Are estate agents the same the world over? Looks like it…

Even Otto the Miniature Schnauzer is furious about this! Look at the anger in those eyes…

I’m still new to this blogging lark so I’m not sure just yet what the rules are. I imagine the first rule must be “You do not talk about blogging club”, and the second is probably “Never blog when angry”. Well, it looks like I’ve already broken the first (oops!) so now it’s time to break the second.

In our search for the perfect house in Piemonte we’ve seen upwards of 50 properties with countless estate agents. Because the majority of country properties need some sort of work doing to them, it’s common practice for agents to work with an architect, geometra (a type of surveyor/engineer) or builder who they can bring along on second viewings to give advice about the house, what works needs doing and potential costs. Sometimes they’ll come to the local comune (town hall) with you too, to help you discuss ideas. As foreign buyers, we found this a really helpful service.

I guess it’s an arrangement that works well for both the agent and the professional. The agent makes sure you have lots of information about the house, which makes you more comfortable with putting in an offer, while the architect or geometra gets to meet someone who is buying a house and will no doubt require their services at some point. Perfect.

The house we are buying is a case in point. The agency has an in-house architect who comes along and points out what you can and can’t do. He also came to the local comune with us to help us discuss ideas with the local planner.

All fine. Except, we just received a bill for his time.

Now, there are four key points here: Firstly, we are already paying the agency the not inconsiderable sum of 3 per cent of the purchase price. The vendor does the same. That’s a lot of money for selling a house. Surely they could take the cost of their in-house architect’s hours out of this, no?

Secondly, he is a part of said agency and is listed as such on their website. We will gladly pay each member of their team separately for the time they have put into this sale, rather than the 3 per cent; I imagine we might save enough for a nice new kitchen!

Thirdly, we didn’t once ask him to come to the house. He was presented to us as one of the team and often came along, off his own back, to provide advice. These visits are listed on his bill.

Finally, of all the houses we have seen and all the architects and geometras we have met, this is the only one who is charging us, and yet he is also the only one whose agency is already getting several thousand Euros out of us.

I’m tempted to start following him around. Maybe sit down at the next table while he has dinner, occasionally pass him the bread, and then issue him a bill for my time.

I don’t know if they are trying their luck because we’re not Italian or if they do this to everyone, but in my book it is an absolute disgrace. You can’t boast about what great services you provide (on their website it even says they will help foreign buyers enrol their children in school or help you find a job), charge someone for said services, and then charge them extra for the time it has taken to provide these services.

Suffice to say I have sent them an extremely strongly worded email. I’ll update later to let you know what they say.

I’m sure one of the many other blogging rules prevents me from naming this company, which is a shame. But once we open for business, I certainly won’t be sending anyone their way.

And I was just starting to like Italy…

UPDATE 23/3/13: We have finally had a reply from the dastardly estate agents. They have retracted the architect’s bill, but they’re not very happy about it… they even said that we were being nasty to them and that they have done nothing wrong! So, not exactly an apology, but it’s better than nothing I guess. Onwards and upwards…

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13 responses to “Are estate agents the same the world over? Looks like it…

  1. We had a similar experience but are just renting. We got to the point of negotiating the terms of a contract on a house, but after the estate agent added new terms we walked away and found something else. Now the estate agent wants us to pay a month’s rent – 1900 euros – to cover her time and loss of reputation. Nothing was ever signed, verbally agreed or agreed by email. Their product – the house plus contract – was not to our liking so we walked away – it was their choice to double the rent on us when we viewed (these Italians are so nice to us Brits), and their choice to insert additional terms after we had edited the contract. Yet they are adamant that we owe. We’ve been advised by our italian freinds to ignore them.

    • It sounds like you’re doing the right thing, and she certainly won’t be losing much in terms of reputation!! It just seems to me that they see a non-Italian as a chance to try it on and make some extra money, and they seize it with both hands. We’ve told them, maybe a little too clearly, our position and certainly won’t be paying these extra charges. We didn’t ask for the architect’s services, there was never any mention of cost, and in any case, every other agent provides this service for free. We’d love to be able to just walk away, but having paid a hefty deposit we just can’t. They haven’t replied yet… could make for a rather awkward signing of final contracts next week!

      • I’ve just been reliably informed that they would probably have tried the same trick on an Italian buyer too, so I take back what I said about trying to take advantage of non-Italians. I guess they just try to take advantage of everyone!!

  2. They are taking advantage of your naiveté, not necessarily foreignness… although that helps…

    In-house architect fee… that’s ridiculous. I’m an architect, by the way. If it wasn’t in an agreed preventivo, then they can’t charge you for it. Don’t worry about their reaction when you tell them to stuff it. A bit of a fight is not only expected, but the back-and-forth drama and hand-waving is basic professional courtesy. They’ll try to make you feel guilty too. You do it right back at them! Shame them for taking advantage of you! :)

    And then have a glass of wine, a bit of salame, and remember that it’s just normal.

    By the way – wow for doing this on your own without a local guiding you. Be prepared to lose a bit of money, though. :)

    • We did tell them to stick it, and they did try to make us feel guilty. As a “gesture of goodwill” they dropped the charge though. Dreadful people. Every time they made a mistake, they tried to guilt trip us. It almost became funny at one point. They even tried to charge us 3,000 euros to put together a progetto for a new gate!

      I’d love to name and shame them and warn other people off, but I’m pretty sure that’s not allowed. Some of their behaviour was borderline criminal though!

      We’re finally starting to get a group of people around us who we trust. Our architects are good friends, we’ve just settled on a geometra who we’ve known for a while and who we are pretty certain we can trust, and we now have a quite a few people we can run things by to check we’re not getting ripped off. My wife is half-Italian so we have lots of family around we can talk to, which really helps.

      All advice is gratefully accepted though, so if you have any words of wisdom from all your experience, please do share! ;-)

  3. Pingback: Italian planning controls: Playing the game | Living in the Langhe·

    • Ciao Maria Cristina, I hope you’re well? We met so many really nice estate agents, yourself included, it’s just the ones we ended up buying with who were terrible. It’s such a shame, but they had the house we wanted. I might add something to the bottom of this post this week that names some of the great agents we met as you’re right, it’s unfair to only mention the bad ones…. Richard

      • Thank you! I am happy anyway you’ve found the right place and wish you all the best for what you are planning next.
        Remember that we wait for you here to have a coffee together.

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