Misleading property listings in Northamptonshire
How to avoid being misled
There is nothing more unethical than a misleading property listing, this is not the norm, the vast majority of Estate Agents are very ethical and would never intentionally mislead the public, but it does happen. It is a sad fact, that most people spend more time looking at their next car, than their next home, with that in mind, if we add a misleading listing in to the mix, an agent exploiting an active property environment to rush prospective buyers, it is easy to see that this could be a recipe for disaster.
The Guidance for the UK
The Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 (known as the CPRs) are the Regulations that control descriptions used by estate agents and letting agents. They create criminal offences for traders that breach them. The Regulations prohibit ‘misleading actions’ and ‘misleading omissions’ that cause, or are likely to cause, the average consumer to take a transactional decision they would not have taken otherwise.
Care should be taken when using general descriptions relating to location, environment, photographs, measurements, parking and pricing. General disclaimers in small print, telling buyers not to rely on details, won’t be effective in preventing offences. This also applies to information provided on your website.
The CPRs prohibit misleading actions that cause, or are likely to cause, the average consumer to take a transactional decision they would not have taken otherwise. The definition of a ‘misleading action’ is very detailed (regulation 5 of the CPRs) but it essentially means providing false information or giving an overall presentation that deceives or is likely to deceive the consumer, even if the information is factually correct.
The CPRs also prohibit the omission of material information provided to consumers if that omission could cause the consumer to take a transactional decision they would not have taken otherwise. ‘Material information’ is defined as “information which the average consumer needs, according to the context, to take an informed transactional decision”. A ‘transactional decision’ is not just whether a consumer decides to purchase a property, but could include such things as whether to view a property in the first place.
The National Trading Standards Estate and Letting Agency Team (NTSELAT) has issued guidance on what information is considered to be ‘material’ and should be included on the UK’s major property listing portals from May 2022; there are plans for further requirements to come into operation in due course. Failure to include the specified information will be flagged on the listing and will link to advice for consumers on why that information is important and how it may be obtained. For full details regarding the information to be disclosed see Improving the Disclosure of Material information in Property Listings.
Things you say verbally about the property will be covered, as well as the printed word, photos, plans, models, websites, etc.
The CPRs do not prevent you from acting in vendors’ interests by presenting a property in the best light, as long as what you say, or do, does not mislead the purchaser or the vendor.
See ‘Consumer protection from unfair trading’ for further information on the CPRs.
The CPRs only cover descriptions used in the sale of property to consumers. However, similar provisions exist in the sale of commercial property by way of the Business Protection from Misleading Marketing Regulations 2008 (see ‘Business-to-business marketing’).
What are the most common offences?
- failure to disclose existing disputes with neighbours;
- suggesting that a property does not suffer from a flooding issue when it does;
- inaccurately maintained that the property does not suffer from Japanese knotweed when it does;
- stated that the boundaries are in one place or have not moved when in fact they are not or have been changed;
- suggested that the property does not suffer from damp when it does;
- explained something in relation to an existing tenant which is incorrect; and
- stated that there are no planning or other proposals nearby which could have an effect on the property.
… the list goes on.
Granted, many of these may well be down to the seller, not the agent, but there are many instances that obvious misrepresentation is either pre-meditated or due to ignorance, but that is not an excuse.
It’s all well and good to fall back on the law, if you discover something that was withheld or misrepresented after you buy, but who really wants to start their life in a new home with litigation?
What can you do to minimise the risk?
Research any property that you may be interested in, before you view. There is a lot of information online, check the address, maps, the location, check out the neighbourhood at different times, on different days. If the property is in a location which suffers from a parking problem at certain times, the agent may not book viewings at those times, or if there is a problem neighbour nearby, who keeps everyone awake at the weekends, you may never know, the only way to be sure is to check this out in person.
Take notes when you view, even if it is a voice recording on your phone so that you can remember what to ask, then compile a list of questions for the agent and ask them by email, not on the phone, to ensure that you have the replies in writing.
Do not be afraid to ask the obvious questions before you proceed.
- Is there, or has there been any evidence of Knotweed?
- Have you had any problems with any of the neighbours?
- Has the house ever been flooded?
- Have you ever had any boundary disputes?
The unscrupulous seller will hope that after you have committed to expensive survey fees, mortgage applications and legal fees, that you will either not become aware or not withdraw from the purchase, if anything comes to light, so save yourselves time and effort, as well as unnecessary costs and get the awkward questions out of the way first!