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Shock intervention by Trading Standards in 'charging for viewing' row

The controversial proposal by a PropTech start up to charge potential viewers of properties to let or for sale has been given a qualified green light by Trading Standards.

The ViewRabbit platform proposes charging prospective tenants and purchasers £30 - or possibly even more - for so-called ‘guaranteed’ viewings. It says the same properties could be viewed without a charge, but the viewings could be cancelled by the agent or owner.

Now Trading Standards - in response to a query from Estate Agent Today - says that this policy is permissible for sales and even, under some circumstances, avoids contravening the Tenant Fees Act.

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A spokesperson tells EAT: “In principle, it is fine for sales viewings as long as agents and traders are transparent and upfront about any terms and conditions or charges applicable to payments and refunds. The business must not make any misleading statements or omissions as these are criminal offences.”

They continue: “Requiring a person to make a payment to view a property to rent is prohibited … Giving no option but to pay the fee is prohibited, but optional fees, like in this instance, are not prohibited.”

EAT originally approached the National Trading Standards Estate and Letting Agent Team; however this was passed to the Chartered Trading Standards Institute.

The CTSI tells EAT: “If the matter is covered by the Estate Agents Act 1979 or Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations, then local trading standards will take responsibility for enforcement. If it is covered by the Tenant Fees Act 2019, then the matter could be enforced by Trading Standards, Housing or Environmental Health.”

What remains unknown, however, is whether agents will actually support the idea - ViewRabbit has declined to say which agencies, if any, have signed up.

There has been substantial scepticism about the idea.

TV property expert Phil Spencer wrote yesterday on EAT: “I’m a keen fan of innovation in the property industry, especially if it modernises and simplifies our way-too-complicated system of buying and selling. But charging £30 to view a home? The potential for bad publicity, and the confusion of agents acting for sellers yet receiving income from buyers for a viewing, smacks of complication and possible pitfalls.”

Polls and surveys on social media suggest a majority of agents will not be charging buyers and tenants for viewing properties.

  • Mike Riley

    ViewRabbit provides agents with a platform to provide

    Standard "Free" viewings.
    Reservation and refund viewings.
    Standard "Free" viewings with priority access for the first week (time set by agent and owner)
    Standard "Free" viewings with "no cancellation" guaranteed (for a set period agreed by the agent and owner)

    All with automated viewing feedback and an option to donate agent proceeds to charity using the ViewRabbit "smile" switch.

    15 Minute discovery calls can be booked on the website.

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    IT DOES NOT MATTER WHAT ts SAY VERY FEW PEOPLE WILL BE INTERESTED

  • Andrew Stanton CEO Proptech-PR    Proptech Real Estate Influencer

    Let them eat cake AND pay £30 for a viewing

    What do these two things have in common?

    Marie Antoinette’s quote “Let them eat cake” when asked what the starving French should eat as they had no bread.

    Mike Riley’s ViewRabbit concept and the idea that viewings could be charged at a rate of £30.
    Is the answer a major disconnect with what the consensus appears to be? Let’s find out.

    In Marie Antionette’s case, she had no idea of the world outside her palace. To her, substituting bread for cake was a sound option. At first glance, it would appear that ViewRabbit is also at odds with the consensus. But here’s the kicker, is it out of step with public sentiment or just out of sync with the estate agents’ legacy models of doing things?

    If the latter is true, is that really a bad thing?

    For me, ViewRabbit is probing the wants and needs of those in the property nexus, who live in a society where services and goods are leased and hired rather than owned. And things will inevitably be leased, hired, purchased, acquired, etc. Nothing stays dormant for long.

    So, in return for a certain sum upfront, ViewRabbit will guarantee that a viewer gets a slot to view a property, giving prospective buyers the power to freeze time. Cash equals convenience. Viewings on demand.

    If they want to, buyers are still free to take the traditional route and view the property via the agent. But, as any of us who have been in that position knows, it might be a gamble depending on the level of interest.

    It seems that a handful of agents aren’t happy with ViewRabbit upsetting their legacy modus operandi. Now I’m not saying it’s like the French revolutionaries escorting Marie Antionette to the guillotine. Viewings are still free, everyone knows that.

    But has anyone asked the general public for their view? Have any agents canvassed the buying public, or do they sit in their ivory branches like Marie Antionette, guessing the mood of the people?

    Now, this is anecdotal, but earlier in the year I wanted to view three properties. I was in a position to buy but they were snapped up before I had a chance to cross the threshold. Who knows, maybe I would’ve purchased one, but indifference from the agent and lack of service meant that they were satisfied with their first sound enquiry. Many people missed out thanks to those agents.

    As someone who marketed 18,000 properties over thirty-plus years as an agent, I am far from being anti-agent. I am, however, anti-lack of service. In my mind, my time is more precious than everyone else’s. If there’s extra money on the table, maybe it will jolt people into action.

    Maybe ViewRabbit does have a point after all. Time to ask the people.

  • Matthew Payne

    Im not sure I understand where this TS spokesperson has developed his understanding of the Tenant Fees Act. It is very straighforward to understand. There are a list of prohibited payments and permitted payments, and the guidance deals with viewings specifically "You cannot charge for this as viewing a property is part of the process connected with granting a tenancy" No grey areas about unless a tenant chooses to. I would be keen to hear where it says or even implies "but optional fees, like in this instance, are not prohibited.”

    Likewise, it was made clear by TS and other stakeholders when asked and tested back in 2019, that there are no exceptions, stick to the lists, hence to this day, pet owners cannot opt to pay a larger security deposit for example to reassure a landlord there is sufficient remedy at EOT. It will be interesting to see if this viewing charge is to set the precedent for an exceptions list, in which case no doubt the flood gates will quickly open.

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    Has anybody asked any buyers their views on this? You know, the people who really count?

    I assume the agents who are against this concept have never 'upgraded' a subscription or service for 'VIP' treatment, bought a 'Fast Track' ticket at a theme park or paid £4 to get a £4 McDonald's order delivered to their home?

  • Andrew Stanton CEO Proptech-PR    Proptech Real Estate Influencer

    Property Pundit you so have it. I am 89 years old, but I still understand that as two thirds of the worlds population is under 25 years of age, maybe they experience the world differently to me.

    I like to queue in the bank, go to the library and get my books stamped, queue in the post office, queue in the supermarket.

    It will never catch on all this buying on Amazon, with delivery next day and paying extra for the service, streaming content and paying for it, getting data for my mobile and paying for it as I use it, and as for paying for the convience of an instantly booked viewing - well that is just plain crazy.

    Next they will be telling me there are electric cars, or Revolut a banking software service which has only been around since 2015 has a higher market capitalisation value than the Natwest banking group. Time for my afternoon nap I must just be dreaming.

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    Sit back and wait for this to be tested in Court - the Tenant Fees Act is clear.
    Another scenario - seller gets 2 x valuations. 1 x agent charges £30 per viewing. The other one doesn't. The other agents uses this as a selling point and paints the picture that charging for viewings will put people off.
    Which agent do you think will lose the instruction?
    Which agent will then realise that this is a daft gimmick, costing them instructions and drop it?

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