Vendors who do their own viewings should be put on their guard that they do not mislead potential purchasers.
If they do, they could face action by Trading Standards, or private litigation.
Under Consumer Protection Regulations (CPRs), the agent may also be liable if it turned out that the property marketing information was also misleading.
The same advice applies to letting agents whose landlords conduct viewings.
Eye wanted to know if, under CPRs, the agent could be culpable if the owner of the property were to lie or omit – whether accidentally or deliberately – to mention something about the property while conducting a viewing.
According to the Property Ombudsman, the answer is that the vendor or landlord conducting the viewings is responsible – but the agent could share liability if the property particulars are misleading.
We also wondered about the role of online agents, given that so many are remote operators and cut prices on the basis that sellers and landlords do their own viewings.
Would owner and agent share legal responsibility if something about the property is not disclosed during a viewing?
If the buyer or tenant goes ahead with a transaction based on false or with-held information, would they have a case against the property owner, the agent or both? And what about redress?
Eye asked TPO for an opinion.
This is what Christopher Hamer told us: “Under the CPRs it is the agent’s responsibility to fully and truthfully describe the property.
“They do that based on the information given to them by the seller and their own assessment.
“If the seller does not tell the agent about something or misdescribes something knowingly or accidentally, the agent can claim a defence under Regulation 16 to any action taken against him/her PROVIDED that agent had no reason to doubt what they were being told or that they were not on notice that things were not quite what they seemed.
“Under that same Regulation the action could then be taken against the seller, such action being by Trading Standards or perhaps by civil action by the buyer.
“None of the redress schemes can consider disputes between buyer and seller, so court action is probably the only route for resolution.
“As regards vendor-conducted viewings, the agent should make clear at the outset whether or not that is the agreed approach, but in any case, the property description should be settled at that point in accordance with what I have said above and in accordance with the CPRs.
“Whether or not the agent chooses to give some general advice about how to conduct the viewings, as the agent has given full disclosure of property aspects, anything that the seller does or does not say at the viewing is his or her responsibility.
“Online agents could be conducting a full estate agency function or simply be passive intermediaries.
“Depending on the role they take, the same issues can apply, although for passives, even though they look and smell like an estate agent, the law allows them not to be so strictly liable under the CPRs.