Four Somerset estate agents have agreed to pay fines totalling over £370,000 to the Competition and Markets Authority, after admitting illegal price-fixing.
The businesses - 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 – have admitted breaking competition law by taking part in a price-fixing cartel in the Burnham-on-Sea area.
The CMA says this saw them collude to set minimum commission rates for residential property sales at 1.5 per cent with a view to denying local home-owners selling their property the chance of securing a better deal.
“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” says Stephen Blake, the CMA’s senior director of cartel enforcement.
“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” he continues.
The businesses involved agreed to settle with the Competition and Markets Authority after a year-long investigation.
The authority says another company, Annagram Estate Agents Limited (trading as ‘C J Hole’), will not be fined - “as long as it continues to cooperate” – as it was the first company to confess its participation in the cartel.
This is the second case brought by the CMA against estate agents in recent years.
The previous case saw members of the Three Counties Estate Agent Association fined £735,000 in 2015 and resulted in the CMA launching a campaign designed to improve understanding of the law within the agency industry.
A statement from the authority says: “It was this campaign that resulted in the current case being brought to the CMA’s attention, and we encourage others with evidence of competition law being broken to report their concerns to the CMA.”