements and contract terminations.

It is worth mentioning that this rise in complaints against the estate and letting agent industry, although worrying, is not necessarily an indicator of slipping standards or a rise in the number of disreputable agents; heightened awareness of industry responsibilities , media coverage on consumer rights, and 8 government consultations throughout 2018 addressing the need to make consumer redress in the housing market more robust and transparent may also have made consumers more knowledgeable and confident about how and where to complain- and we think this can only act as a really positive move for the estate agency industry.

There can be no denying that moving house can be a very stressful time for many, it is often ranked in polls as being up there with divorce and bereavement; this stress may compound the feelings of being badly treated or the sale or tenancy not being handled with professionalism- but whatever the reason for pursuing a complaint, we don’t feel anyone should ever be placed in a position where they feel this is their only route. The fact that the main causes for complaint across the selling and letting sectors was communication and record keeping, and complaint handling, speaks volumes to us- these are elements of our industry that we pride ourselves on getting right first time.

During 2018, while The Property Ombudsman was receiving record levels of enquiries and complaints, our Hunters customer satisfaction feedback showed that 96% of our clients were happy with the service we provided. When we explored the reasons behind this, our clients praised us for the standard of our communications with them and the positive effect our genuine and personal input into each interaction had. So why are our results seemingly bucking the national trend?

We feel that the main reasons for this is that we take the time to regularly and personally ‘check in’ with our clients to ensure all parties are up to date with progress, this is our personal touch but is so important to us and our business model, also, our website clearly and easily provides a wealth of information on the services we offer across all sectors of our client base- sellers, landlords, buyers, and tenants; what’s more, all the information is  available to all- it is not hidden away to only be accessed by the client group it is aimed at.  This transparency and approachability are real assets to the trust we are proud to build with all our existing and potential clients.

These assets are not something the Hunters Property Group just manages to deliver because of luck; these are principles that have been within our ethos since we began as a local independent estate agency in York back in 1992. One of the jewels in our crown is the level that all our staff are trained to; our training academy ensures that all staff are constantly up to date with all elements of legislation, compliance, best practice, effective use of industry technologies, marketing, and customer service. Our training packages are available to all our branch staff and our growing cohort of independent estate agents that have taken the step trading as one of our franchisees.

Our dedicated teams within the Hunters® family demonstrate the thread that runs through Hunters is that of team effort, support, transparency and approachability.

Andy Bushell