Online agent declares war on rival Purplebricks as it runs spoof ‘commisery’ advert

An online agent has declared all-out war on Purplebricks – and is deploying controversial allAgents reviews in its weaponry.

Last night, however,  Purplebricks said that the claims made by Scottish House Move are both inaccurate and misleading.

The allAgents reviews shown on the Scottish House Move’s home page are the subject of legal dispute, with Purplebricks saying a high proportion are either fake or cannot be authenticated.

Scottish House Move’s home page also tells prospective customers: “Save up to £750 over Purplebricks.”

The page runs a video which closely mimics Purplebricks ‘commisery’ TV adverts.

It features a man and a woman sitting at a kitchen table discussing online estate agency prices, as a Scottish bagpiper enters the room.

When the man discovers he paid more than he might have done, he turns a shade of purple while the bagpiper drops an egg on him.

The advert ends: “Don’t go purple and get egg on your face.”

Unlike most online agents which claim to make savings against high street firms, Scottish House Move instead claims to make savings against Purplebricks.

It says that the £750 saving that can be made is based on taking Purplebricks’ additional services such as Home Reports which have to be carried out in Scotland, mortgage referrals and legal reports.

Charging an upfront fee of £595 or £895 upon sale, Scottish House Move highlights that it takes no commission on legal fees or Home Reports.

Claiming to be Scotland’s largest and top rated fixed fee agency, Scottish House Move also displays side by side allAgents ratings for both itself and Purplebricks.

Out of 349 ratings for itself, it says that 98% of reviewers would recommend it and that 99% are satisfied with its fees.

Out of 66 reviews of Purplebricks, it suggests that only 20% would recommend Purplebricks while 41% are satisfied with the fee.

The Scottish site also runs a section called “Truth about Purplebricks” which is headed “Ten things Purplebricks don’t want you to know”.

Last night, a spokesperson for Purplebricks told us: “The claims made are inaccurate and misleading.

“We have previously written to them requesting amendments but so far they have refused.

“However, as the largest estate agent in Scotland, with thousands of happy customers, we are winning in the area that matters.”

From the Scottish House Move website – displaying allAgents reviews side by side. The reviews of Purplebricks are largely disputed as fake or incapable of being authenticated


Expert advice: GDPR – just four letters but ones with huge implications for agents

The General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) will become law on May 25 this year, and will tighten up and increase the responsibilities on all businesses regarding their management and use of the data they hold.

As an estate agency business you will hold a large amount of data as “data controllers” on sellers, buyers, landlords, tenants, applicants for both sales and lettings.

Almost certainly, you will also hold a large amount of contact and other information on historic contacts – databases that you may have been “farming” for future business or keeping in contact with via electronic newsletters or similar.

Your data is probably held in a variety of guises and locations: CRM systems on networked desktops, laptops, tablets, smart phones; names, phone numbers and email addresses might also be in phone systems and mobile devices. It is possible that you use other database software for marketing purposes.

You will also have paper systems and archived filing. When one analyses and audits what you have, you will probably find it is quite extensive and widespread.

There are a number of key requirements in order to comply with GDPR:

One of these is to know what data you have and where it is held, and therefore an audit of your existing position is a key first step to complying.

GDPR places very strict requirements on business to provide the ability to consumers to have access or to have their data deleted. Obviously you can only do this if you know what you have and where it is!

You will also need a policy and process for dealing with such requests. You will also need to update existing privacy policies.

A general tenet of the GDPR is that data should only be held for the purpose that is was provided and for the length of time that is necessary to fulfil that purpose. Therefore businesses are required to comply with that approach.

It is also a requirement that consumers opt in to the provision of their data meaning that businesses cannot rely on consumers having to opt out.

An example is the use of online tick boxes to sign up for goods and services. These now need to be blank and not “pre filled” to show that a consumer took a positive step to sign up rather than simply forgetting to “opt out”

I would certainly be talking with my software providers to see what they have in place or are planning in order to help you comply. Some “joined up thinking” here will certainly help.

I would also, as a matter both of “farming” for new business and getting my data compliant, be undertaking a programme of speaking with everyone on my database and finishing the conversation by asking whether I can retain their data for specific future contact.

I would, ideally get this confirmed in black and white, but certainly be recording it in my CRM system.

Of course, there are many examples of where data needs to be held to comply with other legislation – anti money laundering compliance for example and clearly on-going client and customer relations.

The “legitimate interest” provision in the Regulations will apply in many instances and enable businesses to retain and use much data legitimately but getting more express consent is undoubtedly the way forward. Businesses should be using the coming weeks to contact their databases, clean up the information and get consent to retain it for the specific purposes you wish to use it for.

The new rules raise the requirements for security of data but you should already be meeting these. It does however become a requirement to report any breaches of data with significant potential fines for non-compliance.

There are various knock-on implications such as the passing of personal data to third parties such as contractors and those who act as “data processors”.

It would certainly be prudent to talk with your suppliers and ensure their processes are robust and to build required standards into any service level agreements, staff contracts of employment, terms of business etc.

There is currently a lot of noise surrounding GDPR and a plethora of companies offering (very expensive) audits of your business to help you comply. I actually believe most businesses will be able to cope with the changes internally but those changes certainly cannot be ignored.

They are not designed to stop you doing business but leaving your plans to the last minute could result in an inability to legally use data that you currently have and leave you open to falling short of requirements.

I am running some seminar sessions to explain requirements in more detail and offer some pragmatic approaches to compliance, including March 7 at Beaufort House in Chelsea.

Further information and booking details can be found here:

* Michael Day is managing director of consultancy Ingtegra Property Services. He has over 40 years in the property industry (he says he started when he was three!). He is a Chartered Surveyor and was the inaugural chairman of the RICS Residential Faculty. He is also a Fellow of the NAEA and has held partner and director positions at A C Frost, Prudential and Connells.

How confusing rules on Stamp Duty surcharge almost cost estate agent £14,000 on his own purchase

Rules on the 3% Stamp Duty surcharge are so confusing that even an experienced estate agent almost fell foul of them.

David Poole, a partner at Michael Poole estate and letting agents in Teesside, was buying a property with his wife Emma.

The couple were moving out of rented accommodation and it never crossed their minds that they would have to pay the surcharge. Poole had sold an earlier home over ten years previously.

However, they were told that because Emma owned two buy-to-let properties, they would have to pay an extra £14,160.

Poole, 35, said the first he knew that they would have to pay the surcharge was when his solicitor rang and told him.

He said: “I have worked in the property industry for 18 years and find it hard to believe how little information is available on the second-home charge.”

Poole, who has been an agent for 18 years, took other advice from solicitors and tax experts, and all said that the 3% surcharge was payable.

Even HMRC’s Stamp Duty calculator said the couple would be liable to pay the extra sum.

He and his wife ended up paying almost £28,000 in Stamp Duty, thankful that they had savings put aside.

However, he continued to believe that they should not have paid the surcharge and involved the Money section of the Sunday Times.

After two months of investigations, the Sunday Times established that Poole was right – there was no liability, because of a transitional rule.

If a buy-to-let owner sells their first main home before November 25, 2015 – when the surcharge came in – and completes on the purchase of a new main residence before November 26 this year, there is no 3% extra to pay.

HMRC has now accepted this is the case and the Pooles are due an exemption.

Commenting on the case to the Sunday Times, property buyer Henry Pryor said: “I’m sure there are people who have miscalculated their tax and not moved as a result of the mistake, as well as people who have paid too much tax on their purchase.”

Petition opposing lettings fee ban nears milestone of 10,000 signatures

The petition on the Government website opposing the impending fees ban has now reached almost 8,000 signatures.

Essex agent Rob Farrelly is behind the petition, which calls for a cap on fees rather than a ban.

If the petition attracts 10,000 signatures, then the Government has to respond.

Farrelly, of Friend & Farrelly Property Services, said he is disappointed that ARLA is not supporting the petition, which launched last month.

He told EYE that the industry body has “expressed no interest and stated that they are taking their own measures”.

He went on: “I believe we can hit the 10,000 milestone very soon. I would love to get a response from the Government, especially when the topic is so hot.”

Land Registry seeks views on cancelling leasehold management restrictions

The Land Registry is seeking views on the removal of leasehold restrictions such as the need for conveyancers to get a certificate of compliance from a management company or landlord when changing property details or checking if clauses have been followed.

The Conveyancing Association (CA) is working with the Land Registry to see how burdensome these restrictions in leaseholds can be.

Some leaseholds may have an entry or restriction, for example, that a management company or landlord must be informed of changes such as when someone purchases a property.

But conveyancers warn that management companies and landlords can charge high fees for a certificate of compliance to show they have been informed and often take a long time to respond or don’t at all, which can slow down and stop sales going through.

Instead, the CA is working with the Land Registry to promote a survey looking at the positives and negatives of these sorts of clauses.

The survey asks stakeholders such as conveyancers, lenders, landlords and management companies about whether these sorts of restrictions are necessary/desirable, the difficulties in receiving information, the issue of costs, and whether the Land Registry should cancel all restrictions until they are required by law.

It is believed cancelling restrictions could also be applied retrospectively as the Chief Land Registrar already has the powers to cancel superfluous restrictions.

The Land Registry is also seeking insight into the advantages or disadvantages that such restrictions give landlords and tenants and what Land Registry could change.

Beth Rudolf, director of delivery at The CA, said: “The CA welcomes this opportunity for its members and other stakeholders to input into HM Land Registry’s consultation on restrictions.

“Being at the coal face, conveyancers are ideally placed to provide the real life view on the impact of restrictions within the conveyancing process. We would urge our members and all conveyancers to respond to the survey and indeed to pass it on to their contacts and colleagues across the industry so that Land Registry has a clear picture.”

Mike Westcott Rudd, acting general counsel and deputy chief land registrar at the Land Registry, said: “In support of government policy to make conveyancing simpler, faster and cheaper, HM Land Registry is reviewing its policy on landlord/management company restrictions in relation to leaseholds.

“In October 2017, Land Registry held an event to explore whether stakeholders consider management company restrictions necessary or desirable.

“In collaboration with the CA, we are now inviting its members and all stakeholders to take part in this survey.”

The survey runs until February 6.

  • Separately, today the Court of Appeal is expected to rule on a case, Mundy v the Trustees of the Sloane Stanley Estate, where leaseholders claim they have been over-paying by up to 50% for lease extensions and freeholds. The outcome of the case could be critical in determining the value of over 2m homes in England and Wales with leases of under 80 years.

More than 700 Scottish lettings firms complete training ahead of mandatory licensing

More than 700 Scottish firms have now undergone the training required as part of a new register of letting agents.

The figures are revealed ahead of the introduction of a new letting agent code of practice, set to come into force on January 31.

Alongside the new code, letting agents (including those based outside Scotland who undertake work letting agency work there) and those working in property management, will need to join a new register of letting agents.

Applications for the register are set to open on January 31, although the website is not currently live.

Registration requires evidence that everyone in a lettings business who needs to has the relevant qualification covering essential aspects of letting agency work at Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework (SCQF) level six or above.

Two training programmes are acceptable in order for firms on the register to be properly qualified, one of which is provided by ARLA Propertymark, while the other is Landlord Accreditation Scotland’s (LAS) LETWELL programme.

ARLA Propertymark chief executive David Cox told EYE that 400 to 450 firms had now been trained under its programme, while LAS director Elspeth Boyle said 312 firms have been trained under LETWELL to date, equating to over 700 delegates.

“Two full rounds of the programme have already completed and two further rounds are taking place which will ensure that delegates are qualified ahead of the October 1 deadline for registration. Every round has been fully subscribed,” she said.

There is no definitive count for the total number of letting agents operating in Scotland, but it is estimated to be around 1,700.

Those firms that have employees who have achieved SCQF level six within the last three years are likely to meet the necessary requirements already.

To be fully compliant with the code, all letting agencies must also hold client money in a dedicated client account, belong to a Client Money Protection scheme and hold professional indemnity insurance.

Firms not on the register by October 1 this year could face fines of up to £50,000 and prison sentences of up to six months if they are caught carrying out letting agency work.

The fees for registration have recently been revealed. Companies with one office will have to pay £495, those with two or three offices will pay £595, and those with four or more offices will pay £700.

The impending changes have boosted membership of ARLA. Cox said: “Our membership in Scotland has risen by more than 25% over the last 12 months and I think that is largely because we have been providing packages to assist agents in complying with all the requirements.

“We are quite supportive of this and we think it is the best system of agent regulation that we have seen so far.

“The introduction of Rent Smart Wales was a bit of a disaster because it went over the top and was overly bureaucratic. This is much more sensible but they might have been a little bit overly administrative.

“We are talking about regulation in England as well now. Wales had the most difficult scheme because they were starting from scratch, Scotland has learned from Wales and what I am hoping is that England will learn from both Wales and Scotland and come up with a better version still.”

Communities Secretary Sajid Javid announced last October that letting agents across England will have to be registered under new legislation.

Private landlords are also to face regulation, with Javid announcing that they must all become members of a redress scheme – either in their own right or through a letting agent – which will offer dispute resolution.

Bad landlords and their properties are a stain on the market

While the vast majority of landlords provide properties which are safe, legal and secure, there is a minority that brings the sector into disrepute. That is why the Residential Landlords Association (RLA) is supporting Karen Buck MP’s Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation and Liability of Housing Standards) Bill.

Under current arrangements, where defects are found in a property, tenants in the private sector are required to notify their council who are responsible for investigating and enforcing regulations against landlords found to have breached the legally required standards.

The reality, as we are all aware, is that once a complaint is received it is a case of pot luck as to whether the council has the resources or the will to follow it up. RLA evidence shows that only about half of such complaints are even looked at by the local authority and so it is little wonder that many landlords are frustrated that they are often expected to pay high sums of money for licenses that lead to little clear action against the crooks.

We have also a perverse situation whereby councils will take action against landlords in the private sector while tenants living in sub-standard property owned by a council or housing association are unable to obtain the same rights. The English Housing Survey shows that, although marginal, a smaller proportion of social sector tenants are satisfied with their properties than tenants in the private sector.

Karen Buck MP’s Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation and Liability of Housing Standards) Bill helps to address this and it is one of a number of reasons why the RLA supports the legislation.

Firstly, the Bill does not place any new standards or regulatory burdens on landlords which they are not already legally obliged to meet under the Housing, Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS).

This does not end the pressing need for the HHSRS to be updated, with guidance especially needing to be updated to make it easier for everyone to understand.

In fact, the requirements to make a house fit for habitation were already in the law when the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 passed and they replicated rights first created in the Housing of the Working Classes Act 1885. They only ceased to be effective because a very low rental limit was placed on these obligations. This new Bill therefore resets the position to that which was originally intended.

Secondly, the Bill seeks to achieve what we all want, better enforcement of existing laws and regulations against the crooks. With poorly resourced councils not doing a proper job at the moment of enforcing the rules, good landlords are being undermined by the criminals who bring the sector into disrepute.

This Bill ensures parity in all rental markets, giving tenants in both the private and social rented sectors the opportunities to hold to account those landlords providing accommodation that is not up to scratch.

This is not a charter for spurious tenant complaints. Tenants would first need to raise their concerns with their landlord and provide sufficient time for the landlord to respond. Only after that could the tenant go to court, and even then the court would need to be satisfied that the concern raised by the tenant was genuine and that it was not related to a problem of their own making.

Alongside this Bill, the RLA believes it is vital that ministers develop the new housing court mentioned by the Sajid Javid in his conference speech in October, and called for in the RLA’s manifesto for the 2017 election.

This should be based on the work of the existing Property Tribunal, supporting landlords to more swiftly regain possession of a property where tenants are failing to pay their rent or are committing anti-social behaviour. Likewise, the housing court would provide an ideal route for tenants to enforce the rights they will have under this Bill.

The RLA continues to fight for landlords and this Bill does not change its forceful opposition to proposals from the Government and the Opposition which have the ridiculous effect of raising the costs of those good landlords we need to encourage whilst enabling the criminals to operate under the radar, evading scrutiny.

Karen Buck’s Bill is one part of changing the story from one that calls for ever more regulation towards one that calls for more intelligent regulation and better enforcement of what is already there. That should be welcomed.

Alan Ward is Chairman of the Residential Landlords Association and a landlord himself. The RLA tweets @RLA_News.

Agents with their very own period properties – more beautiful offices

Who doesn’t like a beautiful period property with a bit of history and heritage?

Some agents clearly have so much enthusiasm for them that rather than just selling them, they work in them too, as our continuing search for the most beautiful estate agent offices reveals.

First of all, Paul Lucas, operations manager at Butters John Bee, sent us an image of the firm’s 16th century, Grade II-listed office in the town of Nantwich, Cheshire.

“With the second largest collection of historic buildings in the county, Nantwich can trace its origins right back to Roman times and was even mentioned in the Domesday Book,” Paul explains.

Even in Nantwich, there can’t be all that many historic buildings with a bright yellow front door, though.

Meanwhile, Vicki Wright, partner at Henry Adams, which has 16 offices across Sussex, Surrey and Hampshire, sent us this image of its Storrington branch in West Sussex.

The Georgian building is well over 200 years old and was once thought to be the finest home in the village. The last private resident moved out in 1930 and the building entered a new phases as commercial premises, Vicki tells us.

Acquired by Douglas Ross, estate agents, the first-floor rooms were leased to solicitors and the gardens at the front turned into car parking. Henry Adams has been using it as an office for the last 20 years, and coincidentally, solicitors still operate upstairs.

We’ve already received plenty of examples of beautiful offices. Please keep them coming and we’ll continue to feature them on EYE.

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EYE NEWSFLASH: Ex-Foxtons man who founded proptech company steps aside

Proptech company Goodlord, which has raised £10m in funding, has announced a new person at its helm. He is William Reeve.

Its founder, former Foxtons negotiator Richard White was this morning described by the firm as “former CEO”.

Reeve  who has been involved in various board roles in UK tech successes such as Zoopla, Fletcher Research, Graze, LOVEFiLM, and Secret Escapes, is said to “bring a unique combination of experience in fast-growth technology, subscription services and the property industry”.

A statement this morning says: “As Goodlord continues its rapid growth, its founders Richard White and Tom Mundy agreed with the board that the time was right to bring in more experience to the senior management team.

“The firm has recently undergone a restructure, shifting focus from sales and marketing to the development of new features and automation of the platform.  This next phase will see exciting new products aimed at supporting agency growth, to be rolled out over the next course of the year.”

The news follows the disclosure, exclusively reported in EYE, that the firm has laid off almost 40 employees.

The statement also says that the existing investors have put more money into the firm.

Goodlord was founded in 2014.

Today’s statement says that Reeve will work closely with White and Mundy “to help the business develop its market-leading technology and support its letting agent clients to cut costs, improve their users’ experience and develop new revenue streams”.


Property drought drags on with ‘no sign of rush to market’

The New Year has opened without any sign of a rush to market.

The warning is from Rightmove, which today also said that the number of sales agreed fell 5.5% in the final quarter of last year compared with the same period in 2016.

It also said that stock per branch remains stubbornly low between December 3 and January 6, and that average new asking prices are now nearing £300,000 – at £297,587.

The property portal reported a 9% jump in traffic (over 4m visits per day) compared with a year ago.

Rightmove said buyers are price-sensitive despite the shortage of supply.

This is just as tight as it was last year, with the level of average overall stock per estate agency branch (including under offer and SSTC) between the start of December 2017 and the start of January 2018 static at 42 properties. Some 40% of properties on agents’ books have already been sold subject to contract.

Rightmove has this month updated the way in which it measures stock per agent and now calculates the average based on the number of properties an agent has on its site each day across the month, rather than the average of the total number of properties each agent advertised during the month. It also includes data for Scotland for the first time.

The average price of a property coming to market was up by 0.7% month on month to £297,587, which was similar to the 0.6% month-on-month rise during the same period a year ago.

London recorded a year-on-year fall in prices of 3.5% for the period to £600,296, with the number of newly-marketed property up 1.1%.

New asking prices in some regions were up by as much as 4-6%. Prices in the west midlands rose most, by  5.8% (making the average asking price £214,163), followed by the north-west at 5.5% where the average asking price now stands at £187,134 (see map below).

Properties suitable for first-time buyers have the greatest chance of sales success thanks to last autumn’s Stamp Duty cut, according to the portal.

The price of a first-time buyer’s typical target property of two bedrooms and fewer rose by 1.1% during the month to £188,024, ahead of second-stepper properties at 0.4% (rising to £266,380) and top-of-the-ladder homes at 0.8% (making the average asking price £519,852).

Rightmove director Miles Shipside said: “There is no sign so far of any rush to come to market and try to sell, with the number of new-to-the-market properties holding steady against the same period a year ago at around 63,000.

“With no increase in fresh supply, and an overall average of 40% of properties on agents’ books already sold subject to contract, would-be buyers in some sectors and locations of the UK are seeing less choice to tempt them, fuelling some localised price rises. While potential buyers are still busy looking, they are looking for good value and the right property.”

Offering an agent’s view of January so far, Chris Chapman, divisional managing director of estate agency at Andrews, said: “Our sales data so far this year suggests a strong return to house buying activity particularly evident across our network in Oxfordshire and the south-west, where buyers are showing significant interest in three- and four-bedroom family homes.

“Of course, the Chancellor’s recent announcement that Stamp Duty would be removed for first-time buyers of properties of up to £300,000, or on the first £300,000 of higher value properties up to £500,000, is the focus of much attention in terms of the impact that it’s having on the market.

“Whilst it hasn’t, in our experience, resulted in a huge spike of first-time buyers entering the market, it has certainly created increased interest from purchasers who had previously felt unable to take the first step on to the property ladder.”