War of the words: Be careful about disparaging a competitor, warns ex-Ombudsman

It seems hardly a week passes without an announcement appearing in the industry press that another small estate agency has been bought up by a corporate entity.

Whether that trend of consolidation will continue and whether the days of the independent agent are numbered, we will eventually find out.

But as the market share of the corporate entities inevitably increases, it may be that the smaller agents will begin to feel the pressure and perhaps understandably want to stake their claim in the local market and be out-going in their attempts to quell the threat to their ability to attract new clients and buyers.

Just lately I have seen one or two agents canvassing for new business by making remarks about their competitors, highlighting a perceived view that the particular corporate will not offer the same level of personal service and support.

Remarks have also been made by the independent agents that the corporate will inflate the asking price of the property to gain the business; and that the corporate does not understand the local market.

A word of caution here.

Agents will have heard a lot about the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations (CPRs) and the obligation to describe their services without misleading and without omission.

However, if one agent chooses to run down another agent (corporate or otherwise) they could fall foul of the Business Protection from Misleading Marketing Regulations 2008 (BPRs) which prohibit firms making unfair comparisons with competitors.

Any statements or advertisements that are issued must objectively compare like for like and does not ‘denigrate or discredit trademarks, trade names or other distinguishing activities of a competitor’.

It means that when an agent makes comparisons with another agent, the statements made have to be justified and supported.

So if you want to show yourself as the ‘busiest’ agent or the ‘leading’ agent in the area, you have to prove it. If you want to say you have a particular market share you have to able to prove it. If you want to claim that you have more web advertising than other agents you have to be able to justify that.

I can understand that smaller and independent agents will want to do all they can to protect their positions, and whilst it is possible that independents and corporates will never sit well together, a war of words in an uncontrolled way could lead to serious trouble and costly fines.

* Christopher Hamer is the former Property Ombudsman

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7 Comments

  1. Chri Wood

    Fine and worthy words but, sadly, no one seems willing or able to police the rules. NTSEAT appear now to be taking their role seriously with News promised of action after Easter against illegality but, they are late to the game and will be judged by their actions.

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  2. RedRooster

    Fair, but ultimately pointless words.
    Every time we’ve tried to report a competitor, whether it’s for lying in their advertising, or blatantly breaking laws in their dealings with vendors and buyers, the response is always the same – complaints can only be filed by a vendor/buyer/member of the public.
    When the systems – Ombudsman and Trading Standards – change to allow businesses to file a complaint then progress will be made.
    Christopher Hamer, whilst bravely vocal now (isn’t everyone once they’ve stepped down), allowed this situation to prevail when he was actually in a position to do something about it.

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    1. smile please

      Christopher Hamer, whilst bravely vocal now (isn’t everyone once they’ve stepped down), allowed this situation to prevail when he was actually in a position to do something about it.

      Comment of the week?

      – All of these ex CEO’s, Presidents, M.D’s – coming out and actually saying how it is. Shame they do not do it when they are in a position to make a difference.

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  3. AgencyInsider

    Trouble is, RedRooster, any Ombudsman is constrained by their position and the rules under which they have to work. I’d be pretty sure there is a lot Hamer will say in time that he wasn’t able to say when in post.

     

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    1. RedRooster

      Having spoken to Hamer and his staff when he was in the role, it was made perfectly clear that he and his team had no appetite for changing this.

      If you’re not going to highlight issues and push for change when you’re in a position of power then please don’t insult us my doing so when you’re no longer in that position.  I have no time for civil servants, industry body heads, etc. who do this because they don’t wish to rock the boat (risk their job and pension, perhaps?).

      The trouble is, the older I get the more I see this predictable and irritating pattern of behaviour.

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    2. Woodentop

      The remit of the PO was flawed from the very beginning. The issue of an agent being able to bring to the PO attention of transgression (effectively doing the policing and more hands on than anyone else can) let the consumer and the whole system of protection down which is what the PO is supposed to be all about. Yes the public can complain, if they realise the agent is doing something wrong, but when they don’t or don’t want to get involved, we are told   ….. “sorry we can’t doing anything about it, you can’t tell us things are being done wrong!!!!!!!!!”

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  4. Robert May

    I’m confused by this article, the corporate market share  isn’t getting much bigger than it was 30 years ago and I have to say the warning/advice seems a little biased.

    Long before  anyone even begins to look at whatever any independent chooses to claim about their corporate or national competitors there is an absolute mountain of open breaches of CPR for regulators to cast a dismissive, underfunded, eye over.

    Independent agency tends to be self regulating; the good survive, the bad don’t; there is no corporate pot of cash simply paying wages irrespective of performance or adherence to regulations.  The latest  disruption to the industry isn’t even confined to corporate responsibility or performance obligation. Using investors cash like an un-befitting beneficiary  it seems all sense of honesty and decency is abandoned, regulations flouted and there is simply no-one  to police a blessed thing.

    Whilst the sentiment of the article has to be acknowledged  independent agents might as well play the  game as robustly as  those who are not constrained by  basic integrity or honesty.

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