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Powered by GulfNews.com, one of the most popular daily English language newspapers in the United Arab Emirates.

Estate agents still fail the game of truth


10/01/2009 11:19 PM | By Ross Clark, Special to Gulf News

One photo shows them at their best - with open skies, vistas of glorious landscape and not another building in sight. But the second photo of each of these properties shows all of them are blighted by a hideous industrial building on their doorstep.

The two very different images have been created merely by taking pictures from different angles - and it is a con trick that estate agents all over the country are using.

On Wednesday the Mail revealed how a three-bedroom 1930s bungalow in Dungeness, Kent, was advertised by two estate agents with photos which depict it in glorious isolation - ignoring the fact that if you turn your head 180 degrees you can see three nuclear power stations just 100 yards away.

Why is it that estate agents, who regularly prop up league tables of the least-trusted groups of professionals in Britain, still seem so eager to retain their lowly reputation? For years I have been researching and writing about their shady practices.

I went online to see what else I could find. Straight away I came across a house in Sipson, Middlesex, which boasted of being "very well-placed for easy access to Heathrow Airport" - without mentioning the likelihood that the entire village will soon be raised to make way for Heathrow's third runway.

The estate agency profession loves to tell us that it has reformed itself. Three years ago, a central London estate agent invited me to work in his office for a day to prove to me that things had improved since the 1980s property boom.

At the end of the day, I wasn't quite so sure that things had really changed at all. When I went to show a prospective buyer round a basement flat, I was told to keep the viewing to less than five minutes.

I was told to show him into the living room and bedroom - and to allow him only a quick peep into the minuscule second bedroom. I was also instructed to lead him into the courtyard in such a way he would not see an ugly boiler pipe hanging just above the garden table and chairs.

Rarely a month goes by without the Office Of Fair Trading failing to exercise its right to ban individual estate agents. In one recent case, a Croydon agent was caught out trying to fool a vendor into selling her a property for £65,000 (Dh390,000) less than it was worth. The agent had failed to declare her interest and attempted to disguise her offer behind a third party.

In 2006, a couple of BBC undercover reporters got jobs in four London estate agents. Within weeks they had filmed agents faking landlords' signatures, fibbing about offers which had never been made and in one case producing a false passport to help a buyer get a mortgage to which they shouldn't have been entitled.

Back in the 1960s, there was one honest estate agent in South London. Roy Brooks dared to tell the truth, describing one property as a "seedy family house" with "decor peeling, faded and flyblown."

Honesty did him no harm at all. In fact, his agency prospered. There is a lesson there for any estate agent trying to sell a property close to Dungeness power station.

Do as Roy Brooks would have done: describe it as "nice bungalow bang next door to nuclear reactor".

 
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