The advertising rules regulator, Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) has criticised the industry for ‘repeat problems’ in advertising. It has called for immediate action and a ‘compliant level-playing-field’ within the market in 2018. The Advertising Standards Authority investigates complaints.
Omitting significant limitations, exclusions or qualifications
Some of the practices recently criticised include claims that a £495 flat fee for the sale of a property did not make it clear to consumers that it only covered the advertiser’s own conveyancing service. Additional fees would be payable if a customer chose to use their own conveyancer or mortgage broker, which was deemed to be misleading.
Similarly, a quoted 0.5% commission fee was quoted for the sale of homes but the advert didn’t explain that this was for unaccompanied viewings only. The agent was criticised for not making it clear that accompanied viewings were not included within the fee structure.
Purplebricks recently defended its advertising when customers asserted that their claim of being ‘fee free’ was incorrect. In its defence, the company said it believed customers recognised the difference between a flat fee and commission. The investigation part-held the complaint, requiring fee comparisons in further adverts to make clear that the flat fee was always required.
Omitting non-optional taxes, duties, fees and charges
Criticism was made of an advert that quoted fees exclusive of VAT: i.e, ‘0.5% plus VAT’. As VAT is applicable to nearly all buyers, this was deemed misleading.
Stretching the facts when describing a property
It is no longer acceptable to use ‘poetic licence’ to make unsubstantiated claims although, in some cases, agents run the risk of upsetting the seller if they are too close to the truth. Most of us will not find this surprising, but estate agents have long had the reputation of being guilty of stretching the truth. Claims of ‘private and secure parking’ and ‘remote control gated access with CCTV’ that could not be substantiated is perhaps a far stretch from old days of ‘bijoux’ (small), ‘loved by a DIY enthusiast’ (dangerous), or ‘architect designed’ (odd or outdated).
Agents were advised to make comparisons only where they could be ‘based on objective criteria’ and verifiable.
What is ‘local expertise’?
An investigation took place when it was found that a press advert and website which displayed phone numbers and email addresses where the advertiser purported to have physical offices in towns around Norwich. Although having a local expert was acceptable, inferring that they were based in physical branches was not.
However, a claim by an online estate agent that referred to ‘local property experts’ did not breach the rules because the ‘experts’ did indeed possess relevant knowledge and experience in the areas they served.