The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has said it may consider complaints about ‘misleading SSTC listings’ on portals but suggests it may be more of an issue for Trading Standards or the Property Ombudsman.
The agency sector has been considering warnings by prominent legal expert David Smith, of JMW Solicitors this week after he claimed that leaving “sold subject to contract” listings on portals could be illegal.
He suggests this practice could go against Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 (CPRs) that warn against misleading actions and those that distort consumer behaviour.
Estate Agent Today has been trying to clarify if this is something industry regulators and groups are concerned about.
One regulator, The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has a remit to investigate complaints about misleading marketing and posts from firms such as estate agents.
An ASA spokesman told Estate Agent Today: “This is not an issue we’ve recently received complaints on, but if we were to, we’d of course assess the website posts in question.
“We’re unable to say if the posts would fall under our remit without first formally assessing them, but from a general point of view, it seems as though this may be an issue which extends beyond advertising and which Trading Standards may be likely to look into if the CPRs are indeed consistently being broken.
“We’re happy to look into and encourage people to submit complaints to us if they believe they’ve seen false advertising on property listing websites, but informally I’d say that this is an issue that goes beyond advertising and is more suited to be dealt with by Trading Standards or a relevant Property Ombudsman.”
Nathan Emerson, chief executive of Propertymark, said there are cases where it makes sense to leave a property on a portal.
He says: “The legal interpretation of continuing to actively market a property that is sold subject to contract is narrow in the context of how property transactions happen on a day-to-day basis, and the requirements of property professionals to protect the best interests of their clients.
“Around 30% of transactions fall through so it is up to an agent to advise their client on whether the property should continue to be marketed even if they have accepted an offer.
“That judgement will reflect the individual circumstances of the buyer based on all the information available to them.
“In the case of a repossession, for example, a bank has a duty to sell for the highest price to reduce any further liability to their customer, so would require the property to remain on the market and fully open for viewings and offers until contracts are exchanged.
“Agents do, however, have a duty to accurately display the current status of a property on all marketing channels to avoid leaving them open to a complaint.”
James Munro, senior manager of the National Trading Standards Estate and Letting Agency Teams, waded into the debate yesterday.
He told Estate Agent Today: “A property remains for sale and open to offers until exchange of contracts - unless the seller agrees, or has previously agreed, that the marketing should cease and the property be withdrawn from sale.
"Agents are under a duty to continue passing on offers until they have instructions in writing from the seller to the contrary.
"In an ideal world the agent should update the listing when a property goes to SSTC and instructions are received from their client to state that no further offers are being accepted on the property.
“Being open and transparent about the process is essential for agents to maintain the trust of their clients and customers.
"A failure to update property listings can lead to frustration on both sides, wastes time through unnecessary enquiries, and can put agents at risk of ombudsman complaints or enforcement action.”
National Trading Standards has published guidance on the use of terms in property listings that you can download from its website.