A magazine claims its investigations into the sales tactics of Countrywide and Connells suggest the two agency are “harming consumers, stopping them from getting the best deals and even causing house sales to collapse.”
The magazine, Mortgage Strategy, also recently carried a specific allegation that one office of a Countrywide brand - Palmer Snell, in Taunton - pressured two customers to use their preferred mortgage broker.
Now the magazine says it has found “dozens of cases of customers across the UK being pressured or ordered to use estate agents’ in-house mortgage and conveyancing staff, sometimes before being allowed to view or put offers in on houses.”
The magazine adds while some smaller agencies are guilty of the practice, “mortgage brokers mainly link the practice to branches of large estate agents such as Countrywide, its brands Entwistle Green, Palmer Snell and Bairstow Eves, as well as Connells, its subsidiary Sequence and trading names Fox & Sons and William H. Brown.”
Mortgage Strategy says that since it ran the Palmer Snell Taunton story, nearly 20 people have come forward to report similar instances of that it calls “pressurised selling.”
It goes on to explain that such practices may mean consumers not being able to access the best mortgage deals - “Connells and Countrywide both operate restricted panels, and would not reveal their lenders when asked” it says - in addition to the problem that many buyers feel obliged to stay ‘in house’ if they think it improves their chance of securing the property they want to purchase.
“Mortgage Strategy has been contacted by four former Countrywide advisers who said this was policy at their branches during their employment. All said buyers were told to talk to the in-house mortgage adviser about finance or their offer would not be put forward” says the story.
The magazine also says: “William H Brown was brought up several times over an incentive where homebuyers get a £1,000 discount on the property price if they use the firm’s preferred mortgage broker and conveyancer.”
Estate Agent Today has asked both Countrywide and Connells for comments.
A Countrywide spokeswoman told Estate Agent Today: “Our company policy is committed to putting our customers at the forefront of the services we offer and we pride ourselves in our ability to support buyers and vendors through the complexities of the property purchase process.”
In addition, she says the firm vets buyers to make sure they are able to buy the houses they show interest in. She adds that more than 92 per cent of Countrywide customers would refer the firm to a friend if asked.
A Connells spokeswoman told EAT: “Connells Group offers customers a class-leading range of products and services which are entirely optional. There is no pressure to use them and we treat all customers equally regardless of whether they opt to use additional services or not.”