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Written by Rosalind Renshaw

The Association of Home Information Pack Providers is calling on the Government to take immediate action against property website Zoopla.

AHIPP claims Zoopla is flouting the law by allowing sellers to market their homes without the required HIP in place. Zoopla says it is merely letting home-owners talk about a potential hypothetical price of their home, as people might do over the garden fence.

The website has a ‘TemptMe!’ feature allowing users to put in a price at which they might be interested in selling their home. A near identical feature, property flirt, exists on Mouseprice, although this site is not being reported.

Some agents have told Estate Agent Today that they find the features potentially useful, as a source of leads.

Alex Chesterman, Zoopla’s chief executive, said that when this issue first emerged, he issued this statement: “TemptMe! is an innovative community feature that allows inactive property owners to share the hypothetical price at which they might consider selling – their ‘dream price’ in effect.

“TemptMe! is no different really to a casual conversation between neighbours over the fence or between friends in the pub indicating the figure that might ‘tempt’ them – a conversation we have all probably had at some point.

“TemptMe! is targeted at owners who might be thinking about selling at some point in the future and allows them to test the waters. The requirement for a HIP begins once the owner has decided that they actually want to market a property for sale, not when they start thinking about the fact they might sell and the price they would be keen achieve one day.”

However, said Chesterman, since this, AHIPP “has come back to say that conversations ‘in a pub’ and ‘over the garden fence’ constitute public marketing”.

He went on: “Our reply to this is that a hypothetical conversation about how much you would potentially sell your house for is not a form of marketing – it’s a hypothetical conversation.

“The notion that every homeowner who has a conversation about the sale value of their home needs a HIP to do so or faces a £200 fine is farcical.

“Zoopla’s TemptMe! feature clearly states that homeowners will need a HIP if they do decide to sell their home.”

But AHIPP remains adamant that Zoopla is breaking new HIP rules which came into effect on April 6 requiring a HIP to be in place before marketing begins.

AHIPP said that Zoopla was allowing sellers to test the market with a ‘test price’ before officially deciding to sell, in direct contravention of the new HIP legislation. Mike Ockenden, director general of AHIPP, said: “We are not pursuing Mouseprice because the specific complaint we have had from one of our members is against Zoopla.

“The point is that it need not even cost someone to put a HIP in place before any marketing starts – there are now ‘no sale, no fee’ products with nothing to pay up-front.

“The estate agent community is required to adhere to this new legislation, facing fines of up to £200 per day if they fail to comply. It is unfair and unjust if Zoopla are not subject to these same rules.

“If a seller is offering their property for sale then this is clear marketing, and as a result they must comply with the new legislation. It is clear to me that Zoopla are behaving very irresponsibly. They are breaking the law and this practice has to stop immediately.”

He cited the Housing Act 2004, Part Five, Home Information Packs, which states: “A residential property is put on the market when the fact that it is or may become available for sale is, with the intention of marketing the property, first made public in England and Wales by or on behalf of the seller.”

The TemptMe! feature on Zoopla alerts users to the fact that they will need a HIP if they do decide to sell their home.

The warning reads: “Note: A TemptMe! Price should only be set if you are NOT actively marketing your home for sale. If you decide at any time to sell your home, you will require a Home Information Pack (HIP).”

Comments

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    If there is a possible loophole in the law - you can bet your bottom dollar that someone will find it and utilise it. If Zoopla or Mouseprice hadn't discovered it - someone else would have done eventually. I'm thinking of applying for that 37K Negotiator job advertised on EAT!

    • 21 April 2009 22:35 PM
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    Don’t worry about trading standards, as they will be too busy dealing with complaints from agents adhering to the law, whilst the white sock and sharp suit boys ignore the new regs post introduction of PIQs and continue with first day marketing. Blimey Chancer do you ever do any work and does any read the books you post, bet you are fun down the pub!

    • 21 April 2009 13:37 PM
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    So if I wanted to ask my neighbour what my house might be worth I'd need a HIP first?! Is it me or is this getting a bit silly?

    • 21 April 2009 10:50 AM
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    Well said Chancer, but you omit the main issue - Ockenden's moustache. My £20 is still on the table for chaaaridee if it comes off!

    • 21 April 2009 00:37 AM
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    If Mike Ockenden, director general of AHIPP considers that Zoopla are behaving irresponsibly then he should take note that many of us consider the actions of AHIPP to be entirely reprehensible and I am confident that the public will be of common opinion! Technically I suspect that AHIPP are correct and over zealous Trading Standards officers may well consider the TemptMe price a form of covert marketing. If this leads to an enquiry from an agent, particularly a home finder agent, that would not otherwise have happened then this would definitely be considered as marketing. Zoopla’s defence is tenuous when set against the legislation, particularly with a name like “TemptMe” which leaves little room for ambiguity and suggests intent whether meant or not. If it is just akin to an over the fence conservation then it would be perfectly reasonable for Trading Standards to question why it was necessary to enter the figure in a public domain web site if not to invite potential interest.

    The real issue here is the extent to which the Housing Act 2004 infringes the right to freedom of expression as enshrined by the Human Rights Act of 1998, specifically Article 10. How is it that you can no longer utter the words “my house is for sale” without fear of penalty or threat from the state? As far as I can see curtailment of making such a statement is a clear infringement of freedom of expression and although this is a qualified rather than an absolute right none of the reasons determining when it is reasonable to restrict freedom of expression such as racist comments, inciting hatred or issues of national security can be applied to HIPs. This was always the biggest story with HIPs, it’s the one area where public anger could have been mobilised against the legislation and the government. It is the public that need to be up in arms against this, not the industry. Unfortunately the industry has failed woefully to capitalise on this opportunity and I urge once again all agents to facilitate the sending of letters from every home owner in their area to the local Trading Standards officer asking for an explanation of the precise circumstances under which they may be penalised. A second letter should be sent to the local MP asking for an explanation of how it is that their right to freedom of expression has had an condition placed on it contrary to the Human Rights Act 1998 and whether the MP voted for or against the Housing Act 2004 legislation.

    • 20 April 2009 21:51 PM
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    very clever marketing!

    • 20 April 2009 21:25 PM
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    This is it guys, Zoopla have it started, the rest will follow, our industry will never be the same again, get real or get out!

    PS

    • 20 April 2009 21:25 PM
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    "It is clear to me that Zoopla are behaving very irresponsibly. They are breaking the law and this practice has to stop immediately." Does anyone else find it extremely worrying that Mike Ockenden is making statements like this using his AHIPP mandate? Given he has been cheerleading for HIPs since his lucrative appointment at AHIPP, ignoring the advice of hundreds if not thousands of estate agency professionals, it is a little remarkable that he now claims to be speaking up for the industry that he and his corporate backers have been milking dry for the last 2 years. When Brown is kicked out, Mr Ockenden will be looking for another job, so you would think he might wind his neck in. Or maybe he will just say anything to get attention for his self interested lobby group.

    • 20 April 2009 17:47 PM
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    @vossy - Welcome to the 21st Century, Grandad. You received the email from EAT because you opted in to receive it. EAT won't have emailed your staff unless they have each individually opted in too. This is no different to job ads appearing in the back of The Negotiator or Estate Agency News. I appreciate that you say you value your staff but respecting, rewarding and retaining good staff starts with treating them like adults. Hiding job ads from them makes you sound a little like a Victorian mill owner. If you treat them well and provide an environment where they can prosper, why on earth would they leave?

    • 20 April 2009 17:36 PM
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    Did I miss the CLG announcement that AHIPP been appointed to do the work of Trading Standards?

    • 20 April 2009 15:14 PM
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    Vossy, i must admit im quite pissed about that recruitment email as well. So what if its one of their clients, thats a piss take.

    • 20 April 2009 14:28 PM
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    Vossy... when i got that email this morning i thoutght... WTF is this.

    • 20 April 2009 14:27 PM
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    This is estate agency guys. The only profession untouched by progress for 150 years. Innovation is NOT welcome here. We want more HIPs, slower conveyancing and more regulation please...

    • 20 April 2009 13:56 PM
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    Sure did Vossey. I agree, very poor from EAT. Explanations welcomed.

    • 20 April 2009 12:26 PM
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    CORRECTION...Expert Agent should read Estate Agent Today!

    • 20 April 2009 12:11 PM
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    Not article related....Did anyone else get the email about a negotiator job vacancy? As a Director with Staff I don’t take kindly to attempts to poach my staff, however subtle the method. How would Expert Agent like it if I emailed their staff offering similar jobs for rival organisations? We signed up for the property blog and not to have our staff poached…..whoever authorised this email should explain themselves!

    • 20 April 2009 12:10 PM
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    Mike, No one is interested in you or your organisation, so please put a sock in it. You obviously read Orwell's 1984 and deceided the "Thought Police" was your new job. Really, you're boring us.

    • 20 April 2009 11:25 AM
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    I agree. It is totally irresponsible to be selling alcopops like Zoopla which are clearly aimed at the underage market.

    • 20 April 2009 11:22 AM
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