Connells has been accused by a newspaper of telling prospective purchasers that to be a “premium buyer” they must use their mortgage services.
Connells has denied the claim, saying it is hampered by looking into the matter because the newspaper has not named the branch.
The story in Metro alleges that Connells applicants are told they must either take out a mortgage or have a financial assessment with their in-house mortgage broker.
In a taped phone call contained in the link at the bottom of this story, which runs to nearly seven minutes, the unnamed Connells agent talks to the undercover reporter who poses as a buyer.
The reporter explains that she already has a mortgage in principle, but is nevertheless asked by the agent to see the Connells mortgage adviser.
The reporter also asks about cash buyers, and is told that these are also asked to see the mortgage adviser, so that there is proof of funds.
According to the story, the agent explains that some properties are “only available to our premium buyers”.
Reporter Amy Willis says: “Jane [not her real name] told me if I wanted to get on their exclusive ‘Premium Buyers List’ I needed to take out a mortgage with them or have a financial assessment with their mortgage broker Bianca [not her real name].
“Jane also explained some of the ‘benefits’ in taking out a mortgage through Connells Estate Agents.”
Jane then tells the reporter: “You’ll become what we class as a really hot buyer. You’ll be able to view properties before they’ve even hit the internet. We can get you to view these properties before anyone else does.
“The reason we like you to come in is for our vendors so we know that you’re a good buyer and that you are good to go with the budget you’ve given.”
‘Jane’ adds that ‘Bianca’ has access to fantastic rates, and that ‘Jane’ will even go out canvassing “the neighbourhood where I want to live if I agree to see Bianca, calling this this ‘Home Finder Service’.”
Connells, which is owned by Skipton Building Society, makes around £600 from each buyer taking out a mortgage, as well as commission from mortgage lenders, claims the story.
It goes on to quote Mark Hayward, managing director of Propertymark NAEA.
He told Metro that some agents are “sailing close to the wind legally”.
He said: “Under the 1979 Estate Agencies Act, you can’t make it a pre-condition that someone takes up one of your other services before they can move forward in terms of viewing properties.
“The buyer has freedom of choice. They shouldn’t be coerced into using an adviser or coerced into using a product that is not suitable for them or that they don’t want to use or are not comfortable using.”
Hayward said that an agent must act on behalf of the seller.
He said: “If they are precluding people from viewing because they won’t take up their mortgage services, then they are acting illegally. But it depends how it is couched.”
Connells stated: “Connells’ in-house mortgage services are entirely optional and have no bearing whatsoever on a buyer’s ability to secure a property through one of our branches.
“Staff are instructed to treat all buyers equally regardless of whether they opt to use additional services or not.
“Also, in accordance with our obligation to the vendor, it is right that we should make reasonable enquiries to qualify prospective buyers and whether financials are in place to complete the sale.
“Additionally, and in order to act in the vendor’s best interests, it is imperative that Connells market every property as widely as possible and do not prefer particular buyers.
“We did ask Metro which Connells branch was featured in the call/story in order for us to investigate, but unfortunately this detail was not forthcoming.”