The Advertising Standards Authority has issued a guidance note warning online estate agents, after complaints about them have “grown dramatically”.
“Property is big business and the popularity of these services has grown dramatically over the past few years, as has the number of complaints to the ASA about ads for them” says the note, which sets out how online firms should ensure their advertisements abide by the rules.
Firstly on fees, it says that whether onliners charge a fixed fee or a percentage commission, it’s vital that quoted prices include VAT as well as all “non-optional” charges levied on sellers.
“Ads should also include all material information about the price - for example, the fact that a fee is payable upfront, has conditions attached or applies regardless of whether the property sells or not” says the guidance.
Secondly on service levels, the ASA note says that different online companies offer different suites of services and states: “Any significant limitations and qualifications to advertised fees have to be made clear to consumers. So online estate agents need to be careful to explain exactly what their customers are going to get with their fees.”
The authority says it has 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, was misleading. The ASA also upheld a complaint against an advertisement quoting a 0.5 per cent commission fee for the sale of homes, without making it clear that the advertised fee did not include accompanied viewings.
Thirdly on the controversial subject of local experts, the authority says that depending on context it’s “broadly likely” to be acceptable to refer to local property experts if it can be proved they have relevant knowledge and experience within a defined geographical area - they do not necessarily have to be based in that area.
“However, care must be taken not to imply the existence of physical branches or being ‘based’ in particular locations, when that is not the case” says the note.
Finally, the guidance looks at comparisons. It advises that comparisons with identifiable competitors are allowed as long as they are based on objective criteria, make the basis of the comparison clear and are presented in a way that is unlikely to mislead.
They must also be verifiable. “Adequate evidence must be held to support any comparison. Savings claims must be supported with comprehensive documentary evidence; a simple customer survey will not be sufficient” says the note, which you can see in full here.