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Purplebricks - It's My Property and I Will Sell It To Who I Want

Was Purplebricks right to delist a property from its website when it discovered the vendors - a Christian couple - were opposed to two gay men buying it?

The controversy has raged across newspapers, TV and radio programmes, on social media and in the agency trade press.

Did Purplebricks do the right thing, not just morally but legally? Are sellers entitled to choose who they sell to, or not sell to?


Estate Agent Today has been contacted by Stephen Welfare, a partner at law firm Royds Withy King, who has over 25 years been involved in estate agency law. This is his take on the case, in his own words.


The decision of a devout Christian couple to refuse to permit a gay couple to view their house prompting the estate agents, Purple Bricks, to terminate their agency recently hit the headlines (Mail Online, The Times and others 21 January 2022). It follows on from a similar incident of extreme personal choice made by Belfast bakers, who refused to bake a cake in support of gay marriage back in 2018. Is this freedom of choice, or discrimination and is it legal? Moreover, for the purposes of this article, was Purple Bricks justified in terminating the agency, or did it act in breach of contract? 

The vendor’s position is that the ‘property is mine and I can sell it to who I choose and equally decide not to sell to who I choose’.  

Whilst a property is for sale it is the exclusive property of the vendor, and in this case, his home, so he has the legal right to exclude who he chooses from entering his property; exceptions being the security services acting lawfully in the prevent/detection of a crime (PACE 1994), even if that choice is exercised out of a prejudiced viewpoint howsoever honestly held. In the baker’s case the Supreme Court held that a person cannot be forced to promote a belief they profoundly disagreed with. Democracy at work, regardless of public thinking perhaps.  

The Agency 

When an estate agent agrees to market a property for sale in exchange for a fee (should the agent introduce a successful buyer), then a legally binding contract is created. There is no contract between the vendor and the prospective buyers, so contract law does not apply. The agent and the vendor have obligations and duties to each other as the contract parties.  

The agent must exercise reasonable care and skill in the performance of his services (Section 49 Consumer Rights Act 2015). But, what of the vendor client, does he owe duties to the agent? 

In order for the agent to find a buyer at the price, or near to the vendor’s asking price, the agent must be able to act without undue interference or fetter from the vendor. The vendor client does have a duty to co-operate with his agent and not obstruct [frustrate] the agent in the exercise of his services. Can a vendor insist on seeing the agent’s applicant lists and so forth? The answer is no. That would be an interference with the agent’s business and, unless the agent expressly agreed, a breach of his trade secrets and confidential information.  

But surely a vendor can choose to vet who enters the property for a viewing? Yes, as stated above, a homeowner has the right to exclude whoever he chooses from entering on to his property.  


Breach of Contract

Was Purple Bricks justified in terminating its agency with the vendors? On grounds of modern morality then almost certainly yes. However, could it do so legally? By terminating the agency did Purple Bricks act in breach of contract?

It is unusual perhaps for an agency agreement to provide for the agent to be able to terminate. The vendor may do so by either by giving written notice, or as a matter of law, where the vendor commits a repudiatory breach. This second example may entitle an agent to terminate, for example where a vendor gives notice, actual or implied, of an intention not to pay the agent’s commission even if the buyer proceeds to exchange of contracts. The agent may treat that intention as a repudiatory breach, terminate the agency and sue for damages.

As in the case with Purple Bricks, the agent will usually include in its terms and conditions a term that the vendor will provide honest and true information, and material, for the purposes of the agent preparing sales particulars, and where using an online platform that the vendor will submit content that is not abusive, defamatory, obscene or otherwise offensive. The agent will reserve to it the right to reject/take down anything it thinks offensive etc. That, however, does not enable the agent to insist that the vendor sells to anyone it introduces, irrespective of the vendor’s personal beliefs and choices.  

By terminating the agency, it is arguable that Purple Bricks has breached its contract with the vendor. Beyond a refund of any advertising/marketing expenses, it is not easy to see what damages the vendor shall have suffered since Purple Bricks is not the only agent operating online. The vendor hasn’t lost the opportunity to sell online, only the chance to do so with Purple Bricks. If Purple Bricks should be the lowest commission rate, then the difference payable to another agent might be said to be a recoverable loss.

But what of Purple Bricks, does it have any claim here? Whilst it chose to terminate the agency, it could say with some force that it had little option, and that by excluding a class of potential buyers (here gay people), the vendor was restricting Purple Bricks from fully carrying out duties to market and get the best deal, and thereby reducing its prospects of earning a commission.  

In both cases the parties face significant causation problems even if liability could be advanced as I have postulated above.  

© 2022 Stephen Welfare, Partner – Dispute Resolution Department, Royds Withy King 

*Stephen Welfare is a partner at RWK who has conducted business transfer agent fee recover actions for over 25 years and has specialist knowledge of Estate Agency Law.

  • Theodor Cable

    They are right. It is their house. They can sell it anyone that want to.
    Should not even be an issue.


    ...and are Purple Bricks right to choose what vendors they wish to work with?


    @ John Murray

    Whether Purple Bricks are right is as immaterial as whether or not the Christian couple were right. Whether either of them were right or wrong is subjective opinion.

    What is actually important is their freedom to have their opinion, and be able to express it. Both the Christian couple AND Purple Bricks have excercised their freedoms and nothing further should be done to either of them.

    THAT is the society we should live in.

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    So in summary to all of the above - yes or no on both parties?

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    • 28 January 2022 07:52 AM

    People should be free to decide who they want to sell to. Out of principle, Purple Brick will never get an instruction from me as it looks like "they take a side".

  • Vilesh Rew

    The owners have every right to sell to whomever they choose.
    The agents also have every right to choose to act for whomever they choose, or not as the case may be.
    Without checking, I’m pretty sure that every agency agreement I’ve ever seen states that the agreement will continue until either party gets written notice to terminate. There tend not to be too many conditions attached to that other than the length of the soul agency agreement. Unfortunately PBs terms usually require upfront payment so that will likely complicate things, however if I was in Purplebricks shoes I would’ve done exactly the same thing. If the owners had simply said that we don’t want to sell to this couple and didn’t give a reason then I would probably have put it down to their prerogative, however (if the reporting is true) they went further than that and if what has been written is accurate then I would simply choose not to act for those people and sack them off.

  • Rob Hailstone

    The legal position seems pretty clear. The moral one however, maybe not so. Storng religious beliefs, like political ones, often open a can of worms.


    Morals are subjective. I don't know what it is about this blindingly obvious truth that people don't understand.

  • Ben Hollis

    I think PB did the right thing (for once). Take a step back, if owners were prejudice to any other group we would (should) act the same: race, religion, gender, sexuality. If we believe in equality we have to put our money where our mouth is and walk away from those people.
    No one can force the vendors to sell to gay buyers, in the same way as no one could force 1960’s shop owners to serve black people if they didn’t want to, but that’s not the point is it.
    Laws are always retrospective. You won’t find your moral compass in a law book.


    Why do you keep saying 'we'? What exactly is 'equality'? People don't treat other people equally. They never have and never will.

    There's endless research that shows physically attractive people are treated better by those they interact with. Even more that shows the most important aspect of a job interview is whether the interviewer liked your personality. You discriminate, I discriminate, everyone discriminates, on a daily basis.

    What you are basically saying in your comment is; if you have a particular opinion, then society should take away your right to express it, and punish you if you do.

    That's called bigotry.

    Ben Hollis

    Max Boyne - I believe you are confusing ‘opinion’ with ‘prejudice’.

    If you believe being prejudice is acceptable I most certainly was not referring to you when saying ‘we’ are better than that.

    Equality is a pursuit, just because a society isn’t there yet (or may never be) doesn’t mean you shouldn’t strive for it.

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    Can't wait to hear about the Liverpool-supporting vendors who refuse to sell to Manchester United-supporting buyers.

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    If I discovered that my buyer was proposing to apply to turn my house into a lorry park after completion I’d definitely pull out out of concern for my neighbours. Nobody would be surprised and it wouldn’t give rise to endless column inches. Disgusting as I find the homophobic views of these people, I don’t think the agents have the right to select which views they accept and which they don’t. I might well refuse to sell to people who express the views of this couple, I’d certainly be tempted to. If that isn’t acceptable neither is it acceptable the other way round (sadly).


    I agree with your sentiments, however, PB, like all other businesses have the right to choose who their customers are. Just the bakery mentioned in the article did.

    Kristjan Byfield

    Pretty sure you cant discriminate against a Lorry Park!?

  • Iain Harrison

    Whilst they may be right in that they can sell it to anyone they want to, PB were also right in choosing to no longer want to represent clients who are homophobic, or showing any sort of prejudice - the fact that we have a lawyer commenting on this just proves what a joke English Law is...

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    It appears this learned fellow doesn't actually understand how Purple Bricks charging structure works. There is no success based fee, which he refers to on two occasions.

    Mike Lewis

    I don't often comment here but this point jumped right out at me as I read the article too! I'm no legal expert but surely if the vendors have paid PB a listing fee, PB are obliged to fulfil the terms of the contract and continue to offer the property until it is sold.


    When cancelling, PB only have to rely on their T&C's

    If you materially breach your obligations under either this Agreement or the Terms of Use; or if you require us to take any step which may put us in breach of our legal or professional obligations then we may cancel this Agreement on giving you 14 days’ notice (unless we are required to cancel it sooner, in order to comply with our legal or professional obligations).

  • Matthew Gardiner Legge

    It was good to see a such a well balanced forensic look at the legal implications of both sides although it seems to me - the layman - that's it is just one big fat grey area. However, has anyone stopped to consider, assuming this couple need to instruct another agent, that agent will be obliged to establish the sexual orientation of each prospective buyer before allowing a viewing... now that WILL be interesting!


    Not really. A few innocent questions is all it'll take to draw a conclusion that will most likely be accurate.

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    Haven't EAT milked enough screen inches out of this 'story' now?


    It appears as though this article has given you a perfect platform to tell commenters whether they are 'right' or 'wrong', so perhaps this is an unnecessarily derisory comment. Click on if disinterested, surely?

  • Kristjan Byfield

    Personally feel PB have acted correctly here- the owners are free to pursue a FSBO route or find an agency that does not take issue with discrimination. Would this be acceptable if they had been declined for being a woman? Or being a certain nationality? Or a certain race? Or age? Discrimination is discrimination and religion doesn't exempt you from that fact.
    As an agency where over 50% of our staff are LGBTQ+ many of our staff have faced discrimination like this throughout their lives under many guises and it's never ok.
    Bravo PB!

  • Gupy Sandhu

    Sounds like a difficult situation but both will argue theyre right

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    I am old enough to remember the hideous, but not illegal at the time, ' no, blacks, no Irish ' notices placed in windows of properties to rent.
    Unless I'm missing something, would agents in 2022 add ' no gays ' to the above and print it on property details or say Rightmove or Zoopla ?
    I can't think that ' on the instructions of our vendor client ' would excuse us !! Against the law is against the law.
    Why the debate ?

  • Glenn Taylor

    Doubt the case ever happened PB made it up to make them look diverse and attract business.
    Have there name repeatedly mentioned, new marketing director did I hear was employed recently...
    There will be more ridiculous claims on there way to counter the bad publicity change the focus.
    Very clever

  • Suzy OShea

    Does anyone know if Purple Bricks repaid the vendors £1,500 agency fee which is always demanded upfront? If not, they have committed fraud!

    I would never use Purple Bricks because they just take you money and do little for it in terms of doing escorted viewings. Once they have your fee they don't care if they sell your property or not.


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