End of the deception: Whistle-blowers ensure portal juggling scandal gets zero tolerance

In what is one of the biggest industry scandals to date, thousands of properties have been ‘juggled’ on the portals.

Evidence suggests that somewhere between 200 and 250 properties were ‘juggled’ each month, re-listed at the rate of five per day, and 100 in the two-day period covering the first and last day of every month. Some were ‘juggled’ more than once, with at least two properties being listed no fewer than eight times.

Critics are still asking questions,  including whether the portals should have done more and could still have a job to do here.

Until yesterday,  when the Ombudsman spoke out, not everyone even accepted the term ‘juggle’, but at least it conveyed ‘trickery’: the constant re-listing of properties as though they were new on the market.

One thing is for sure – the very many honest agents who would never entertain such a practice are much in debt to the industry’s own whistle blowers.

Yesterday, as we reported, TPO is changing its Codes in view of portal juggling. The regulator, NTSEAT, last month drew a line in the sand by describing portal juggling as fraudulent.

But why juggle?  Consumers were led to believe that these properties were new to the market.

In fact, some of these properties had repeatedly refused to sell and, presumably, not only needed a ‘boost’ but also inflated the property stocks and market share of some agents in an era of low inventory.

Now, with both the industry regulator NTSEAT and the major redress scheme TPO clamping down, it looks as though portal juggling will have nowhere to go.

But who are these heroes who have uncovered such a scandal, and brought it to heel, and who must be thanked?

We would like to highlight (with apologies for any omissions, which we will put right) the following heroes of our industry:

  • Ben Cade of Lovelles in Scunthorpe who discovered the practice in July 2015
  • James Monro, of NTSEAT, newish regulator of the agency sector and who has proved without doubt, and earning respect, that he has teeth that will bite. He listened, looked at the evidence, took it seriously – and acted
  • PeeBee – who spent long hours into the night investigating juggling and providing the proof
  • Chris Wood, who constantly asked the questions
  • Robert May who also provided the IT proof
  • Eric Walker, another consistent campaigner, and instrumental in the changes to the TPO Code
  • Gerry Fitzjohn – the man behind yesterday’s TPO announcement
  • Mark Hayward, of the NAEA, who has condemned the practice
  • Propcision, which spotted portal juggling on new developments in London, that caught the  broadsheets’ attention
  • Henry Pryor, who spoke out and provided commentary to the national media

This scandal does have some way to go. We will attempt to keep covering it.

We also hope for more national press coverage.

And we also hope that our heroes will be recognised in at least some of the upcoming industry awards.

 

 

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21 Comments

  1. Simon Bradbury

    Great work P.I.E. and all of the campaigners named above. We salute you!

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    1. RealAgent

      Agree wholeheartedly.

      The spotlight now I feel should be turned on the portals responsibility here.

      Why was it they knew this was going on and did nothing about it?

      Why when it was brought to their attention did they say they had departments dealing with it and yet not one single agent to my knowledge was stopped from advertising?

      Finally how ashamed are they that the Ombudsman has effectively said they were unable to police their own business and had to step in.?

       

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      1. Chri Wood

        Rightmove and, to a lesser extent, Zoopla, need to hang their heads in shame. You are not alone in hoping that they will face a full and thorough investigation.

        The Ombudsman scheme has a strict and limited mandate for action so cannot bring prosecutions.

        NTSEAT and local TSOs’ now need every law-abiding agents help by reporting incidents of suspected juggling by agents and on the portals (with evidence) to them (don’t bother with the ASA).

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        1. PeeBee

          On the TSO front it needs mentioned that large companies, Call-Centre Agents etc will have one Local Authority Trading Standards area dealing with any location in the UK.

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    2. AndrewOverman

      Agree wholeheartedly Simon. A great effort from all above to rid the industry of deceit.

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  2. Eric Walker

    I wish to add that whilst this practice was tricking consumers, there was resultant inflation of market share which makes a firm look as if its doing better than it actually is. This could potentially fool investors and if so, would become a very serious offence indeed.

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    1. Robert May

      There are a couple of broadsheet  newspaper journalists who’ve been monitoring our progress, I would hope they now have the courage to question  in detail claims about listing volumes and the well orchestrated system of  taking  cash from crowd funding and  AIM investments in firms that have used portaljuggling to manipulate their performance statistics.

       

      I was asked  yesterday what’s next?    The dissemination of misinformation to those with a  full or partial stake in corporeal hereditaments (that should keep EAmoan happy till I think of a snappier name)

       

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    2. Chri Wood

      As you and I have discussed before Eric, fraud and obtaining money by deception, especially for PLCs’ needs serious attention and prosecution

       

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  3. El Burro

    The problem with TPOS is that they’re only interested in complaints from the public (that’s another discussion) and I can’t see why they’d bother to report it. We know it’s about distorting market share statistics and showing it’s a new property but would a buyer see it making any difference to them and reporting it?

    We are the ones that daily see all sorts of disgraceful anti-consumer behaviour, not just portal juggling.

    On a big plus point, I’d strongly recommend anyone who has evidence of this, and let’s be honest it’s not difficult to get, reports it direct to NTSEAT.

    We’re so used to such organisations as this being dysfunctional and ineffective but I’ve reported several examples, had a personal email response in no time at all (ie hours) and then shortly after a personal phone call with what action they were taking.

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    1. Eric Walker

      “The problem with TPOS is that they’re only interested in complaints from the public” 

      This is true, however there is a more salient point. TPOS making a stand and identifying this practice as wrongdoing gives the authorities a basis upon which they can support such a stance. TPOS is independent and approved by Government and it would be a brave trading standards officer who reviewed a complaint and disagreed.

       

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      1. El Burro

        I agree and I’m pleased TPOS is making a stand but the point I was making is that sadly I don’t see the public making a complaint in the first place.

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  4. AgentV

    Congratulations everyone and a big thank you for your efforts. I think you can see a lot of the historic evidence on some ‘Best Price Guides’ which often show the same property being listed several times over in a continuous space of time.

     

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  5. PeeBee

    From all those involved I would like to also say a mahoosive “THANK YOU” to Ros and the team at PropertyIndustryEye for their extensive coverage of the issue.

    It has been a ‘difficult’ subject to report on and clearly demonstrates supreme commitment to the industry.

    Without the support of EYE we may well have crashed and burned at take-off.  At very best we wouldn’t be where we are today.

    Gracias.  Merci beaucoup. Danke. Ta.

     

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  6. Property Paddy

    Question: so when will the culprits actually stop?

    Any evidence they have or have not? Will they lie low for a while and then 6 weeks later start all over again?

    Vigilance !

    p.s. Blinking well done too all mentioned in this post.

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    1. PeeBee

      “Question: so when will the culprits actually stop?”

      Not today – that’s already been established!

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  7. Trevor Mealham

    @Robert. Could a IT alert be set up to highlight listings being juggled?

    How would you define between a property being re added following a stc collapsing. Over a take off and re mkt

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    1. Robert May

      We can do things RM claim they can’t,  the auto-detection  was built 6 months ago,  it shows  suspicious activity within  2 minutes. Those properties can be manually checked but there are 8 identified ways of juggling, some are innocent some are deliberate. The ones that go through a status change  to STC are noted but  it’s only when they have gone through the cycle 2 or 3 times   are they flagged  for investigation.

      Now TPO have ruled against portaljuggling  we will be  providing  the facility  to have a   dashboard report of all juggling in our client’s area with a means to report through to TPO. That said we have  noticed some background changes that seems to  ‘flash mob’ disguise  listings. overcoming that is just another challenge.

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  8. Woodentop

    Well done chaps a long time coming for someone to listen. Ironic that those same organisation only now recognise the problem and refused to listen to the industry that has been trying to tell them for years …. “they only listen to the public when it is a complaint” is not fit for purpose. Regulators also need to take a long hard look in the mirror with their own behaviour. It is now time for them to step up and protect the public properly, not turn a blind eye with excuse after excuse.

     

    It is also about time the ASA was abandoned and enforcement action taken against web sites and agents for neglect/fraud. The OFT in early 1990’s made it an offence under Estate Agency practice orders, to mislead an instruction as new on the market. So the idea isn’t new, just forgotten!

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  9. bencade

    Well done everyone for following through on this.

    Special thanks to PeeBee, Robert and Coding Dobby who have sacrificed a lot of time to fight this cause. A win for honest agents in this agency world is huge!

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