The estate agency industry is “in the sights of” the Competitions and Markets Authority according to a competition lawyer.
“All the evidence suggests that the industry is in regulators’ sights and could be next in line for more regulatory attention if it doesn’t take measures to ensure its house is in order – and seen to be in order” says Michael Dean, partner and head of the European Union, competition and regulatory practice with Scottish firm Maclay Murray and Spens LLP.
He says that following the recent case involving a number of English estate agents and their local association, as well as a newspaper publisher - leading to a fine of more than £735,000 by the Competition and Markets Authority - it was clear that there is a risk of anti-competition arrangements being struck “through the relatively convivial relationships that are the norm in the industry.
Writing in The Scotsman newspaper this week, he says that in a typical regional estate agency sector, many staff at competing agencies will know each other – especially senior partners whose paths will have crossed many times over the years.
“Where there are close commercial and personal relationships, even among competitors, it is easy to gravitate to arrangements intended to benefit that small group – but that is where danger lies” he says.
“It is essential all firms ... ensure staff are aware of the law because the next time a case comes up, the fines are likely to be even higher. Staff – particularly senior partners, those dealing with advertisers and those negotiating with large clients, must know where the danger lies. They must be in a position to steer a conversation clear of anything that could be perceived as agreeing terms of business or ‘industry practices’ that in any way relate to the sales process” Dean warns.