Channel 4 programme exposes in-house agency deals

Last Monday’s Channel 4’s Dispatches programme exposed unauthorised sales practices of staff working for major estate agencies including Countrywide, Connells and Spicer Haart.

The programme featured several secretly filmed visits to estate agencies by an undercover reporter posing as a homebuyer.

These exposed various ways firms attempted to encourage buyers to use their in-house financial services. Barnard Marcus, part of the Connells group, were seen advising a reporter that using an in-house mortgage adviser would result in the buyer getting to view properties earlier than those who did not.

Felicity J Lord – a member of the Spicer Haart group went even further saying that it would recommend offers from buyers who opted to use the agency’s in-house mortgage broker.

A Barnard Marcus member of staff also told the reporter they would remove a property from the market once an agreement was in place to use an estate agent’s in-house mortgage adviser.

Both estate agencies offered apologies to Channel 4 in light of the revelations. Barnard Marcus said: “Our in-house services are entirely optional. We treat all buyers equally, regardless of whether they use additional services.

“We take allegations of pressurised selling very seriously. We have a legal obligation to qualify buyers and forward all offers in writing to vendors.”

Felicity J Lord said: “We seek to act in the best interests of our customer, the seller of a property at all times. It is not our practice to discriminate against any consumer because they decline to buy in-house services.

“Our mortgage advisers compare rates across the whole of the market in order to find the best deal for buyers.”

An agent from Countrywide was also recorded during the programme telling a reporter that his firm had exclusive rights to promote the second phase of the Help to Buy scheme.

The agent told Channel 4’s reporter: “The scheme kicks in from next year but because Countrywide does so many mortgages for the main lenders they’ve given us the go ahead on it now.”

A spokesman from PalmerSnell, part of the Countrywide group, issued an apology on behalf of what they said was an isolated branch who had deviated from agreed marketing material regarding Help to Buy.

The programme also showed the undercover reporter being advised that as they had insufficient finance to be granted a residential loan that they could take out a buy-to-let mortgage.

A spokeswoman from Countrywide Mortgage Services said: ”We do not condone such actions and take these matters very seriously. Once this matter was brought to our attention, we took immediate action and implemented our internal investigations process.

“The individuals identified have been suspended pending formal internal investigation.”

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