An estate agent has been found guilty at Truro Crown Court, after making false claims over property sales. He currently has until the end of February 2019 to pay the costs or he could face going to prison for up to twelve months.
Martin Hobbs, who ran MPH Estate Agents in Millbrook, on the Rame Peninsula in Cornwall, lied about properties, claimed to have sold properties when he had not, marketed a house that was not for sale and placed a false offer on a property on behalf of a client.
Mr. Hobbs pleaded guilty to four charges of false and misleading advertising under Consumer Law and a further charge of obstructing an investigating police officer by giving him a fake letter of instruction.
The fraud charges include advertising two properties as being sold when they were still for sale and advertising two properties as being for sale when he was not the agent. Four other charges were undisclosed and denied so they will remain on file.
Prosecuting on behalf of Cornwall Council, Derek Perry described Hobbs as ‘brazen’ stating that he had “purported to market properties … to make himself look more successful.”
Mr Perry said: “It appears the defendant looked for impressive properties and put them on Rightmove to [make it] look like he was involved in such sales.”
This is not the first time as Trading Standards has brought charges against Hobbs. He has attracted their attention on five previous occasions and was convicted of harassment towards another estate agent, Sandy Lush, last year after which he received a restraining order. The court heard how a home owner contacted Hobbs about putting a property up for sale but decided against it. Hobbs put up ‘for sale’ boards at the property despite this, and even re-erected them when the owner took them down.
Hobbs was caught out when Ms Lush contacted the owners of the house which she had originally sold having seen it back on the market. The home owners were astonished, as they had no intention of selling up or moving house. After reporting Hobbs, the agent’s ‘for sale’ boards were put on graveyard gates in Millbrook, her office was put up for sale on social media, photos of her car were posted online and she was filmed during working hours. Her receptionist had been frightened at work by repeated banging on the window and other incidents of harassment were reported to the police.
The defence, Mr. Nicholas Lewin, said that Hobbs had ‘pushed a failing business too hard’ after amounting £80,000 worth of debt and filing for bankruptcy.
His Honour Simon Carr said he had done this “to gain a market advantage to make money”. He said: “You committed a series of fraudulent trading. You decided to commit active fraud to enhance your business. Furthermore you have deliberately attempted to hide your resources from the court.”
The costs that Hobbs must now face comprise five £2,500 fines plus a £10,000 contribution towards Cornwall Council’s legal fees. If Mr Hobbs fails to pay in full by 28th February he will face a custodial sentence.
Contact your local Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors registered Chartered Surveyor for an independent home survey, building survey or property valuation in Cornwall or elsewhere in England or Wales.