A survey of almost 1,000 estate agents, commissioned by Stuff magazine, revealed a host of unsavoury vices. Ten per cent had "made themselves at home" in a property for which they held keys, a quarter admitted to having sex in the houses they were selling, a practice that surely ranks as making yourself at home, and 5 per cent had given a party in a property. Many of us harbour less than positive feelings towards estate agents, but can you imagine your agent "at home" and in your house?
Does the survey reflect reality? Mark Coulter, a negotiator at Chestertons estate agents, admits he chose his profession because he "likes variety". But Mark can shed no light on any tawdry goings-on. "I've never been invited to illicit parties in clients' homes and wouldn't go on principle," says Mark, who doesn't quite fit the cartoon-like figure illustrated in Stuff.
He doesn't own the regulation BMW driven by the majority of agents, according to the survey, and, unlike the 39 per cent top category who listed salary as the main reason for entering their profession, Mark's motives are different: "I like getting out and about and meeting people." So what does he drive? "I should make something up but it's a Ford Fiesta. I'm quite boring really," says Mark reassuringly.
Andy Clerkson, Stuff's editor, was shocked by the results and believes estate agents compare unfavourably with other professions they've surveyed. Were the findings fair? "It was anonymous and we've no reason to believe they would lie." Andy knows no agents personally, so has not received invitations to any legendary parties: "I wouldn't want to know anyone from this survey. Most of them said they were right-wing-voting Telegraph readers, which goes against all national averages."
Unsurprisingly, no agents took The Independent into their confidence and admitted to any clandestine affairs or swinging parties. But some had interesting tales to tell. A senior negotiator recounts his worst experience in 15 years' practice: "A divorcing couple had their flat on our books. They'd moved out and we had the keys. One day the woman came in yelling that her husband must have moved back in because she'd been round and found the place full of furniture. I told her it was impossible and that an agent had recently shown clients round. The agent in question went red and admitted that the furniture was his." What happened to the blushing boy? "We sacked him on the spot but he's still in the business and recently featured in a TV documentary."
Most vendors assume their property is safe in an agent's hands and trust them to act responsibly. There were no signs that anyone had been bouncing on Louise Rainbow's bed when she sold her Brixton flat but on visiting an agency to arrange viewings, she found surprisingly unprofessional attitudes: "We walked in and told the agents what we were looking for. They didn't know us from Adam, yet they dished out keys and we went to look at a flat unaccompanied. There was dirty washing everywhere, it was embarrassing, and we could have been anyone."
Stephen Smith, manager of Bushells' Dulwich branch, finds Louise's experience "appalling". "It should never happen, what if something goes missing? We accompany everyone, even after exchange of contracts," says Stephen, who finds the survey totally unrepresentative of the industry. "Ask stupid questions and you get stupid answers. You always get the odd one but I think there's an element of trying to be clever old Jack-the-lad here."
The survey was aimed at male agents: would the results be the same for women? Johanna Haddon-Knowles, of Muswell Hill estate agency JHK, does not believe the findings represent anyone in the industry in which she's worked for 10 years: "I've never had sex or thrown a party in a client's home and I wouldn't dream of it."
Isn't she ever tempted to just try on clients' clothes? "The nearest I get to making myself at home is feeding their cats if they're miaowing madly or having a pee if I'm caught short," says Johanna, a self-confessed feline fanatic.
You may wish Johanna would make herself at home in your property, as her service goes beyond the call of duty. "With very untidy clients I pop round five minutes before a viewing and kick the dirty underwear under the bed," she says. Johanna never allows unaccompanied viewings but hears weekly tales of agents who do: "They are absolute twats, what a bloody risk."
Buyers and sellers with complaints against agents now have more hope of redress since the Ombudsman widened its scheme to include independent as well as corporate agents earlier this year. Top of last year's list at 684 complaints was maladministration followed by 261 complaints about commission fees.
No categories exist for "agent throws party or has sex on premises". Does that mean it never happens? "We didn't have a complaint about a party last year but we have had them," says John Gray, spokesperson for the Ombudsman. Why none lately? "Maybe they just haven't been caught," says John: "That's the ultimate sin." Stephen Smith accepts that errors happen but is intolerant of some complainants: "My impression is that it's sometimes a way of trying to chip the fee. They should ask themselves if their expectations are realistic."
Some questions make the survey's results questionable. When asked if there is such a thing as an honest estate agent, 57 per cent said that most lie to make a sale and 11 per cent said they all do. But can we believe them?
The Ombudsman for Estate Agents, 01722 333306; Chestertons, 0171-357 6911; Bushells, 0181-299 1722; JHK, 0181-883 5485.Reuse content