The underside of an industry: Ex-estate agent comes clean

A disillusioned ex-estate agent, Pav Sheen has written a book exposing the trade's dodgier practices
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The Independent Online

Believe it or not, Pav Sheen, at just 25, is on a one-man mission to clean up estate agency. A former estate agent himself, and master of numerous dubious tricks, Sheen has decided to come clean and reveal all, in the hope of empowering the poor buyers and sellers so that they can beat estate agents at their own avaricious game.

Of course, the estate agent-turned- whistleblower is no new phenomenon. Many will recall the 2006 BBC TV programme The Secret Agent, in which an undercover reporter exposed all manner of unethical practices. And earlier this year, ITV's Confessions of an Estate Agent revealed yet more abuses of trust, confirming to most that the job of estate agent is one mired in sleaze. Despite all this, however, Sheen believes that people are still falling victims to what he calls "tricks and traps", and that little is being done to regulate the problems.

To rectify the situation and arm the unwary public, he has self-published a book, Tips, Tricks, Traps: Everything You Need to Know About Estate Agents, and launched www.beattheagents.co.uk. If anything, the book tells you more than you'd ever need to know (and indeed would probably rather not know), even if you were in the process of buying and/or selling a house. It's packed with details and scenarios, gleaned from Sheen's experiences on the job.

So why did he decide to tell all? He claims that it was a crisis of the heart. "After a while, it got to me how unethical it all was," he says. Nevertheless – and you can make up your own mind as to his true motives in publishing this book – Sheen freely admits to being part of the game. "We played on people's ignorance, and nudged them into making decisions, so that we could close a deal as quickly as possible," he recalls. A favourite trick would be to arrange two viewings to coincide, and when one lot had left, get someone from the office to ring, and pretend that it was them putting in an offer.

Sheen's first job was with a big estate agent chain in Harlow, Essex. " We did have a few training seminars, at which we learnt about property misdescription and so on," he says, "but most of what we learnt, the real stuff, came from the backroom." He says the culture was such that you'd do almost anything not to lose a sale. Following his adventures in Harlow, he worked for a well-known agents in Walthamstow (he doesn't want to name any of the agents for fear of legal repercussions), and in north and then east London. Finally, he and his latest employers had enough of each other and Sheen set up as an independent property adviser, essentially locating high-end residential properties for wealthy clients, and then oiling the wheels of the transactions.

His book and corresponding website initially came about because he was asked to help some family members with their property dealings. "I wrote a list of tips for them, and then it kept getting larger and larger." But it didn't put them, or him off. Property, he claims, is in his family's blood. His father, big in the rag trade, has always dabbled in commercial property, and has already benefited from the Olympics coming to east London.

Now based in Gerrards Cross, in Buckinghamshire – prime commuter-belt territory, and one of the more expensive postcodes in the country – Sheen says that he would still like to run his own estate agency. However, he says that it would have to be based on "ethics". "Not all estate agents are evil," he says. "There are a few who do have your best interests at heart."

If you have cause not to believe him, fear not because Sheen's next venture, launching in the next few months, is www.IHateEstateAgents.com – a forum for people to air their bad experiences.

He expects plenty of traffic.



'Tips, Tricks, Traps' by P Sheen, £9.99 Details from www.BeatTheAgents.co.ukHenry Sutton is the author of 'The Househunter' (Sceptre, £7.99)

Pav's 10 top tips

1 When you are viewing the property, ask questions and insist on getting answers. For instance, "Why so many cracks in the wall? Is this subsidence?". Your questioning will both elicit information and put the agent off-balance.

2 Avoid displays of positive emotion when viewing. Be quiet, calm and sceptical, even dour. It will disconcert the agent, who will be unsure what line to take with you. When he asks questions, let your answers be short, to the point, and delivered with a poker face.

3 Always remind the agent of how experienced a buyer you are. The awareness of a solid buyer can play a key role in negotiating the price. From the owner's point of view, better a solid buyer and a lower price than a risky buyer offering the full price.

4 To avoid gazumping, get a friend to call up the estate agent about the property you have agreed to purchase to see if they are still marketing that property. If the agent is still accepting viewings, then it is possible you'll be gazumped. Confront them with their duplicity, and look for other properties.

5 By law, all offers must be communicated to the vendor. If you mistrust your agent, try to exchange telephone numbers with the owner, once you have agreed a deal. Use an excuse, such as wanting to discuss the sale of furniture. This will ensure communication between yourself and the vendor. Failing this, try to drop a note through the vendor's letterbox with your name and telephone number.

6 When calling to book a valuation, always tell the agent that you are looking to put your property on the market. This will always guarantee a free valuation. If you tell the agent that you need a valuation for a re-mortgage, or a divorce valuation, they will always try to charge you for it.

7 A common tactic used by agents before signing is to state that they have a minimum contract term. In reality, this is not the case. It is merely another sales tactic, first to give the agent maximum exclusivity for selling time, and, second, to freeze out the competition. In fact, the contract can be amended, so do not be misled.

8 Throw the agent off-guard by invoking "parallel reduction". If you have to reduce the price on your property, then the agent should be willing to reduce his commission. If you have to take a hit, why shouldn't he?

9 A good tactic a vendor can use to get a lower fee is the play-off close, when the vendor plays one agent against another. For example: "We've seen a few agents and we've narrowed our choice down to you and one other agent. We would prefer to go to market with you, but the other agent has offered a lower commission. If you can match that, we'll come on the market with you." While doing this, smile.

10 Beware tea and coffee. Agents will always try to increase the amount of time spent with a potentially strong buyer. Although agents often work against each other in the office, they sometimes join forces in what is called "office assistance". Another agent offers the buyer a beverage, a display of manners with an ulterior motive. The more time an agent has with you, the more time they have to make you comfortable and sell you other products.

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