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Online agents face new guidelines as advertising complaints rocket

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.

  • Velgram Quaid

    Bricks and Mortar Agent: "Give us your money if we sell your house."

    Online Agent: "Give us your money and we might sell your house."

  • Charlie Lamdin

    The horse bolted years ago. Now they close the door. Too little, too late, the consumer has been harmed. A failure of its basic duty. They should have done this in 2015/16.

  • Georgina  Cox

    The damage that online-only agents are doing to the market and public confidence can only be addressed by the effective use of a hybrid model. There is no escaping that online buying and selling is here to stay and, indeed, will continue to be a growing part of the market, but for it to be truly effective and ensure that customers can trust in the service they receive it needs the involvement of experienced, long-standing bricks and mortar agents.
    This is why we created love2move, which enables high street agents to have a presence in the online space without eroding their traditional market. By having local experts, who are indeed local, fees that are completely transparent – with no hidden charges at all – we are bringing the trust that comes from the high street to the online marketplace. This is further supported by our commitment to qualify buyers, undertake the aml checks and also include sales progression in our processes.
    The actions of the ASA should be welcomed to ensure the online market does not become the Wild West and infect the public’s perception of our industry, but the only way to maintain trust is for experienced bricks and mortar agents to diversify into the hybrid model to give confidence to buyers and sellers.

    Velgram Quaid

    I took a look at your site Georgina. Can't see much 'transparency' there. In fact it seems quite coy about it's pricing model. Is the £895 fee payable whether or not you sell the house?


    Thanks for the advert but it's a hard pass on love2move.


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