Categories
Property

Reeds Rains

Site: reedsrains.co.uk
Twitter: twitter.com/ReedsRains
Purpose: Estate Agents

What is Reeds Rains?

Reeds Rains is an estate agent that operates nationwide, with approximately 150 branches around the country. According to their website, they were established in 1868.

That same website makes a big deal of the fact that they have been trading for over 150 years with a lovely little blurb on the homepage designed to convey a wholesome feeling of time-honoured tradition, friendliness and high standards:

In our 150-year history we’ve never lost sight of the need for local expertise or moved away from our founder Samuel Rain’s principles that building great relationships, being genuinely interested in our customers and getting the job done, is the way to achieve success for our customers.

In the website’s footer, they refer to their membership of the Property Ombudsman (TPO), how that is there to protect customers’ interests, and how they abide by the Ombudsman’s code of conduct.

We are members of The Property Ombudsman (TPO), there to protect your interests. We abide by the TPO code of conduct.

Below that is an image of TPO’s logo to reinforce the association.

But does this association actually mean anything as far as the customer is concerned?

According to the TPO’s website, membership costs each branch £195+VAT per year, which in Reeds Rains’ case means about £35,000 annually barring any special discounts.

In return for this considerable recurring investment, TPO promises that membership “increases consumer confidence” and allows the member “to display the TPO logo to consumers and instil confidence by offering redress.”

This is all intended to convey a sense of safety, security and certainty – after all, an estate agent aims to separate their customers from hundreds of thousands- and in some cases millions- of pounds. Customers aren’t going to part with their money if they have concerns that their transaction with the estate agent is risky and could result in losses.

Reeds Rains are therefore keen to emphasise the qualities they have that mean any investment you purchase through them is safe, but that in the unlikely event that anything should somehow go wrong, you are protected by a robust and trustworthy system of redress.

What is the Property Ombudsman (TPO)?

The Property Ombudsman (TPO) is an arbitration service made up of subject matter experts that has been allowed by Companies House to call itself an “ombudsman” because it is a member of the Ombudsman Association. Being a member of that association means that they are obliged to adhere to a number of criteria that uphold integrity, accountability, fairness and an unbiased approach to mediation.

Perhaps contrary to perception given the name, it is a voluntary scheme that competes with other arbitration services which are not allowed to call themselves ombudsmen – because there can only be one of those per industry. An estate agent is obliged to register with an arbitration service, but it doesn’t have to be TPO.

Also, surprisingly, the TPO’s rulings are not at all binding to the estate agent – they are merely a guide or a suggestion. An estate agent is free to completely ignore its findings if it so chooses, but in doing so they risk being expelled from the organisation and being listed on the Expelled Members page where they are virtually named and shamed.

For more information on the Property Ombudsman (TPO) and for a full account of our experience with them when Reeds Rains failed to provide suitable redress for the failings detailed in this article, look here.

Our Property

In August 2017, my wife – who at the time was my fiancée – and I purchased a property in Cheshire that was presented by Reeds Rains.

We had spoken with Reeds Rains over the phone on multiple occasions, we had exchanged emails and we had met a representative in person when we viewed the property. On neither of these occasions did Reeds Rains mention the fact that the field immediately behind the property had been granted planning permission for 150 homes.

In fact, the only time they mentioned the field at all was when we specifically asked about it, at which time we were told that locals walked their dogs on it. Planning permission of any kind was certainly not mentioned.

We were of course broadly familiar with the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008. We were therefore aware that Reeds Rains was not allowed to make inaccurate or misleading claims regarding any aspect of the property and when they informed us that the field was used by locals to walk their dogs – and when they specifically did not mention any planning permission – this put our mind at ease.

With Reeds Rains’ assurance in mind, when it came to the searches we elected to save a significant amount of money by selecting the basic option that covered only the property itself and its associated land, rather than the immediate surrounding area as well. Had there been any factors of concern here, then Reeds Rains would have informed us about it as they were obliged to by law – right?

We ended up purchasing the property and in August we moved in. A month later we were married, and a month after that we returned from our honeymoon to find a letter from Cheshire Council referring to planning permission that had been granted on that field before we even first enquired about the property.

Our Complaint to Reeds Rains

Angry that Reeds Rains would have sold us a property without informing us about the planning permission on that field as they were required to, even after we specifically asked about the field, we wrote a letter to the branch responsible which they forwarded to their customer relations department in Newcastle upon Tyne.

As an aside, it seems that Reeds Rains’ customer relations is actually provided by LSL Property Services plc., a “leading provider of residential property services” for a wide range of property-related companies and businesses including Reeds Rains which prides itself on providing “exceptional service and appropriate outcomes” for its customers.

My letter was based on a template that I found on TPO’s website, detailing our complaint as well as the action that we felt would make up for it.

The action that we felt was fair was for Reeds Rains to provide an impartial, unbiased 3rd party surveyor to establish the harm that this planned development would have on the value of our newly-purchased property and to reimburse us with that sum – plus a little extra to cover the obviously negative effects of living next to a construction site for two and a half years.

Reeds Rains failed to respond within the timeline required by TPO’s Code of Practice and when their response did finally arrive, its content and tone were surprisingly unprofessional.

Reeds Rains started by suggesting that none of the staff in the branch involved could “recall the precise details of your discussions” and therefore could not recall whether the planning had been disclosed or not. The implication here was that my claim that we had not been informed may be a fabrication.

They then went on to state that they had records of other interested parties being informed of the planning permission, and proposed that this was somehow evidence that we must also have been informed. They did not explain this logic.

Reeds Rains accepted that they had no evidence of having informed us of the planning permission, but could not explain why. The obvious answer was of course that it was not possible to have evidence of an event that did not occur.

Next, Reeds Rains attempted to shift the blame onto our solicitors, suggesting that the planning on the field should have been identified during conveyancing. While that would have been true had we used a search that included the surrounding area, the fact was that we hadn’t selected that option because by law the information that Reeds Rains provided to us was supposed to be honest, accurate and complete.

In addition, the remit of the search option that we selected did not absolve Reeds Rains from their legal obligations as defined by the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008, and as such was actually irrelevant with regards to our complaint against them.

I replied to Reeds Rains’ letter with a response of suitable tone and held them to account for their illogical claims and bizarre conclusions. I also reiterated our desire to resolve this problem without involving TPO but confirmed that we would indeed go to the ombudsman if left with no alternative.

Reeds Rains then replied to our rebuttal with another surprising response.

They opened up by expressing dismay at the tone of my rebuttal, despite the fact that its tone had been set by the tone of their unprofessional and nonsensical initial response.

Reeds Rains stated that their sales particulars made no comment in respective of views, as though this was somehow meant to be interpreted as “you should know that the field behind the property has planning permission for 150 homes”.

And despite the fact that the estate agent was required by law to inform viewers of that planning permission, those same sales particulars made no mention of it.

They then copied a section from TPO’s website relating to the level of proof that is required in a dispute, seemingly to suggest that the Ombudsman would rule in their favour – despite the fact that the burden of proof in this matter lay with Reeds Rains and that they had no evidence to substantiate their defence.

Reeds Rains then ended by stating that they would not enter into any further communicatons on the matter and that we had twelve moths to raise a complaint with TPO should we wish to do so.

We were therefore left to wonder what exactly had happened to the redress that was promised by the homepage on Reeds Rains’ website and the Property Ombudsman logo that they so proudly displayed on their footer.

And with no alternative but to open a dispute with TPO, that is what we did. The involvement of the TPO in this matter is covered in full here, but the short version is that we were deceived by a Property Ombudsman which seemed to be more interested in protecting an important member than in providing a fair and unbiased service to a consumer.

After several months of waiting and despite the fact that the TPO found in our favour, we we left with a choice of either accepting an insulting payment of just £500 or taking Reeds Rains to court.

In the interest of avoiding a legal battle, we decided to try the estate agent one more time, but this time to go straight to the top.

Oliver Blake, Managing Director at Your Move & Reeds Rains

On Sunday the 3rd of March 2019, I found Oliver on LinkedIn. Having decided that his job title sounded important enough to warrant an email, I was initially frustrated by the network’s reluctance at providing me with suitable contact options due to only being a 3rd degree connection.

I decided to take a punt and try the firstname.lastname@company pattern that so many corporate email accounts follow and sent a prospective email to Oliver, half expecting it to bounce back as undeliverable. But it sent successfully!

Three days later, on Wednesday the 6th of March, I received a response from Barbara Hopkins, PA to Oliver Blake. She wanted my address and a phone number so that they could get in touch. She also reassured me that the matter would receive their “best attention”.

I replied the same day with an email that attempted to humanise the issue with the hope that they would want to do the right thing by their conscience and avoid a legal battle. In hindsight I might as well have sent an email full of expletives for all the good it did.

Barbara replied again just 7 minutes later with ample reassurance, informing me that Kevin Beastall, Regional Managing Director at Reeds Rains & Your Move would be investigating the matter and would get back to us directly. Oliver himself would be kept informed of the outcome.

Later that day, Kevin called. Like Barbara, he was keen to assure me that he would thoroughly investigate the issue. He said that he would get back to me by Friday the 8th at the latest. He sounded very pleasant.

Friday came and went, but on Monday the 11th I received an email from Kevin. The tone of the email was noticeably different to that of the phone call a few days prior – a little dismissive in my opinion – but the biggest problem with it was that Kevin was handing over the case to the Property Ombudsman to conclude.

The fact that he was handing off the matter to a Property Ombudsman that had already revealed itself to be biased towards the estate agent when it sabotaged our case really didn’t fill me with much hope, and I said as much in my response which was sent just a few minutes later.

As if to confirm my feeling that his email had been dismissive, I received no further correspondence from Kevin – not by phone nor by email – despite sending him a further two emails over the next few days.

On Friday the 15th of March, 4 days after my last email, I sent my second email. This one was to inform Kevin that the Property Ombudsman had been in touch as he had predicted, but that contrary to his prediction they had offered no view of Reeds Rains’ findings.

Instead, the ombudsman had merely contacted us to state that its involvement in the case was now over and that we were free to pursue Reeds Rains through the courts if we were still dissatisfied by the level of redress on offer.

And then a further 4 days later, I sent one more email to Kevin to remind him of the assurance that he had provided over the phone and to ask for Reeds Rains’ final position on the matter so that we could action our response as necessary. This email also went unanswered by Kevin.

On Wednesday the 20th of March, I received a curt email from Tracy Clinton, Head of Department Customer Relations Manager at Your Move. It’s not even worth attaching the email as a document because a simple quote block will more than suffice:

Mr Jones

Please see attached.

Yours sincerely

Tracy Clinton
Head of Customer Relations Dept.

And the attachment:

Final Thoughts

Here’s a reminder of the copy that Reeds Rains proudly displays on their website’s homepage:

In our 150-year history we’ve never lost sight of the need for local expertise or moved away from our founder Samuel Rain’s principles that building great relationships, being genuinely interested in our customers and getting the job done, is the way to achieve success for our customers.

And:

We are members of The Property Ombudsman (TPO), there to protect your interests. We abide by the TPO code of conduct.

I believe that the claims made by Reeds Rains on their website’s homepage are false.

In this case, Reeds Rains omitted details that would have impacted on a sale, and it then submitted a comedy of bizarre statements in response to our complaint once we discovered the reality of the planning permission for 150 homes on a field that was supposedly only used by locals to walk their dogs.

That is not “being genuinely interested in our customers” and it certainly isn’t “abiding by the TPO code of conduct” nor the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008.

When the Property Ombudsman found against them in a case that alleged that the estate agent had violated these regulations (after sabotaging our case, that is), Reeds Rains’ idea of redress was to offer a token gesture of £500.

After seeking legal advice from three different solicitors on whether we could pursue Reeds Rains for a more realistic settlement, the consensus was that while the estate agent had acted improperly and had indeed violated the regulations, victory at court was far from certain because of two factors:

  1. An estate agent’s duty of care is for the seller, not the buyer. We didn’t have a contract with them – the seller did.
  2. It’s impossible to legally prove that we would not have proceeded to purchase the property had we known about the planning permission.

Estate agents like Reeds Rains know how difficult it is for buyers to beat them at court in cases like this and so they’re not afraid of bending the rules.

We purchased the property for £435,000. As noted by the Property Ombudsman, a prominent feature of the property is a balcony to the rear that overlooked a wide open field with a lone oak tree – which of course now overlooks 150 homes.

It is ridiculous to suggest that the value of such a property, with such a diminished prominent feature, has decreased by no more than £500 as a result of this development. And Reeds Rains is responsible for not only omitting the fact that the field had planning permission, but actively informing us of a different use.

This article should serve as a warning to anyone thinking of purchasing a property through Reeds Rains. Simply don’t. Go through a different estate agent instead or risk finding yourselves in the same position as us.

If you do find yourself in a similar position though, you can at least get something out of them. The sum of £500 doesn’t count as redress, but it’s better than nothing at all. And with that in mind, here is the process you need to follow.

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