Leeds-based agent Manning Stainton’s complaint regarding Housesimple has been rejected by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA). The estate agent argued that the small-print clauses in the T&Cs for Housesimple’s free service as advertised in July last year could be misleading.
Housesimple sells properties in the North of England free of charge and receives fees for providing financial and conveyancing services to buyers and sellers instead of charging commission.
Manning Stainton complained that the fee-free service was misleading because the T&Cs stated that charges could be applied for several reasons: once a property had been on the market for six months; if it took longer than usual to photograph due to size; required more than one For Sale board; or was in a remote area which would involve high travel costs.
The agent also objected to the fact that Housesimple’s advertising did not make it clear that the service is restricted to particular geographical areas, currently including the Northwest, Yorkshire and Nottingham.
Housesimple successfully defended the claim because at the time it did not sell homes outside the North of England. Therefore, it was not the case that it would charge customers outside the region a sales fee. Furthermore, the company’s website made it clear that it did not offer services nationwide but only in respect of particular postcodes.
Housesimple’s defence of the claim
Housesimple told the ASA that every property was marketed free of charge for an initial six months. A review would then be carried out and if the company considered it viable to work with the vendor, they would continue to market the property free of charge. The company added that they had never refused to carry on working with a vendor.
Furthermore, they had neither charged a client for marketing beyond the six-month period, nor refused to continue marketing after that time.
They also stated that while they reserved the right to charge for extensive photography, high travel costs and sale boards, no vendor had ever requested an additional board, and the conditions had been included as a precaution against unexpected expenses.
The ASA’s response
The ASA acknowledged that Manning Stainton had raised a complaint based on various provisions in Housesimple’s terms and conditions but accepted that the company had not enforced them.
The authority commented on the geographical restrictions, saying that the public would understand that they could not sell their homes free of charge in areas where the service was not available, and ruled that Housesimple was not in breach of advertising requirements.
Accordingly, Housesimple was informed that the complaint had been dismissed and they did not need to take any action.
In response, Sam Mitchell, CEO of Housesimple, commented that although it may be difficult to believe, the company really does sell property for free. His staff, he emphasized, are completely upfront with customers and the ASA ruling confirms this.
Increasingly, vendors are welcoming a new way of selling their homes for free instead of being charged excessively high fees, or even worse, upfront fees before they have sold. Housesimple, Mitchell concluded, is on a mission to turn the estate agency sector on its head by making buying and selling simple, transparent and free.