Mystery shrouds the situation regarding House Network, the UK’s first online estate agency, just two weeks after it was bought out of administration by a company called Universal Acquisitions Ltd (UAL).
UAL is owned by a single shareholder, 43-year-old construction drilling entrepreneur Marc ‘Ziggy’ Seagroatt.
Incorporated in 2003, House Network blamed its demise on a ‘dramatic’ increase in costs in gaining instructions. It saw losses of £3.1 million in the tax year to 28 February 2017.
UAL bought out House Network when it went into administration at the end of March. At the time a statement was issued by the company that read:
‘A dramatic increase in the cost of acquisition led to financial difficulties forcing the firm into administration. We are delighted we have been able to very quickly get the firm operational again so it can continue to offer the quality of services it is known for.
‘We are not coming into this blind with grand plans to disrupt an industry overnight,’ says UAL. ‘We are realistic about the online estate agency sector and, for example, do not believe it will have a 25% market share in the next 12 months.
‘However, we do see areas of growth and expansion which can be achieved by stabilising the business and providing the excellent staff at House Network with the products they need to excel.’
However, despite the bullish statement just weeks ago, UAL has since gone on to lay off staff and request the return of all company equipment.
Telephones are no longer being answered, and staff have confirmed that they have lost their jobs. The House Network website, however, with its five-star TrustPilot reviews remains active.
What sellers can do
As with many online agencies, vendors typically pay the marketing fee up front, with many sellers now being left out of pocket.
UAL have confirmed that any fees paid during their brief ownership of the business have been refunded, but has advised that anyone who paid a marketing fee prior to 29 March 2019 (when they acquired the business) must contact the administrators.
While UAL did not name the administrators, the original administrators were named as Hudson Weir. Neither company has confirmed if it is the current administrator, or provided any contact details.
A possible lifeline for sellers?
Meanwhile, online estate agency Emoov, which itself was bought out of administration in January, has offered House Network customers who paid their fees upfront and who have not yet sold their property the opportunity to list their property on their website for free.
Customers have until May 31 to take up the offer.
For those further along the selling process
For those who have already exchanged contracts on their properties but not completed, their conveyancer will complete the process as normal, and ensure that everyone knows where to deliver or collect keys. They should be unaffected.
If a sale has been agreed but contracts have not yet been exchanged, then the sale can proceed as normal, but without the estate agent acting as an intermediary.
This will require direct communication between vendors and sellers. If there are any concerns, your conveyancer can check the chain.