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Agency banned from using advert suggesting it had traditional office

The Advertising Standards Authority has banned an advertisement which suggested that the firm behind it had “a physical office ... in the style of a traditional estate agent.”

The ruling came in a case concerning Yorkshire’s Finest, an agency which on its website does not describe its structure but instead says: “Our aim [is] to make your property stand out to attract the best possible price...”

The ASA says that during 2016 the agency’s website featured a map with the locations of  Leeds, Halifax, Huddersfield, Wakefield, Bradford, Denby Dale and Holmfirth shown, with telephone numbers for each location. The text directly underneath was headed “Our Offices” with the same locations listed.

The authority also says that a regional press advertisement in February this year featured text which stated “Contact your local office” with listings for Leeds, Halifax, Huddersfield, Wakefield, Bradford, Denby Dale and Holmfirth, and telephone numbers for each.

However, a complainant to the ASA suggested there were no Yorkshire’s Finest offices in Wakefield or Bradford and challenged whether the website and press ad were misleading.

The authority contacted the estate agency which said it would remove the Bradford listing and phone number, with the company telling the ASA it had been included “because they had intended to rent a small office in the area which did not materialise.”

The ASA says the company also stated that the Wakefield phone number was genuine “as there was an employee of the company who worked from an office at their home in the Wakefield area” which meant customers in the area to call and meet a local representative and only pay the price of a local call.

The ASA ruling then goes on to say: “Yorkshire’s Finest said that the current state of estate agency was wholly different from in the past, and the traditional shop window was not as relevant as it once was. They also said that nowhere in their literature did they claim to have a shop or premises with a window display in Wakefield, or in any other location and that their work was conducted mostly in customers' own homes.”

The authority was unimpressed, however, and went on to make a statement which may have a wider bearing on how non-traditional agents use advertising and wording in future.

“We noted that Yorkshire’s Finest said that they did not claim to have premises in any locations. However, we considered that the listing of the locations in the ads was a strongly implied claim that there were offices in these areas” says the ASA.

“We acknowledged that there had been a proliferation of different types of estate agent in recent years which challenged the traditional model. However, we understood that the office in Wakefield was the only one where an employee worked from his home address, and that the overall impression given by the website was of Yorkshire’s Finest being a traditional estate agent.

“So, in the absence of any qualification, we considered that customers would expect that in Wakefield there would be a physical office with the typical facilities of an estate agent, such as a property window display and the opportunity to meet with a representative in a shop-like setting."

“We considered consumers would understand from the ads that there was a physical office in Wakefield in the style of a traditional estate agent. Because that was not the case, we concluded that the ads were misleading.”

The authority then went on to say that the ads must not appear in that form again, adding: “We told Yorkshire’s Finest Ltd not to imply that they had a physical office in locations where no such office existed.”

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