It seems hardly a week passes without an announcement appearing in the industry press that another small estate agency has been bought up by a corporate entity.
Whether that trend of consolidation will continue and whether the days of the independent agent are numbered, we will eventually find out.
But as the market share of the corporate entities inevitably increases, it may be that the smaller agents will begin to feel the pressure and perhaps understandably want to stake their claim in the local market and be out-going in their attempts to quell the threat to their ability to attract new clients and buyers.
Just lately I have seen one or two agents canvassing for new business by making remarks about their competitors, highlighting a perceived view that the particular corporate will not offer the same level of personal service and support.
Remarks have also been made by the independent agents that the corporate will inflate the asking price of the property to gain the business; and that the corporate does not understand the local market.
A word of caution here.
Agents will have heard a lot about the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations (CPRs) and the obligation to describe their services without misleading and without omission.
However, if one agent chooses to run down another agent (corporate or otherwise) they could fall foul of the Business Protection from Misleading Marketing Regulations 2008 (BPRs) which prohibit firms making unfair comparisons with competitors.
Any statements or advertisements that are issued must objectively compare like for like and does not ‘denigrate or discredit trademarks, trade names or other distinguishing activities of a competitor’.
It means that when an agent makes comparisons with another agent, the statements made have to be justified and supported.
So if you want to show yourself as the ‘busiest’ agent or the ‘leading’ agent in the area, you have to prove it. If you want to say you have a particular market share you have to able to prove it. If you want to claim that you have more web advertising than other agents you have to be able to justify that.
I can understand that smaller and independent agents will want to do all they can to protect their positions, and whilst it is possible that independents and corporates will never sit well together, a war of words in an uncontrolled way could lead to serious trouble and costly fines.
* Christopher Hamer is the former Property Ombudsman