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Watchdog orders online agency not to re-run TV advert

Online agency HouseSimple has been told that by the Advertising Standards Authority that its TV advertisement including the claim ‘sell your home for just £495’ “must not appear again in the form complained about.”

The ASA’s decision follows a complaint made to the authority about a TV advertisement broadcast in July and August last year. A man addressing the camera says: "Get an expert valuation, professional photos and floor plans" and then a voiceover says: “Sell your home for just £495 up-front or choose 'no sale, no fee'. How simple is that?"

The complainant said they were told that they would have to pay additional charges unless they used HouseSimple’s recommended conveyancing and mortgage services; the complainent then challenged whether the claim “just £495” was misleading.

HouseSimple told the ASA that the charges referenced by the complainant were not additional, as they were included in a package at a cost of £495. 

The firm explained that the £495 ‘pay upfront’ package included the use of recommended conveyancers and mortgage brokers; this offer was possible because the agency claimed a commission from the conveyancers and mortgage brokers in question and could pass this on to customers. 

Clearcast - the body which vets ads for broadcast on the UK’s main commercial TV channels - stated that the complainant would have found that they would have to pay more than £495 unless they used HouseSimple’s own conveyancers and mortgage services. 

Clearcast also said it received substantiation from HouseSimple at the script-clearance stage which stated that customers could receive all the necessary services required to sell their property online for the featured price of £495 upfront.

The Advertising Standards Authority’s decision went against HouseSimple.

“We considered that consumers would interpret the claim ‘sell your home for just £495’ to mean that they would not have to pay more than £495 upfront when selling their property with HouseSimple” says a statement from the ASA.

It acknowledged that the price of £495 was available to customers who used HouseSimple’s recommended conveyancing and mortgage services but “we understood that where consumers chose their own conveyancers and/or mortgage brokers they would be charged an additional fee.”

The ASA says “that was a significant limitation that had been omitted from the ad, and in the absence of qualifying information which made clear that the price only applied to customers who used HouseSimple’s recommended conveyancers and mortgage brokers, we concluded the claim that consumers could sell their home for ‘just £495’ was misleading.”

The ad was deemed to have breached four rules governing advertising, and the ASA statement concludes: “The ad must not appear again in the form complained about. We told HouseSimple Ltd to ensure their ads made clear that the advertised price was only applicable to customers who used their recommended conveyancing and mortgage services.”

Separately, the ASA handled another complaint about the same HouseSimple TV ad, which included in it the term “professional photos” as being a service provided by the company. 

A complainant to the ASA, who was a client of HouseSimple, said that the person who took photographs of their property told them that they were not a professional photographer; therefore the complainant challenged whether the claim of providing “professional photos” was misleading.

HouseSimple told the ASA that its agents undertook home visits where they would take a full set of pictures on a professional standard camera and complete the floor plans to make sure that the valuation produced was accurate. The firm considered its agents’ photos were of a standard that could be described as “professional photos”.

Clearcast stated that it had received confirmation from the advertiser that the photographs were of a high quality and professional standard, and were used online to sell the property, as would be seen on other online estate agent websites. 

Clearcast considered that the average consumer would interpret the claim “professional photos” to mean the type of photos provided and that the agents and surveyors taking the photos would have the proficiency to take high quality photos as part of their job, rather than that HouseSimple specifically employed professional photographers to take photos of properties.

The ASA did not uphold this second complaint.

“We considered that consumers would expect the images to be of a similar standard to those used by other estate agents in their advertising. We understood that the photos were taken by HouseSimple’s agents, and that they were experienced in taking photographs of properties on a professional standard camera which would give a clear quality depiction of the property and would then be used online. We therefore concluded that in the context of the ad and the service it promoted, the claim ‘professional photos’ was not misleading.”

HouseSimple has told Estate Agent Today it made amendments to the advertisement before the complaint was made.

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