I am based out of London, Great Britain. We came to the UK last month and are a bit in-experienced with the UK market. Me and my wife are currently viewing properties around the London area and came a property marketed by a small real estate agency run by 1 or 2 people. The property looks amazing and we were ready to formalise our commitment. Today, I was a bit taken aback when the agent asked me to pay a 1-week holding deposit.
First question, is this a legitimate request? As far as I understand holding deposits are not protected by a financial scheme?
Furthermore, when I was setting up the payee in the online banking system, I got a warning from the bank notifying me that something was wrong. The real estate agent confirmed that the name of the account holder which I am using is different from the actual one on the account. When I asked for identity documentation of the landlord, I was provided with an ambiguous statement saying that the landlord used to live there before.
Second question, in the UK if as a tenant I am asked for proof of identity am I wrong to expect the same from a prospective landlord? Does this fall under the umbrella term of landlord protection?
To complicate matters, the real estate agency does not have a proper commercial address where they can be physically reached. They make use of a third-party post-box service for registration purposes. The agency itself is legitimate, has filed taxes for the past 6 years and is registered with a VAT number. They also have a number of high-value properties listed on the market for both renting and selling. Yet, their agency website is not SSL protected, LinkedIn presence is meagre at best and the agent I spoke and met with is not listed as an employee on official records. However, the agent is mentioned by name on real estate agency review sites.
Lastly, do all of these practices line up with that of someone who intends to defraud naive individuals?