Millions of people use online property portals every year to conduct their property search, whether it be for sales or for lettings. One of the base requirements that consumers these days have is for information to be readily available, accurate, and up-front. Time is valuable, and the relevancy of information is vital to support their search and to mitigate any unnecessary questions or even withdrawing interest further down the line that might lead to a big waste of agent time.
There’s a lot of regulatory stuff that happens behind the scenes that impacts the property industry yet goes generally unnoticed by the wider public. The first phase of three (Part A) of the National Trading Standards Estate and Letting Agency Team (NTSELAT)’s long-term project to define what constitutes material information for property listings, announced back on 21 February, constitutes such a development that consumers experience first-hand but rarely hear about.
Getting a grip on the upcoming phases
Estate and lettings agents are legally obliged not to omit material information from consumers on property listings under current legislation as set out in the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008, but disclosure practices are inconsistent throughout the industry. The new requirements on what constitutes property listings are set to address that.
As a refresher, under Part A of the new material information requirements, a property's council tax band or rate and the property price and tenure information (for sales) must be included on all property listings by the end of May 2022. Portals are in the process of updating their data fields and Rightmove has already provided updated technical info for their feed to CRM suppliers, with Zoopla and OnTheMarket currently in process of getting theirs ready.
Phases 2 and 3 will be expanded to include further pertinent material information. Part B will also include information that must be established for all properties. Applying mainly to utilities (and similar) where non-standard features would affect someone’s decision to look any further at that property. Whilst Part C will cover additional material information that may or may not need to be established, depending on whether the property is affected or impacted by the information; such info requirements would apply to properties affected by the issue itself because of, for example, the location of the property in relation to flood risks and other specific factors.
These changes won’t be mandatory until all three phases of the project are complete, at which point National Trading Standards claims that agents will need to include all the required information before it is listed on a property portal. At that point, the National Trading Standards team have said in their FAQs that compliance will be the default for the vast majority of agents.
Building support for change
The changes are definitely going to shake up the residential property industry, and it has certainly garnered significant support with industry leaders and major property portals including PropertyMark, The Lettings Industry Council, The Property Ombudsman, The Property Redress Scheme, The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, The UK Association of Letting Agents, OnTheMarket, PropertyPal, Rightmove and Zoopla, demonstrate the wide-ranging collaborative effort.
The changes in Part A of the project will certainly do their bit to provide more accurate property information to customers, as will the later phases to come. Agents may not be happy with the changes, as it will mean more work for them, but it is definitely good for consumers, and in the long run it is far more likely that agents will benefit.
Of course, behind the scenes of these changes, considerable effort should be undertaken by the software companies that sit behind the portals, such as the CRM suppliers that so many agencies use, to update their systems to include the new data fields. With CRM providers putting in back-end development to their own platforms to facilitate these changes, the extra work required from agents to ensure fields are populated should be minimal, allowing the changes to slide straight into normal workflows.
A good CRM provider will likely also already feature pre-instruction checklists that will help users to ensure that all necessity fields are populated before a listing is pushed to live on a portal that will help users to ensure that all necessity fields are populated before a listing is pushed to live on a portal.
It's all about the consumer
Portals, love them or hate them, are widely utilised by consumers, with research from Zoopla conducted a couple of years ago finding that 77% of consumers use property portals to conduct their search, so the more information that can be provided the better to enrich their experience and hopefully only further build trust in the industry. In addition, recent research from the Conveyancing Association found that 98% of consumers are in favour of more upfront information.
Ultimately, consumers want consistency, and the single biggest drive of consumer “stickiness”, as a study in Harvard Business Review found, is the ease with which consumers can gather information on what they are search for, and then confidently and efficiently sort through their available choices with as much information as possible. For the large-scale decisions like buying into property, more upfront information can potentially boost property pipelines and support estate agencies’ bottom lines.
The industry works best when it is collaborative, and this project is a good example of what we’re all doing to support consumers with their decisions, even if they are unaware of the changes. But if you’re doing things right, people won’t know you’re doing anything at all.
*Tara Sparrow is the sales director at Reapit