I'll never forget the estate agent who tried to flog me my first flat. As I waited on the kerb in North London, he roared up in a Mercedes-Benz convertible, bling glittering from his hands and neck, a belt emblazoned with the word 'STUD' and a knuckle tattoo that can't be shared in a respectable publication.
I was new to house-buying but even this struck me as a bit odd. I soon came to learn that a spotty teenager with a souped-up car and a penchant for gold jewellery isn't that unusual in the estate agent game. Since then, I have dealt with agents who know what they're doing and conduct themselves admirably. But I'm always alert to the fact that this is a profession that requires no qualifications and no experience.
Which brings me to new research from LetBritain on estate agents and lettings. Its study suggests that half of tenants believe the current rental system is not fit for purpose when it comes to London's property market. Two-fifths of respondents across the country also feel that their estate agent lied about available properties and created fake bidding wars.
With around 4.3 million rented households across the UK, a large number of people are disillusioned by the rigmarole of securing a property through high street estate agents. In total, 40 per cent said they think the process of securing a rental property is ruthless and unethical, enabling people to gazump other prospective tenants with unscrupulous practices.
I know, I know, an online estate agency is bound to criticise the traditional face-to-face industry. But, even taking LetBritain's research with a pinch of salt, it raises a serious point: we don't trust estate agents.
Let's take a closer look at LetBritain's analysis. The firm surveyed 2,000 people, a decent sample size. Well over a third felt they had been misled by an estate agent regarding the competition they faced from other interested parties – this practice was even more common in London, with 61 per cent of tenants in the capital stating they had been hoodwinked by their estate agent about rival renters. What’s more, 38 per cent of respondents believe their estate agent knowingly advertised phantom properties to them online that were not actually available on the market.
In a world where regulation and red tape dominates many professions - and employees across a number of sectors must be adequately qualified before being allowed to deal with the public - it's time that estate agents were subjected to the same scrutiny. Various organisations have pushed for mandatory estate agent qualifications in the past - notably the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors - but nothing has happened.
Property is one of life's largest financial outlays: the fact that we leave it in the hands of any johnny-come-lately is madness.
Helen Nugent is Online Money Editor of The Spectator