An agent's legal duties

Those selling property, particularly residential property, are often not aware that their agent is obliged legally and ethically to act primarily in their interest.

Pointing this out in a recent training session, Lanice Steward, MD of Anne Porter Knight Frank, told some of the company’s agents that the Estate Agency Affairs Act makes it crystal clear that the agent’s duty to the seller includes:

  • Achieving the highest possible price that the buyer will accept.
  • Avoiding any conflict of interest such as selling to themselves or to a friend. If such a path is followed full disclosure is mandatory and it has to be sanctioned by the seller.
  • Rejecting any private payments from the buyer (e.g. to achieve a quick sale or to keep the price down).
  • Maintaining complete confidentiality with regards to the seller’s personal circumstances unless it has been agreed that the information can be disclosed to help the bargaining process. This, said Steward, can be particularly important where the seller is experiencing financial problems which necessitate a quick sale.
  • Submitting to the client all offers on a property, including those which may have come through another agency on a shared commission basis.
  • Advertising the property in a truthful way and in accordance with the promises made to the client at the time the mandate was received.
  • Where the property is rented, keeping up-to-date written accounts of all money received and paid out (e.g. to the client or for repairs). Where the money is in the agent’s trust, a monthly statement should be sent to the client.

Any breach of these conditions, said Steward, should be discussed frankly with the agent and if a satisfactory explanation is not obtained the matter should be reported to the Estate Agency Affairs Board.

"Since the start of the near-recessionary period that we are now experiencing," said Steward, "agents in some of the smaller and less secure companies have been resorting to a variety of dubious practices to achieve sales. The principle of the law, however, stands: the agent’s duty is to protect and work in the interests of the seller by whom he has been appointed, but he is expected to do so always within the law and with complete fairness to the buyer."

Article by: Drew Broadley -