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rent-a-ghost! A cautionary tale for estate agents

19 September 2013

If you’re a lettings or estate agent, you might think you have adequate insurance to protect you against all eventualities. However, there can always be unexpected frights along the way.

The Ombudsman Services case of the month for September 2013 highlighted interesting problems for an insured estate agent, whose clients were suddenly spooked out of a deal. The clients, a Mr and Mrs Thomas thought they’d found their dream buy-to-let property, but they didn’t envisage having a tenant already in possession.

During a viewing of the manor house, the clients fell in love with the property, but became uneasy regarding a supernatural presence they felt within the building. Like any diligent purchaser, they enquired as to whether the property was haunted, to which the estate agent replied “I’ve never been asked that before”. Despite eerie icy cold breezes, floorboards creaking and doors slamming, the clients proceeded to pay a large non- refundable deposit.

Several weeks later whilst browsing a local shop, the clients came across a book about the manor. Keen to know more about the property, the couple bought the book and learned of all the terrors and tales of the haunted house that they had once loved.

Angry that the estate agent had not disclosed to them what was common local knowledge about the property, the couple withdrew from the sale before exchange of contracts. The couple, outraged by this non disclosure of information, also contacted the Ombudsman Services to complain.

Whilst the estate agents may not have foreseen having to deal with lurking spirits, they none the less had to take the complaint seriously. The ombudsman’s final decision on the matter was that since it was not possible to prove whether there was a supernatural force present at the time of the one and only viewing, it would be unreasonable to make this complaint against the agent for non-disclosure. The vendor was therefore permitted to keep the deposit that the purchasers had put down to take the property off the market.

The reason for the ombudsman’s decision was that the purchasers were experienced landlords. They knew of the risks of placing down a large non-refundable deposit and decided to pull out of the sale due to hearsay in a book. In addition to this, the estate agents were not local to the area and had known about the property’s haunted past. Had the buyers been inexperienced, the ombudsman may have reached a different decision.

This case goes to illustrate how cases cannot always be as transparent as a ghost; there are grey areas.

For more information on this case visit: http://www.ombudsman-services.org/rent-a-ghost—a-buy-to-let-nightmare.html #start

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