Four Berkshire estate agents stand accused by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) of forming a ‘price fixing cartel’, exchanging information and fixing commission for their own financial gain. The Berkshire estate agents have branches across the county but have recently been found to be breaking competition laws and price fixing so that some home owners may have been denied the best deal for them.
The CMA claims that that four property agents participated in meetings to discuss commission and set minimum levels of fees for the sale of homes through their companies. It has been alleged that the scheme has been running since September 2008. The result of such price-fixing is detrimental to homeowners who are trying to get the best deal for selling their property, as it leaves them unable to shop around.
Selling your home can be a pricey business so it is important to shop around between local estate agents to get the best deal for you. However, if several agents conspire in this way the homeowner could be cheated out of getting the best price.
The findings are as yet provisional and a decision about whether the companies have breached competition law is yet to be decided officially and they will be allowed to respond to the CMA’s findings. The CMA will consider these responses before making a final decision.
Which companies are involved?
- Michael Hardy & Co (Wokingham) Ltd and Geocharbert UK Ltd, collectively known as Michael Hardy.
- Richard Worth Ltd (in administration) and Richard Worth Holdings Ltd, collectively known as Richard Worth.
- Prospect Estate Agency Ltd and Prospect Holdings of Reading, collectively known as Prospect.
- The Romans Group (UK) Ltd and Romans 1 Ltd, collectively known as Romans.
It must be noted that the company, Adelfas Property Group Ltd, which is currently trading as Richard Worth Estate and Land Agents is not one of the companies involved.
Some of the Berkshire estate agents involved have already commented on the findings. Colin Wells, founder of Prospect Estate Agency, said the matter was historic and had taken place ten years ago. He said his business “holds the customer very dear” and he was very disappointed by the CMA’s initial findings.
He said: “I am truly sorry my actions have been viewed in this way. This matter was over ten years ago and we now have incredibly stringent processes and procedures in place to ensure we operate with the highest levels of transparency and compliance.”
He also stated that in 2015, with the CMA’s guidance, the company introduced an Anti-Competition Policy which they have continued to this day.
Prospect did admit to some of its branches entering an agreement with the other parties to ‘not aggressively undercut each other’ during the hard times of the 2008 recession and the few years after this.
Romans’ chief executive has also commented on the findings stating, “In June 2017, senior directors of Romans became aware that, some years ago, a small number of Romans Residential Sales executives across a few branches had acted in a manner totally contrary to the standards and values of the company. We immediately alerted the Competition and Markets Authority about this matter and have assisted with the CMA’s subsequent investigation under its leniency programme.”
Romans also apologised that their ‘judgement and behaviour of these individuals did not meet the standards of behaviour expected by our people, our customers and our colleagues in the industry’.
The other parties refused to comment. However, all parties have until September this year to put their cases forward for the CMA to make a final decision.
If you’re buying older property, even if you aren’t planning on moving into a castle, a Chartered Surveyor will overlook the condition and structural elements of your new property to help you safeguard your investment.