<preform>Overview: Acting as our own standards officer can't be a bad thing</b></i></preform>

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The Independent Online

Anyone with a grievance against an estate agent will now be able to thump the table with a resounding "I told you so". The long-awaited report from the Office of Fair Trading on the estate-agency industry found widespread dissatisfaction from buyers and sellers, with a litany of charges from poor service to illegal practices.

Anyone with a grievance against an estate agent will now be able to thump the table with a resounding "I told you so". The long-awaited report from the Office of Fair Trading on the estate-agency industry found widespread dissatisfaction from buyers and sellers, with a litany of charges from poor service to illegal practices.

None of this comes as a surprise to those in the business - but the response from the OFT has. It ruled out compulsory licensing, to the disappointment of both the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors and the National Association of Estate Agents.

That is an issue that will live to fight another day, however, what the public wants to know is how can they be better served for their money and protected against rogue traders.

The OFT calls for sharper price competition, better and more effective self-regulation and more transparency in the way terms and conditions are laid out.

And here the ball is in the consumer's court. If we shop around and then choose an agency purely because it offers the lowest commission, whose fault is it if they turn out to be nothing more than an expensive billboard?

If our two per cent commission doesn't provide an adviser, negotiator and general hand-holder then why not pay just a hundred-odd quid and advertise one's property on the internet?

The OFT suggests that we talk figures instead of percentages, and certainly £7,000 is a sharper focus than one and half per cent. Just calculating how much the value of a commission has increased on the back of house price increases should give rise to some searching questions.

Simon Agace, chairman of Winkworth franchising, believes that far from begrudging the fees, people would be happy to pay more for an outstanding service. What they resent is paying the same for a lousy one. Agace also makes a strong case for why agents should join the Ombudsman scheme - currently only 36 per cent choose to do so.

The OFT does seem to have missed a golden opportunity here by not making a move to enforce the scheme. But how many of us ask if an agent is a member, or even know that the scheme exists? As Agace explains: "One agent will pitch for business knowing that he could face a fine from the Ombudsman of up to £25,000 for a mistake, whereas his non-regulated competitor faces no such threat.

"By introducing fairness into the industry the public would be able to more easily evaluate the services on offer and competition within the industry would be channelled into the services and commission rates the agents offer."

And there's much more we could do. Why not ask how an agency runs its office? We might regard negotiators paid on a commission-only basis as having an agenda that runs contrary to a vendor's best interests.

Acting as our own standards officers can't be a bad thing. The OFT mentions the increase in "flyboarding", where unscrupulous agents stick boards wherever they choose, even with nothing to sell. Culprits are a matter of public record yet people still instruct them. Surely their behaviour must ring a few alarm bells. If more than one in four buyers and one if five sellers say they have had serious problems in their dealings with an estate agent, it is about time we took matters into our own hands.

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