Is it normal for an estate agent to demand money off you before you can place an offer on an apartment?
Standard practice for certainly larger estate agents is to take a deposit as an intention to buy! from you, before an offer is made on a property. On one side this is supposed to take the property off the market although I know of an occasion the buyer was still gazumpt! on the other it ensures the seller you are serious about purchasing the property., although if you intend to value a place at a cost. surely you intend to buy it
The biggest problem with this is getting the money off the estate agent should the property not go through. The agent will keep showing you property after property and basically tie you to them until they find you the property, unfortunately it seems to be the only way you get your money back, I speak from experience.