Property sales businesses: latest guidance on unfair trading regulations

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We highlight some of the practical steps for compliance with unfair trading and misleading marketing regulations outlined by the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) in its September 2012 guidance, aimed at estate agents and others involved in property sales.

In September 2012, the OFT published guidance for property sales businesses on compliance with the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 (CPRs) and the Business Protection from Misleading Marketing Regulations 2008 (BPRs).

The CPRs and BPRs prohibit property sales businesses from acting unfairly or so as to be misleading to UK-based consumers and business customers.

Breaches of the regulations can lead to criminal, as well as civil, proceedings. The guidance is intended to help those in the industry understand their obligations and provides examples of conduct which may fall foul of the CPRs and BPRs, as well as suggestions on how to operate inside the law.

Some noteworthy practical steps which the guidance advocates to property sales businesses are: 

  • Regularly review processes and training to ensure (and demonstrate) that they follow diligent professional practice to minimise the risk of errors
  • Take reasonable steps to check the accuracy of facts used in advertising and keep up with Advertising Standards Agency and ombudsman findings 
  • If hosting a platform for direct sales, provide sellers with information templates that are comprehensive enough to capture all information likely to be relevant to prospective buyers 
  • Make enquiries about matters observed when assessing properties. The guidance mentions occupiers, planning notices displayed nearby, flooding evidence and footpaths on the property. It is also recommended that the businesses highlight notable local features and any unusual lease or title obligations known of 
  • Not only to have the seller check and confirm particulars at the outset but also at regular subsequent intervals 
  • Check that all flags applied by portals or sub-agents eg, “new instructions” are appropriately used 
  • When relevant, make it clear to buyers that there has not been an inspection of a property. They should be open about any knowledge gaps 
  • Establish why sales fall through, assess new information and, as necessary, amend disclosures and discuss with the seller 
  • Avoid dissuading consumers from having a survey in order to hasten a sale
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