‘Estate agent sent me a £4,000 bill even though it did nothing to sell my home’

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Dear Katie, 

I decided to move into a retirement village so I asked Fox & Sons estate agents in Dorchester to sell my house. The deputy manager visited me twice, first to suggest a sale price and press me to sign a contract, then to take some photographs. Then my neighbour knocked on my door and said her cousin in Cumbria was interested in buying my house. I got in touch and a price was agreed. Stupidly, with hindsight, I told Fox & Sons of this development. At no time did Fox & Sons get in touch with me and it did not produce any viewers.

I am beside myself as I have now sold my house and am being asked to pay nearly £4,000 in commission. But what for? I am a pensioner with no family or anyone to help me. I do not have sufficient funds to cover the fee. I have only my state pension.

Surely I can just pay Fox & Sons for the two visits and the photographs, which I am more than willing to do.

– JE, Dorchester

Dear Reader,

Your contract states that commission is payable if a buyer has been introduced by Fox & Sons during its sole agency. However, you say the agent didn’t produce the buyer, who instead learned your house was for sale through their cousin. You say Fox & Sons had nothing to do with any negotiations or administration relating to the sale and had no contact with the buyer. Because of this you think it was unfair of Fox & Sons to expect you to pay the £4,000 fee.

If the sale had ended up being a private one, as you described, then £4,000 certainly seemed like a lot to pay for a simple valuation and some photographs. I asked Fox & Sons about its level of involvement and, contradicting your version of events, it said it had registered the buyer as an applicant on its system and verified their identities.

In addition it said it had records of negotiating and managing the sale of your home, including confirming the offer from the purchaser, acceptance of the offer and memorandum of sale, as well as carrying out money laundering checks. I asked to see these records but it denied my request.

Sometimes companies are reluctant to share their internal records for privacy reasons, but someone had misled me and I wanted to know who. When I phoned you to relay what I’d been told, you were outraged at Fox & Sons’ denial. I said I wanted to speak to the couple who bought your home to hear their version and you gladly passed me their phone number, though you warned that the wife was reluctant to talk.

Her husband said that although the pair had spoken to you independently about the sale price, they originally saw the property advertised in the estate agent’s window. They bought the home without doing a viewing, partly because he had cancer at the time, he said. Instead, their cousin who lived on your road took a video. So although private talks between buyer and seller were held, this was not a private sale, it seems. Their solicitors had never communicated directly with you, he said. The process had all been via the estate agent.

So although you think this estate agent is charging money for old rope here, you are very much on the hook for this bill. I’m not sure what you imagined I’d find when verifying your story, but I think this idea that you are being unfairly extorted out of £4,000 is a fantasy cooked up in your head. Clearly you’re desperate to avoid paying and thought I could make it go away. Well, I’m afraid I can’t. Moving house is stressful and I’m sorry you’ve had to do it all by yourself.

My advice is this: pay up and move on before you waste even more of your own time fighting this.

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