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Purplebricks: agency wins advert dispute over Local Property Experts

Complaints about a Purplebricks claim concerning its Local Property Experts have been rejected by the Advertising Standards Authority.

Complaints came from PDQ Property, the single-office Cornish firm run by outspoken agent Chris Wood, and from three other sources including Plymouth city council’s trading standards team and independent property consultant Alexander Dawson.

Between September 2016 and February 2017 the Purplebricks website included text stating: “Our Local Experts are some of the most respected estate agents in their local area.” Below the text a banner stated “Find your Local Property Expert, for the very best service”. The page also featured a postcode search for Local Property Experts.

The four complainants challenged whether the references to “Local Property Experts” on Purplebricks’ own website were misleading and asked whether it could be substantiated. 

Responding to the ASA’s investigation, Purplebricks said the word “local” referred to the local knowledge of a Local Property Expert rather than their geographical location. It claimed it was common practice across the industry for the word “local” to refer to knowledge or expertise in a particular area. 

It told the authority that it ensured each Local Property Expert possessed the relevant local knowledge in the area where they worked.

Purplebricks said that their website explained to consumers which area a Local Property Expert operated within by using the postcode search tool, adding that the website would display a list of LPEs who covered a requested area and would also inform consumers if a LPE was unavailable in the requested area.

Purplebricks said that Local Property Experts offered an equivalent service to traditional estate agents, explaining that a LPE would visit a consumer, conduct property valuations and prepare an advert for the website.

It explained that there was not a set ‘radius’ that a Local Property Expert would cover, with coverage instead dependent on the geography and volume of sales activity of the area.

The hybrid agency also gave a detailed description of its LPE recruitment process.

This had four stages, it said, starting with the recruitment page of the Purplebricks website which stated that applicants for LPE roles should hold “strong knowledge of the local property market” and “strong valuation experience”.

It told the ASA that prior to joining the company a Local Property Expert would have on average between five to 10 years of experience within the property field. The agency told LPEs that while in the role they would need to pass all National Association of Estate Agents Technical Level 3 exams and become members of that association, if they were not already. 

Purplebricks provided to the ASA the CVs of all Local Property Experts that had been recruited in the past 12 months to demonstrate their experience. 

It said all Local Property Experts were subject to an additional internal training programme prior to commencing their roles; at the end of the training programme, individuals were subject to a 29-point sign-off sheet, completed by the Purplebricks area director. Local Property Experts were subject to a number of quality control checks.

Purplebricks said that in addition to Local Property Experts, it actively recruited for the Purplebricks Academy. The firm explained that the Academy was a development scheme which initially lasted for 12 months and included classroom training, field shadowing and an exam at the end of the programme. 

It said that the programme was open to people who may have not worked in the property industry before and confirmed that the programme did not guarantee progression to the role of a Local Property Expert.

This morning a spokesman for Purplebricks said: “We are delighted that the ASA has found in favour of Purplebricks and agreed that the experience, training and success of our agents across the country fully justifies the title Local Property Expert. 

“We submitted the CVs of 200 LPEs engaged in 2017 to the ASA, who had an average of 12 years of industry experience and all followed an extensive recruitment and training programme. Common sense prevailed and the ASA agreed that the years of experience and knowledge gained from selling properties day-in-day-out in any given locality is better proof of local knowledge than where agents sleep.

“Purplebricks seeks to recruit the very best traditional estate agents, who embrace change, understand the flaws in the traditional model and want to offer customers a better deal.”  

Because of the interest in the agency and LPEs, the ASA’s full assessment is reproduced below:

Not upheld:

“The ASA considered that many consumers would understand that Purplebricks was an online estate agent.

“We noted that Local Property Experts offered similar services to a traditional estate agent such as visiting properties and conducting valuations. We understood that consumers were able to search on the Purplebricks website for a Local Property Expert using their postcode. We noted that the results would only display Local Property Experts who worked within the requested local area. If a Local Property Expert was unavailable within the customer’s area, the website stated ‘We’re not in your area right now, but we can notify you when we’ve arrived’.

“In that context we considered that the word ‘local’ would be generally understood to refer to an individual’s expertise and knowledge of the area that they served, rather than their physical location. We considered that a Local Property Expert would therefore be understood to be an estate agent who worked within a defined geographical area, and who had relevant experience within a particular area.

“We reviewed the CVs of 52 Local Property Experts. We noted that 41 had over five years’ property experience, nine had less than five years’ experience and two had no previous property experience. We noted that the majority of individuals had previous experience in roles such as Branch Manager and Property Valuer. 

“We also noted that the majority of Local Property Experts currently worked in areas in which they had obtained experience before joining Purplebricks. Although the Local Property Experts had varying experience, including two individuals who held no previous property experience, we noted that there was an internal training programme which all Local Property Experts were required to complete before commencing their roles. 

“The training programme consisted of testing the Local Property Expert’s knowledge of the area in which they would be working and relevant regulations as well as field training. While we acknowledged the lack of experience in some examples, we noted that those individuals would not pass training until they had demonstrated an understanding of the field. Furthermore, they would be provided with on-going support and training throughout the role. 

“We considered that because there was not a single standardised professional qualification within the property field, the combination of property experience, qualifications, professional membership and an internal training programme was sufficient to substantiate the claim ‘expert’.

“We recognised that the radius that a Local Property Expert could cover would vary. We acknowledged that Local Property Experts located in more rural parts of the country would cover a larger geographical area in comparison to Local Property Experts located in more densely populated areas. We also noted that there would be instances where Local Property Experts moved locations and therefore may need to build up their local knowledge in that particular area. 

“However, provided they were estate agents, who served the relevant area and who had relevant experience working in that area or were building up experience in that area, we did not consider that consumers would be misled by claims that those people were Local Property Experts.

“Because we considered the claim would be understood as referring to the expertise of the Local Property Experts and the area they served, not their physical location, and because we were satisfied that the Local Property Experts generally had relevant knowledge and experience in the areas they served, we concluded that the ad did not breach the Code.

“We investigated the ad under CAP Code (Edition 12) rule 3.1 (Misleading advertising) and 3.7 (Substantiation), but did not find it in breach.”

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