A maverick Cornish estate agent who falsely gave the impression to customers that his business was highly successful has been hit with a fine and a threat of imprisonment if he does not pay up within a year.
Martin Hobbs, who ran MPH Estate Agents, falsely claimed to have sold a property that was not for sale, claimed to have sold homes still on the market, and place a For Sale sign outside another that was not for sale in order to appear successful.
Hobbs - who filed for bankruptcy ahead of his sentencing - has admitted four charges of false and misleading advertising under CPR legislation. He has been fined £12,500 which is to be paid in full in the next year or else he will be sent to prison for a year. He must also pay £10,000 towards court costs.
The Plymouth Live and other south west news media websites report that a court in Truro heard that in 2014 Hobbs marketed a property that did not sell - but in 2017 he listed it on his firm’s website as having been successfully sold by the firm.
On another occasion the Cornish branch of estate agency Jackson-Stops contacted a former client, surprised to see their property re-listed for sale by MPH - in reality, the owners did not know it had been listed, as they had no intention of selling.
“It appears the defendant looked for impressive properties and put them on Rightmove to look like he was involved in such sales” the prosecution told the court.
The court heard that Hobbs has a previous history of dishonesty offences and also a recent harassment conviction in which the victim was a rival agent who had complained about him.
His defence counsel told the court that the only identifiable harm caused by Hobbs was “the minor nuisance of the inappropriate signs” while Hobbs himself was now in £80,000 of debt.
Sentencing, Judge Simon Carr told the court: “You were the sole trader as an estate agent which I accept is a highly competitive business and you decided to commit active fraud to improve your position. You did so in a number of different ways. You marketed properties over which you had no authority at all to give the impression you had a larger back catalogue of work.
“You also indicated you sold various premises you had no connection with to make out you were a successful estate agent. You marketed a property for sale and the owner only found out when the estate agent who originally sold the property contacted them. You committed these offences to gain an advantage and a clear insight into how you conducted your business is when another estate agent reported you, you committed an act of harassment.”
You can see the full story on Plymouth Live here.