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TODAY'S OTHER NEWS

'Local property experts' - controversial advice issued by ad watchdog

The Advertising Standards Authority has today issued a three-point guidance note for estate agents, including controversial interpretations of what constitutes a ‘local property expert’.

The overall guidance comes as a result of recent ASA rulings and is issued as a note aimed at agents. It includes a statement that it is “to help you keep your house in order.”

One of the three points says: “The ASA understands ‘local property experts’ to be a claim which refers to their local knowledge and the geographical area they cover, rather than their physical location. It is therefore acceptable to refer to ‘local’ property experts if you can prove that they have relevant knowledge and experience within a defined geographical area. However, take care not to imply you have physical branches in locations if that is not the case.”

The ASA says two recent rulings are evidence of this guidance for estate agents’ adverts. 

One of the rulings dates back to October last year and was in favour of a Purplebricks advertisement that had been challenged. The ad being queried appeared between September 2016 and February 2017 and stated, amongst other things “Our Local Experts are some of the most respected estate agents in their local area”. 

The failed challenge to the advertisement, suggesting that the term ‘Local Property Experts’ was misleading and could not be substantiated, came from four sources - one was PDQ Estates, the Cornish agency owned by Chris Wood, who has now himself been told by the ASA that he should remove misleading statements about online estate agencies that he made in a tweet and a blog post on his website.

The other ruling relevant to this guidance point from the ASA was one back in 2015 which deemed that a SpicerHaart Estate Agents ad was misleading about the location of offices.

This particular guidance note about the use of terms such as local property experts is likely to reignite debate about the use of ‘agents in the field’ by online operators.

The two other points made in the ASA’s guidance note concerned clarity over what agents’ fees covered, and descriptions of homes for sale or to let.

Under the heading ‘Be clear about what your fees cover’ the association’s note tells estate agents: “Any significant limitations and qualifications to advertised fees should be made immediately clear to consumers. The ASA investigated and upheld complaints that an ad which claimed to sell a property for a flat fee but failed to make it clear consumers would have to pay an additional fee to use their own conveyancer. …

“The same clarity should also apply to how you present VAT in your ads; the ASA found an ad that offered a VAT-exclusive selling fee of “0.9% + VAT” was misleading because the percentage fee should have included VAT; so remember to always present your fees inclusive of VAT.”

The final area touched upon in the note to agents is about factual descriptions of properties. 

Under the heading ‘Don’t stretch the facts’ the ASA advises: “It may seem obvious, but don’t exaggerate the features of a property, and ensure that you hold adequate substantiation for any claims that you make; the ASA continues to receive complaints about ads that inaccurately describe properties. For instance, an estate agent’s ad was found to have broken the rules because it claimed a property offered a ‘private drive’ when the drive was shared with other residents.”

The guidance note is relatively brief and can be seen in full here.

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