The email’s clever subject line said: Do you want to complain about an estate agent? Well, who doesn’t? These days, estate agents are down there with politicians and?ahem?journalists in the public’s perception. But this is ‘grossly unfair,’ according to Henry Pryor, a former estate agent turned online entrepreneur.
‘After 25 years in estate agency, I have seen the effort and endeavour that so many agents make to provide the very best service to both their clients (who pay their fees) and also to their applicants (who don’t, but often expect a better service),’ he says. ‘All this work is undermined by a small minority of agents who cut corners and play fast and loose. The actions of these few individuals is then portrayed as the public image of the profession.’
To help people sort out wheat from chaff and make informed choices, Pryor has now launched The Register of Estate Agents (ROEA, www.roea.co.uk), a website that allows prospective buyers and sellers to find out more about individual estate agents, their qualifications, their experience and the firms they work for.
‘I hope that the public will view this as a useful service that will help them to find the best agents and understand the value of the service that they are being offered,’ Pryor says.
Now, for all they are not subject to a licensing system, British estate agents are hardly lacking in trade bodies, each rigorously furnished with its unpronounceable acronym. There’s RICS?the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors?which trains member agents and binds them to rules of good practice. NAEA?the National Association of Estate Agents?also has a code of practice its members must adhere to, although it does not train agents in the way RICS does. And, last but not least, there’s OEA, the Ombudsman for Estate Agent, which has yet another code of practice, and acts as mediator in the event of a dispute between buyers (or sellers) and member agents. If you add relocation and letting agents into the frame, we also have ARP (Association of Relocation Professionals), ARLA (Association of Residential Lettings Agents) and so on and so forth. I get a headache just by trying to remember them all.
So do we really need to add ROEA to this acronym galore? Pryor, whom I met in another life, when he was still estate agencing and I was working on this site full time, has something vulpine about him and has never struck me as an also-ran. His big idea to make ROEA useful is to harness the power of the people through the web.
‘The plan is to have all buying, selling, letting and relocation agents on one register where their fee paying clients can leave constructive feedback on the service that they received as a guide to future clients,’ Pryor explains. ‘The Register of Estate Agents should help those agents and firms who have taken the trouble to get qualified and who look after their clients to advertise the fact. [It will also allow] the public to see what these agents’ most recent clients have said about the service and value for money that they received.”‘
Basically, buyers and sellers using a ROEA-accredited firm can leave their Amazon-style reviews on both the firm itself and on an agent’s individual performance. That way, for example, prospective customers can find out that Lisa from Firm X is worth her weight in gold while, say, Mark from Firm Y does not really listen to buyers’ requirements. Or some such.
Usually, people hate to give the world a chance to express negative comments about themselves but agents?who are either masochistic, or so used to hearing the worst that they are inured to it?have apparently welcomed Pryor’s idea. ‘I have pre-populated the site with 7000 agents and 1000 firms. Response from agents, as you will see from the Forum Blog, has been very positive,’ he says.
All the more surprising when you think agents have to pay a small fee to join ROEA (which is free to use for the public, though its users have to register). Whether the Register will work, of course, depends on how many users the site gets, whether they leave their feedback (according to web expert Jakob Nielsen, only less than 1% of customers leaves a review on Amazon) and, crucially, whether their comments are reliable. But Pryor has a good incentive up his sleeve: compensation for disgruntled customers.
The ROEA site states that ‘as a gesture, we are planning that, should a registered user of this site find and instruct an agent whose details appear here and should they subsequently be let down by that agent in the formal view of that agents regulatory body, the Ombudsman for Estate Agents or Trading Standards Officers, we will offer up to £5,000 in recognition of this fact.’
If all else fails, this alone gives people 5,000 good reasons to use his site.