This dispute concerned the Seller’s perception that the Agent had provided false and misleading information in relation to the Buyer during the period between acceptance of offer and exchange. Importantly, it also provides a good example of how straightforward disputes can be avoided if clear and regular communication takes place and internal complaint procedures are accurately followed.
The Seller stated that the Agent had initially informed her that the Buyer’s mortgage in principle had been approved subject to providing the lender with a new payslip and that their online tracker showed this approval. However, several days later a different employee of the Agent contacted her via email to say the mortgage in principle had not yet been approved. The Seller then telephoned the Agent where she was informed that it was not their role to be involved with the Buyer’s mortgage process and to contact her solicitor regarding the matter.
Nearly two weeks later the Seller received an email from the Agent advising that no mortgage offer was in place. She then received another email from the Agent stating that they had only received verbal confirmation about the Buyer’s mortgage in principle and that it could take up to eight weeks for a mortgage offer to be made. Two weeks later the Seller then received confirmation from her solicitor that the Buyer’s mortgage had been approved.
The Seller felt that, due to the conflicting and misleading information she had received, the Agent was not managing the transaction appropriately which had resulted in her experiencing stress and anxiety that could have otherwise been avoided. As a result the Seller complained seeking a reduction in fees as a resolution.
The Agent’s responded stating they had carried out due diligence checks on the Buyer’s mortgage and deposit arrangements and suggested the misunderstandings had occurred due to the Property being down valued and a new sale price being agreed, which required a new mortgage application and, thereafter, a revised mortgage offer.
The Agent’s file notes indicated that the Buyer notified them that the mortgage offer had been approved subject to the Buyer providing a document that he had in his possession and ready to send, inferring the approval was a formality once the required documentation had been sent to the mortgage provider. The notes recorded that the mortgage in principle documentation was confirmed as received by the Buyer’s solicitors a month later. Furthermore, the Agent’s records showed that they communicated with all involved parties with a high level of frequency to monitor the progress of the anticipated mortgage approval documentation. However, the adjudicator was critical that the initial information conveyed to the Seller during a telephone call led the Seller to believe there was proof of the mortgage in principle being approved via the online tracker. Whilst there was no evidence of what was said in the telephone conversation, the Agent did not dispute the information that was conveyed to the Seller.
As part of the referral to TPO, the Seller also raised issues regarding the Agent’s handling of her complaint, specifically, that they did not investigate the matter thoroughly, that she was not offered an independent review by a member of staff not connected with the sale and that she was not advised of how she could refer the dispute to the Ombudsman.
In considering this issue, the Adjudicator noted that the Agency Director, who was not connected to the sale, responded to the complaint and that the response covered the issues raised, albeit the Seller did not agree with the responses. However, it was also clear that while there was a reference to TPO membership within the agency agreement, the Agent’s responses had not advised of how the dispute could be referred to the Ombudsman, as required under TPO’s Codes.
It was acknowledged that the Seller would have experienced a degree of aggravation and distress due to the conflicting information she had received from the Agent about the Buyer’s mortgage. However, it was clear from the Agent’s records that their communications, on the whole, reflected the information provided to them by the Buyer. It was also clear from the Agent’s records that they communicated regularly and appropriately between the offer being agreed and exchange of contracts. However, it was noted by the adjudicator that had the Agent’s initial communication been clearer and had not given the impression that the mortgage in principle had been approved, the confusion would have been avoided. An award of £50 was made to reflect the inconvenience to the Seller.
In respect of the Agent’s complaint handling, a further award of £50 was made to reflect the aggravation caused to the Seller in respect of having to explore herself her right to refer her dispute to the Ombudsman.
In both instances the awards and the dispute itself could have been easily avoided had the Agent been clear with their initial communication and, subsequently, adhered to all of the requirements of their own internal complaint handling procedure.