The Competition and Markets Authority has now fined agents over £1m in two landmark cases concerning price-fixing - and it says it will pursue its fight against the practice, no matter how large the companies concerned.
“Price-fixing cheats customers and we are committed to tackling it regardless of the size of the businesses involved. We have taken action against estate agents before, and will do so again if firms break the law” says Stephen Blake, the CMA’s senior director of cartel enforcement.
“Moving home is expensive and this shouldn’t be made worse by estate agents conspiring to deny their customers the best possible deal, by agreeing not to compete on fees” he adds.
As we reported yesterday afternoon, the CMA’s latest case involves four Somerset estate agents who agreed to pay over £370,000 to the CMA after admitting illegal price-fixing.
Abbott and Frost Limited, Gary Berryman Estate Agents Ltd (and its parent company Warne Investments Limited), Greenslade Taylor Hunt and West Coast Property Services (UK) Limited admitted breaking competition law by taking part in a price-fixing cartel in the Burnham-on-Sea area.
The authority says another company, Annagram Estate Agents Limited (trading as C J Hole), will not be fined - “as long as it continues to co-operate” – as it was the first company to confess its participation in the cartel.
The CMA says they colluded to set minimum commission rates for sales at 1.5 per cent.
The CMA’s previous action against estate agents saw members of the Three Counties Estate Agent Association fined £735,000 in 2015.
Three of Three Counties’ members - Castles Property Services Limited, Hamptons International and Waterfords - and the publisher of the Surrey & Hants Star Courier, Trinity Mirror, were the parties involved on that occasion.
Castles, Hamptons International and Waterfords entered into an agreement which prevented members of Three Counties - including themselves - from advertising their fees or discounts in the Courier.
A statement from the CMA at the time said Waterfords and Hamptons International extended the scope of this arrangement, with the co-operation of Trinity Mirror, to prevent any agents (whether members or non-members of the Three Counties group) from advertising their fees or discounts in the newspaper.
In addition to these actions, in April 2016 the CMA also wrote an open letter to agents warning against collusion over portal choices. This followed a number of complaints lodged with the CMA over the previous 18 months. No further action has so far followed on this issue.