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Estate agents told ‘don’t stretch the facts’

Paloma Kubiak
Written By:
Paloma Kubiak

Estate agents have received an enforcement notice warning them not to embellish the truth when it comes to marketing properties.

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) said it continues to receive complaints from homebuyers and renters about listings that “inaccurately describe properties”.

As a result, the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP), which writes the advertising rules, has sent a note to estate agents telling them not to ‘stretch the facts’.

In one case investigated, a listing for a one bedroom flat to rent stated the property benefitted from an integrated audio system, gated access and TV, a private drive and beautifully maintained grounds.

However, the previous tenant challenged the claims and whether they could be substantiated as the audio system and gated access with TV no longer worked. The private drive was shared with other residents and the ‘beautifully maintained grounds’ had on-going building work .

The CAP notice to estate agents wrote: “It may seem obvious, but don’t make claims about features of properties unless you can prove their accuracy with documentary evidence.”

Earlier this year, an online comedy tool was launched to translate the flowery terms and clichés used by estate agents in property listings into something “a little more truthful”.

Fees, savings and local experts

There are further issues on property listings. The CAP notice stated: “We have noticed repeated problems with property sector advertising and wish to draw your attention to these issues with the following guidance. Please take immediate action to ensure your ads comply. If we see continued problems in this area, we will take targeted enforcement action in the property sector in 2018 to ensure a compliant level-playing-field in this market. This may include – where advertisers are unwilling or unable to comply – referral to our legal backstop, Trading Standards.”

Estate agents have been told to be clear on fees, particularly what is and isn’t included.

In one investigation by the ASA, a firm advertised a flat fee of £495 to sell a property. However, it failed to include information on an additional fee for consumers who wished to use their own conveyancer or mortgage broker. This ad was found to be misleading.

In another case, a complaint was uphold against a market who quoted a 0.5% commission fee for the sale of homes without making clear that accompanied viewings were excluded from the advertised fee.

Fees should also be VAT-inclusive. This applies to both fees presented as numbers – e.g. £1,200 is ok but £1,000 + 20% VAT is not. In term of percentage commission, 1.8% is ok while 1.5% + VAT is not.

The bodies also took issue with comparative savings claims and use of local experts. CAP stated: “Ads which make comparisons must provide sufficient information about the services being compared to ensure consumers are not misled about either the advertised service or the competing service. You need to hold adequate evidence to substantiate the basis of comparative claims.

“It is acceptable to refer to “local” property experts if you can prove that the expert has relevant knowledge and experience within the defined geographical area. But do not imply you have physical branches in locations if that is not the case.”