The letting market is being haunted by ghost-listings - ads for properties to rent that don't really exist.
Eerily reminiscent of ghost gazumping which plagued house buyers last year, some estate agents (as if they weren't despised enough) are listing details of properties they've nicked from other agents, or even going as far as listing properties which aren't available for rent, the BBC has reported.
Estate agents using ghost-listings tell anyone who calls up about the property that it's gone and then offer to show them one nearby which they do have on their books.
Despite ghost-listings being illegal, a shortage of available properties for rent and increasing demand are being blamed.
Speaking to City A.M. David Cox, the boss of the Association of Residential Letting Agents which regulates the sector, said that while there is no way to track exactly how large the problem is, based on anecdotal evidence, the issue is bigger now than it’s ever been before.
"It's always been there, but when you have plenty of supply, you don't see it as much. Now there’s a chronic shortage of housing. Agents have to look like they're busy and be seen as a professional agency. They’re regurgitating their own listings or scraping information from Zoopla and Rightmove. It’s almost impossible to catch or enforce - unless you see your own property on the site and individuals complain."
As well as those being duped into calling the agents to see a non-existent property, both property owners and renters can be the target of such ghost-listings. More than anything, they suffer an intrusion of privacy when photos of their homes appear in listings, Cox said.
And it’s smaller independent agents which are the guilty party. “The larger well-known high street agents are victims not perpetrators,” Cox said. “It’s people who are willing to operate at the bare minimum required by law, if not below them.”
It's a sign of hard times for estate agents who having to drastically reduce the fees they take from letting in order to compete for the ever shrinking number of listings.