Estate agents could find their job gets that bit harder after the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) laid out new guidelines on how they must conduct their business.
Some familiar-sounding practices could mean businesses are failing to comply with the relevant consumer protection law – risking heavy penalties, the draft guidance from the watchdog reveals. Actions the OFT warns against, from the "unfair" to the outright banned, include:
Giving misleading information to consumers
Estate agents are explicitly told not to boast about a “'secluded garden' when there is a public right of way through the garden, [a] 'peaceful area' when a bypass is planned close to the property, 'nice views of surrounding countryside' when there is a power plant next to the property, [or of] 'off street parking' when the parking is on a public highway”
Nor should agents use out-of-date photographs that no longer offer a true reflection of a property of "significantly alter" images to omit uncomplimentary features, the OFT said.
Giving insufficient information to consumers
This could involve, according to the OFT, failing to mention significant “non-standard” features about the property for sale. That might be if a house is freehold but garage is leasehold, if it comes with shared ownership of parking area and path, or if a property needs major repairs
Intriguingly, this could include pressurising a seller to market the property at less than its true value, says the OFT, as well as “persistent and/or aggressive telephone calls” aimed at pushing a buyer into acting quickly
Using "bait" advertising techniques
Agents must not, for example, advertise new build properties for sale at a certain price when the only ones available to buy are at a higher price. Nor should they use a broad "guide price" range such as £150,000 to £200,000 when they suspect the seller has no intention of accepting anything at the lower end of that range.
Creating a false impression
Estate agents should not leave details of properties they have sold on their website or in their office window for a long period of time, creating a false impression that they are shifting more properties actually are.