I have, this week, had the misfortune to be on the wrong side of some incredibly poor customer service from one of our biggest Estate Agencies. Let’s call them Thy Motion.
The facts are pretty straightfoward. My good-sized three bedroomed semi in a nice quiet street in a decent-ish sized town with great transport links and a good back garden, was placed up for sale in September 2010. By December 2012 it had been the subject of three viewings. Three. In 27 months. That’s pretty poor, but the Estate Agency cannot necessarily be held accountable for the stagnancy of the market.
What they can be held accountable for, however, are the following issues:
1) Losing our mobile phone numbers and pretending that we never gave them to them – even though they managed to call us on them a few times in the early months. Then getting angry with us for not being contactable.
2) Claiming that we had not paid an energy certificate fee, accusing me of lying about it and actually removing our house from the market until they received payment – and then miraculously finding our (dated) cheque sitting in a drawer in the branch that I had personally handed it in to some weeks earlier
3) Contacting us from their own call centre, to advise us that our estate agency were under performing, providing very poor service and that we should ditch our agent and go with them – and then, rather rudely and swiftly putting the phone down on me when realising that THEY were, in fact, our estate agent
4) Failing to respond to FOUR requests to retake the photographs of our house, because they were initially done at night and looked rubbish – and then claiming that they had no record of our requests. In fact – taking rubbish photographs of our house in the first sodding place, and advising that it was “usual policy” to take them in the dark with poor artificial lighting.
5) Not listing our property in their branch window or in the local newspaper – and then disclaiming that by telling us that it was an ineffective marketing tool anyway. Which is not, let me assure you, the marketing that they used in the initial hard sell!
6) Telling us that they tried desperately to contact us on 13 occasions to discuss some of the above, but were unable to because they couldn’t get through via landline or email – and then emailing us on a totally separate matter and failing to mention it.
They can, and should be held responsible for all of those things. Which is what I told them when I sent them a beautifully worded letter, detailing those 6 plus another 6 offences that they have committed over the last two and a half years.
The course of action which prompted me to write this letter was their “withdrawal fee” of £250 +VAT, which we received an invoice for when we decided that as they weren’t actually doing anything, we’d probably be better off not having our house on the market with them. I feel quite strongly, that the withdrawal fee was unreasonable, considering the catalogue of error which befell our contract with Thy Motion.
The Withdrawal Fee is an incredibly cynical charge. You see, Thy Motion tell you that they are a “no sale, no fee” agent. What they mean by that is that they won’t charge you for not selling your house, if they don’t sell your house, whilst they are trying to sell your house. With me? Hang in there… what they WILL charge you a fee for, is if you leave the contract or if they bin you. So, basically, if you don’t sell your house, but stay “on their books” you won’t get charged. It’s only if you ask them to remove the For Sale sign that you get whacked with this fee.
Anyway, as the For Sale sign clashed with our venetian blinds, we thought we’d rather have it removed then it live there indefinitely, so we withdrew from the contract, but I did go on to dispute their fee. I wrote a very respectful and eloquent letter detailing why I felt we had not received good service, and that we felt the waivering of the fee would be a goodwill gesture and small recompense for the (numerous) difficulties that we had had.
Thy Motion disagreed. Which, actually, is fine. It’s their business, and even though their service is dreadful, they did loan us a lovely For Sale board and they occasionally answered a few phone calls. And we did sign a contract tying us to the withdrawal fee.
That was not the problem.
The problem was an unimaginably rude letter which I received in reply to mine, from their “Customer Relations Manager”. The quotation marks here are sarcastic.
Essentially, her letter consisted of a list of most of my points (most, not all. She helpfully ignored the ones that she clearly couldn’t dispute) and a couple of paragraphs for each one of my points, detailing exactly why none of it was their fault, and all of it was mine
I’ll give you some examples:
I advised that our property had not appeared in the estate agency window or the local newspaper, in direct contravention of their policy. I contacted the branch three times, and was told that it wasn’t a very effective advertisement anyway (like that was alright then.) This was the reply I received:
“You say that we did not advertise your property in the window. Yet you did not complain about this at the time. Complaints at the time of an issue are a good indication of how much importance a person attaches to a problem. You did not complain. This is a non-issue”
Ooh – But I did complain. I did. I did. Am I allowed for it to be an issue now, m’lady?
“What strikes me upon reading your file, is how difficult it was to contact you. Our branch attempted to contact you on no fewer than 13 occasions, but we had no response, and there was no facility to leave a message. Also, you didn’t furnish us with your mobile phone numbers until your house had been on the market for 16 months. If I was a seller, I would have been concerned that I had not heard from my branch, and I would have checked in with them. You did not seem to show such concern. Perhaps the other minor issues that you mention could have been cleared up, had our branch been able to speak to you. I cannot confirm that this was, indeed, a problem”
13 occasions, you say? Hmm. It’s funny how I actually have a text on my mobile from Thy Motion around 6 months after it went on the market, booking a viewing. Oh, and an email confirming a price reduction. Oh, yes, and I dug out an old phone bill and…voila…there is Thy Motion’s phone number on it. I guess I called them a couple of times. Oh, and I have my carbon copy here of the original assessment form, with all of our contact details on it, including those pesky mobiles. Still, if you say 13 times, then it MUST be right.
Do you see a pattern forming?
Essentially, this patronising, truth-bending, fact-omitting tosspot had the nerve to respond to my well-mannered request with a long list of exactly why everything was my responsibility and my fault, and actually blamed me for not following up with the branch after I had complained about something. Because apparently, that’s not their obligation!
If I claimed that I had a conversation with a member of staff, she disputed that it had ever happened because there was no evidence (dammit, if only I’d taken a Dictaphone, or video recorded my visits!) At no point did she apologise that I felt inconvenienced and at no point did she express any kind of empathy or concern that a client had cancelled her company’s service because of a bad experience. In fact, at one point she even stated: “We do not guarantee that anybody will ever want your house. This is not how an estate agency works”
Well, no shite Sherlock?! Really??
You see, I thought you had a cellar-full of ’em somewhere? You know, itching to get on the ladder. Or, failing that, I thought you were a marketer of properties. Well, shoot – now I feel bad for expecting you to, you know, MARKET OUR PROPERTY.
At the end of the day I didn’t get the money off, which was what I wanted. And that’s disappointing. But it was worth a shot. That wasn’t really the problem. The problem here is lack of good, old-fashioned giving-a-monkey’s-about-your-end-user customer service.
You know, I look at this, and it really gets on my nerves. It could have been so easily avoided whatever they thought of me personally – I don’t care if they read my complaint, laughed about it in the office, “filed” it in a bin, or called me a harridan or whinge-bag in the privacy of their offices. I don’t care if they laughed at my audacity, were incredulous that I’m a chancer, or just thought “here we go again.” I don’t care if I NEVER stood a chance of getting a bit of a discount.
I care that WHATEVER their personal responses to my complaint, their directed response to me should have been respectful. They should have acknowledged I felt inconvenienced and unhappy. They should have advised me that they were investigating. They should have confirmed they believed me. And they should have said sorry. Apologies do not have to represent culpability and they could have apologised that I was left feeling that way, assured me that they were going to look into some of those practices, and then advised me that unfortunately they can’t waiver the charge, even if they didn’t mean a rotten word of it.
Instead, they have inflamed me. So, I have written back, and I have withheld nothing.
I have let them know exactly what I think of their response, and I have even, very kindly, written them a template that they can use in the future.
I know how companies like that sort of a thing.
I have sent it to the CEO, the board members, the committee members, various business managers, a few people in HR, a number of branch managers, and quite a few pretenders to the customer relations throne. Oh, and to several of their competitors along with a copy of their original letter. Because, let’s face it, I can’t fight a company that huge on any kind of productive level – they won’t give a gnat’s doodah about what one house-seller feels, and nothing I do or say will have any kind of business impact one way or another.
But I can waste a bit of their admin time, I can infuriate a couple of them on a minor level, I can maybe even raise a bit of awareness within the closing ranks, and I can hope against all hope, that the “Customer Relations Manager” gets a paper cut.
Because, actually, this week I’m sweating the small stuff.
And because it is making me smile!
Thy Motion? Gazump THAT up your leasehold!