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Cooling-off period?

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The cooling-off period in consumer contracts has doubled from 7 days to 14 days, but according to a leading trainer in the industry, not many agents know of this change. I guess the first question we should ask is ‘what is a cooling-off period?’

In a nutshell, the cooling-off period is a specified amount of time whereby a consumer can cancel a contract after they have signed it. There needs to be a notice of the right to cancel a contract which must be given to a consumer before they sign anything. However, there are a few instances where this applies and where they don’t apply. If a contract is signed at the office of the service provider, there is no need to include this notice. However, if it is signed anywhere else, this notice needs to be given. Why? Simple. How many people have knocked on your door in the past and tried to get you to sign up to something that you initially had no intention of buying? Unfortunately, hard selling techniques have led to things being sold under pressure and this piece of legislation protects consumers against this type of sale. On the other hand, if someone signs a contract in the office of the service provider, no notice needs to be given. After all, you cannot force somebody to enter a shop, office or business premise so it is assumed that the consumer entered at their own will.

The initial cooling-off period was 7 days. However, this has recently doubled to 14 days, providing further protection for consumers against sales sharks.

What I find interesting is a statement made by an industry trainer within the residential property sector. Julien O’Dell states that most estate agents were not even aware that there was a 7 day cooling-off period, let alone being aware of the change to a 14 day period. O’Dell said: “On my training travels around the country in recent months, I have come across a significant number of agents who were unaware of the imminent legislative changes affecting the point of instruction.

“These centre specifically on the cooling-off period that applies when a client signs to instruct an agent, and the agent’s responsibilities at that point.

“I have met agents who didn’t know this period was changing, or indeed when.

“In truth, there have even been some agents who didn’t know there was such a thing as a cooling-off period.”

As a professional in the industry, I was initially shocked that agents had no idea of what a cooling-off period is! In an ideal world, a person who enters into an industry should be fully trained to avoid any mistakes, and being up to date with legislative changes needs to be the utmost priority for employees. The reality is, unfortunately, that businesses do not really follow this and push their luck as much as they can. My advice to landlords and tenants who are considering contacting estate agents is to find out if they are a part of a redress scheme, like the Property Ombudsman, or if they hold qualifications and memberships to industry specific groups, like ARLA.

A final thought regarding the cooling-off period. Should changes to legislation be announced in a more obvious way, or is it the responsibility of the company and it’s employees to do their own research to ensure high standards are kept?

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