An estate agent is a person or business that arranges the selling, renting or management of properties, and other buildings, in the United Kingdom and Ireland. An agent that specialises in renting is often called a letting or management agent. Estate agents are mainly engaged in the marketing of property available for sale and a solicitor or licensed conveyancer is used to prepare the legal documents. In Scotland, however, many solicitors also act as estate agents, a practice that is rare in England and Wales.
It is customary in the United Kingdom and in Ireland to refer to real estate or real property simply as property.
The estate agent remains the current title for the person responsible for the management of one group of privately owned, all or mostly tenanted, properties under one ownership. Alternative titles are Factor, Steward or Bailiff depending on the era, the region and the extent of the property concerned.
The term originally referred to a person responsible for managing a landed estate, while those engaged in the buying and selling of homes were “House Agents”, and those selling land were “Land Agents”. However, in the 20th century, “Estate Agent” started to be used as a generic term. Estate agent is roughly synonymous with the United States term real estate broker.
Estate agents need to be familiar with their local area, including factors that could increase or decrease property prices. e.g. if a new road or airport is to be built this can blight houses nearby. Equally, the closing of a quarry or improvement of an area can enhance prices. In advising clients on an asking price, the agent must be aware of recent sale prices (or rental values) for comparable properties.
The full legal term and definition of an estate agent within the UK can be found on the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) website. Enforcement of these regulations is also the responsibility of the OFT.
In the United Kingdom, residential estate agents are regulated by the Estate Agents Act 1979 and the Property Misdescriptions Act 1991 which is due to go in October 2013, as well as, the more recently enacted Consumers, Estate Agents and Redress Act 2007.
In September 2012 CPRs (consumer protection regulation) was introduced which now regulates the residential sales process.
For residential property, there are also a few trade associations for estate agents, INEA The Independent Network of Estate Agents and National Association of Estate Agents (NAEA). NAEA members can be disciplined for breaches of their code of conduct. Their disciplinary process includes everything from cautions and warnings right through to more severe penalties of up to 5,000 for each rule breached.
Some estate agents are members of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS), the principal body for UK property professionals, dealing with both residential, commercial and agricultural property. Members, known as “Chartered Surveyors”, are elected based on examination and are required to adhere to a code of conduct, which includes regulations about looking after their clients’ money and professional indemnity insurance in case of error or negligence.
The Ombudsman for Estate Agents Scheme, which obtained OFT approval for the Code of Practice for Residential Sales in and, as of November 2006 claims to have 2,532 member agencies.
There is a legal requirement to belong to either organisation to trade as an estate agent. Agents can be fined if they are not a member of a redress scheme. The redress scheme was brought in alongside and to govern agents in reference to the HIP (Home Information Pack).
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