BREAKING – Cornwall partners with Virgin to launch satellites into space from Newquay. Great News for the Duchy!
This paragraph was edited today 12.7.2018 at the request of Trading Standards – After contact with Cornwall Trading Standards (CTS) office regarding an alleged breach of Consumer Protection Offences, they provided clarification against alleged offences and how they would investigate.
Following that request and previous conversations, I have taken the decision that my original blog and tweet remain published and reiterate that I voluntarily placed this matter in the hands of CTS some weeks ago.
My response to the ASA ruling is as follows:
“This is a bizarre decision by the ASA that:
- Undermines many of its own previous decisions and its own stated best practice* about objective substantiation.
- Severely undermines the data and reliability of ZPG PLC as a supplier of reliable commercial and publicly available housing market data**
- Fails to take account of evidenced cross-referenced data from HM Land Registry (HMLR) and ZPG PLC that evidence‘ data anomalies’ between what Purplebricks reported the status of a property to two different portals including properties marked and counted as sold in 2016/17 which are not showing as registered at HMLR
- Appears to suggest that any agent can claim a 100% list to sold ratio by claiming an infinite marketing period – I.e. the property may sell at sometime in the next few millennia, therefore, it is inaccurate to class that customer as having lost money if it hasn’t sold within what many might deem a reasonable period of marketing (a twelve or more month marketing period)
- May, if unchallenged, make all data-sourced referenced statements made by any journalist, business or campaign group etc. liable to a charge of being retrospectively labelled “misleading”. This appears to make any person making a statement in good faith based on referenced data in a blog or advertisement, vicariously liable if that data is later proved to be unreliable or flawed.
What is gratifying after almost a year of dealing with this case is that the data, having now been thoroughly cross-referenced, independently checked and passed on to trading standards officers shows that, in the postcode areas*** stated in my article, Purplebricks PLC have a listing to sold ratio of just 41% since they began trading in those areas, with 47% of properties marked (and cross-referenced) as genuinely withdrawn (no longer marketed anywhere Purplebricks have contractually committed to market customers homes). It is also clear that Purplebricks has either innocently, negligently, or deliberately listed and advertised some properties with different status’ to different data suppliers/ portals for purposes unknown. This information and all data has now been passed to Cornwall Trading Standards officers.
Whilst I need to make it very clear that these local area results may not reflect a true National picture, the 41% list to sold is far closer to Jefferies analysis of #PURP s’ National list to sold ratio of a coin toss chance of selling at 51%, and still a very long way away from the listing to sold ratio claim of 88% made by Mr Michael Bruce CEO in his BBC interview on Moneybox, the 91.4% list to sold ratio stated by Schillings, the PLCs’ libel lawyers**** in a cease and desist letter to me (reference attached) or, the in excess of 80% tweeted by Mr Kenny Bruce (Reference – see attached screengrab)
The ASA requires me to undertake to remove the article, with the sanction of reporting me to trading standards if I fail to comply. It is my understanding from the ASA and of normal practice that any complaint by the ASA will be passed to the advertisers local Trading Standards Team for investigation and, if appropriate, action. This ruling has come about in part due toZPG PLCs’ unreliable data. ZPG PLC have been contacted about this matter and further action may follow.
* Before distributing or submitting a marketing communication for publication, marketers must hold documentary evidence to prove claims that consumers are likely to regard as objective and that are capable of objective substantiation. The ASA may regard claims as misleading in the absence of adequate substantiation. (Reference https://www.asa.org.uk/type/non_broadcast/code_section/03.html )
**The ASA state that ZPG PLC informed the ASA that headings such as ‘withdrawn’ or ‘sold’, might not mean a property was withdrawn at all in some instances. Chris Wood states that, having cross-referenced the data with HM Land Registry, the EPC register and another independent data source, it is clear that the commercial data supplied by ZPG PLC was indeed unreliable, that ZPG PLC seemingly failed to undertake basic cross-referencing with open source government databases to validate their own data and, that, based on emails held by Chris Wood from the ASA, ZPG PLC were seemingly fully aware of this.
Extract of email to Chris Wood from the ASA with comment
“The Zoopla data
The Zoopla data does not reveal whether each property has been sold by PurpleBricks because Zoopla have said that “withdrawn” properties could include properties sold by PurpleBricks on their own website. While I appreciate you took the data at face value, your reliance on it does render the claims in your ads misleading because your claims assume that all properties cited as “withdrawn” have not been sold.
Interpretation of the claim on Twitter
We remain of the view that it cannot be guaranteed that properties which have not sold for ten months, may sell after those ten months. However, in any case, as we have set out in the Assessment, we cannot rely on the Jefferies Report as the figures do not relate to the period and region cited in the ad, and because we have not seen the source of the figure.”
[CW] A property marked as withdrawn from sale can reasonably be regarded as withdrawn from sale when another heading from the same data set is marked as ‘SOLD’. It is either sold, withdrawn, sold stc or, still for sale. These are the clear and unambiguous headings used by ZPG.
[CW] ZPG appear to admit that the status of a property has been reported differently on different websites.Further checking of that data revealed, in some instances that the property had not been sold at all – (not showing at HMLR after a year or more)
[CW] The ASA go on to imply in various emails, that any consumer must allow a property an infinite amount of time to sell before being able to claim they have not sold “instruct us to sell £1,199” This is unreasonable and undermines many agents claims, including PurpleBricks own published selling times claims. I am happy to test this matter with Trading Standards.
*** For postcode areas:
TR3 TR3 6 TR3 7
TR11 TR11 2 TR11 3 TR11 4 TR11 5 TR11 9
TR12 TR12 6 TR12 7
TR13 TR13 0 TR13 3 TR13 8 TR13 9
TR14 TR14 0 TR14 7 TR14 8 TR14 9
TR17 TR17 0
TR18 TR18 2 TR18 3 TR18 4 TR18 5 TR18 9
TR19 TR19 6 TR19 7
TR20 TR20 8 TR20 9
TR26 TR26 1 TR26 2 TR26 3 TR26 9
TR27 TR27 4 TR27 5 TR27 6 TR27 9
Date range 01/01/2014 – 04/05/2018 inclusive
NOTE: Purplebricks first instruction was
not registered in West Cornwall until 03/03/2015
In May, Mike DelPrete caused eyebrows to be raised in estate agency when he claimed that call-centre agents (incorrectly labelled online agents by some**), as a sector, had increased their market share of new listing to 7.1% from a previous (relatively) steady 5% or so for the past year or two. However, in his latest release, covered in Estate Agent Today, his research shows a 24% reversal in fortunes in the call-centre sectors share as a whole.
28/06/2018 EAT Today: “He (Mike DelPrete) also says that the total market share of the top five online agencies, based on new listings, is down to 5.4 per cent for May.”
08/05/2017 EAT Today: “Specifically, he (Mike DelPrete) says new listings market share for the online agents in the UK is up from 5.7 per cent in January to 7.1 per cent last month.”
At a glance, DelPretes’ data does not appear to take into account properties that have been multi-listed by some agents (portal juggled) but, nonetheless, demonstrates that the call-centre agency model is struggling to gain the massive, sustained growth in market share it has long promised as a sector.
There could be a number of factors at play in this dramatic drop much of which could be further bad publicity over the model and its chief players facing negative press from ASA rulings and consumer programs but predominantly on social media with Purplebricks, in particular, facing a daily barrage of complaints and abuse from unhappy customers which may be affecting other players in the sector by association.
*7.1% in May to 5.4% in June = 1.7 percentage point, a drop of 23.94% Source EAT as referenced in the article.
**It is incorrect to state that call-centre agents (those without high street offices) are online, as almost all estate agents are online’ with high street agents having been so in the main since the early 1990s’. A more accurate and less confusing description of the YOPAs’ eMoovs’ and Purplebricks brands then, is “call-centre”.
If you are selling your home with an estate agent who advertises with Rightmove, the chances are, you may receive a report like the one to the left here. (If you haven’t, it may be time to change agents)
These reports can be a useful tool for good agents to advise clients on property interest, identify problems and develop new marketing strategies if required.
Many agents, however, just send them out to clients with no explanation or follow up call to explain what each of these lines and number actually means. At PDQ, these charts, along with other useful information, gets fed back to all of our clients once every week when we make our weekly progress and review calls.
- “Does a drop in interest mean I’m less likely to sell?” – Not necessarily. The golden fortnight is the first two weeks of marketing will give a good indication of whether a home is likely to sell with your current marketing plan. However, as long as the ‘property views’ line is at or above the line for the ‘similar properties’ (homes like yours on with other agents on Rightmove) it suggests that your home has a certain something that makes it special. This may be price, good photographs, a good description or a combination of factors.
- “My home is below the line for branch average, does this mean the agent is doing a better job for other home-owners on their books?” If your home is below the branch average, it may just mean that the other properties are of a more popular/ sought after type than yours (e.g. there may be nothing wrong with your home but the agents other properties may have a real ‘wow’ factor that means more people click on them). However, it may also mean that a review of your properties photographs and description might be in order (e.g. did your home receive a Friday afternoon write-up, with the photos taken by the board man?).
- “My home is receiving incredible interest, way above average, but no one is viewing? I don’t understand!” A nice problem to have but it spells trouble. If a home is receiving lots of views but no one is booking viewings it almost always means one of two problems – The property is overpriced – the agent isn’t converting enquiries into viewings (possibly a combination of both of these issues). People usually have a written or mental ‘yes’, ‘no’ and ‘maybe’ pile when house hunting. If a property looks gorgeous but people aren’t booking viewings or asking for more information, it suggests that they are clicking through to look at the property (triggering the data spike on Rightmove) but then discarding the property into the no or maybe pile. Why? It looks great but, when they look at the property in more detail, there is a mismatch between how the property is described, its size, location and/ or its price. In blunt terms, it doesn’t represent value for money. However the problem may be that your agent is receiving email and phone enquiries but is failing to convert these to viewings, either because they are failing to contact the interested buyer back or, are somehow managing to put them off when they do call. If you suspect that your agent isn’t converting leads, you may wish to ask a good friend to secret shop the agent posing as a potential buyer using the Rightmove link and, also, a phone call to the office.
A good agent will always talk through issues or perceived problems with you honestly and should be like your best friend who tells you what you need to hear and not necessarily what you want to hear.
If the agent is at fault, a good one will own up, apologise and work to find a solution. If the problem is with the property or its pricing, they will work with you to find a solution that will help your home sell at the best price it is likely to in the current property market. Most homes that sell, find their buyer within the first couple of weeks. That is not to say that they all sell within that fortnight but that is when the peak activity is likely to be.
However, a lack of clarity leaves the door open for the regulators to continue to shirk their responsibilities and for companies who use the Gig economy to avoid paying tax, worker/ employee benefits and to compete with an unfair advantage against competitors.
Yesterday’s decision at The Supreme Court , whilst being inconclusive in some respects, may well be giving the head office team of Purplebricks PLC and those investors who don’t already hold a short position a few sleepless nights over the coming weeks. Why?
When reading the following, bear in mind that National Trading Standards Estate Agency Teams‘formal position on Purplebricks LPEs’ are that LPEs’ are employed (this is contrary to The Property Ombudsmans’ position who regard LPEs’ as self-employed and to that of HMRC and the FCA).
If you are one of the many Purplebricks “local property experts” (LPEs’) who read my blog (or one of the even larger number of former LPEs’) you may be wondering why, having been sold the idea that you would be earning in excess of £60,000, that so very few do earn anything like that amount according to Companies House.
You may also wonder why, having paid for your own fuel, professional expenses, licenses, insurance etc, that you can’t afford to take time off ill or on holiday. Of course, if you are a worker and not a franchisee, you would be entitled to maternity pay, sickness and holiday pay and, salary at the level you were promised or, at very least, payment at the national minimum wage for all of the hours you’ve worked commission free.
Those LPEs’ who lost their territory or, had to give part of it up to another LPE due to failing to hit targets, whether possibly being classed as a ‘worker’ by this case, means they might now be able to sue the company for unfair dismissal.
Apart from the VAT, data protection, working time directive, national minimum wage and a multitude of workers rights issues NTSEAT also have to now make it clear why, if the LPEs’ are employed as NTSEAT are adamant they are, are NTSEAT facilitating a major PLC to allow it to trade without its employees paying appropriate NI or income tax. Which, if correct, would be a) illegal and b) trading unfairly and within their remit for action.
Investors in and law-abiding competitors of Purplebricks PLC may also draw their own conclusions and seek to make further enquiries, take appropriate positions and, consider discussing this case with their local Trading Standards Office.
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