Response to todays’ ASA ruling

Response to the ASA ruling on my blog from 2014.

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of just 41% since they began trading in those areas, with 47% of properties marked (and cross-referenced) as genuinely withdrawn (no longer marketed anywhere Purplebricks have contractually committed to market customers homes).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 )

**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                                       

Call-centre estate agents national market share falls by 24% in the month*

Simon Pegg tele sales call centre.gif

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”.

Does your agent knows the AIDA principle?

better at attracting views rightmove

From 10% – 1,173% more interest with PDQ than other similar listings

If you are selling a property, it’s key that you present your home in a way that will help it sell and, that your agent then knows how to present it to potential buyers that will find a buyer at a great price in the shortest possible time (before it goes stale on the market). This is where the AIDA principle comes in.
ATTENTION – The property must be advertised and presented in a way that catches a potential buyers attention
INTEREST – Having caught the attention of a potential buyer, their interest must be piqued as to potential buyer benefits and how the property and its features might fit with their needs, desires and aspirational lifestyle.
DESIRE – The potential buyer develops a positive emotional interest in the property.
ACTION – The potential buyers forms a purchase intention, compares with other similar properties, potentially books a viewing and, ultimately, makes a purchase.
Every property will sell if it is presented well and priced commensurate with the market and any special buyers*
*A special buyer is one that might pay above what the market might be expected to stand due to a non-market-related need, often personal or, financial (such as a ransom strip etc.)
As can be seen from the attached graphic, taken today from Rightmove, all of our clients’ homes are achieving a minimum of 10% more interest on Rightmove than similar properties advertised with our competitors.
“Where your home is number one not one of a number”
01326 561561 | 01736 339143

3 Things your agent might not be telling you about your Rightmove(tm) report.


Rightmove admin report.png

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.

  1. “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.
  2. “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?).
  3. “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.

See also:

Pimlico plumbing case could create a flood of claims for Purplebricks

laurel and hardy water gif

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.

Supporting our investigations into questionable or misleading claims

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29 Years an agent

new logo banner FB header 2

29 years ago today, I stepped through the door of Jose Collins in Penzance on my first day as an estate agent.Che Chris
Always a bit of a rebel, I never really fitted into the corporate (or independent) ‘stack em high sell them at any price’ world so I’ve always tried to innovate to ensure my customers received the best service, the best advice and the best (useful) technology to help them sell or let their property at the best price, in the shortest time with the least stress.
In that time, I’m proud to have been an early adopter or UK innovator of such items as obtaining degree equivalent qualifications in estate agency and producing floor plans on property details in the late 80s’, the Plain English Campaigns’ ‘honesty and transparency’ mark and, more latterly, immersive 3D walkthrough tours.
honesty and clarity mark plain english
In 2001, I went solo and started PDQ with our core ethos being that it should be a business where the client was number one, not just one of a number. Put simply, we’d rather do a great job of selling YOUR home than an ‘ok’ job of selling ten others. This was recognised by The Telegraph when they described as “one of the best small estate agents in the UK” and we’ve won a number of other awards over the years too.
During my time with the NAEA (National Association of Estate Agents) I, along with many other agents across the UK, worked hard to ensure consumers received higher standards of care and qualification from their agents and ended up as a Director and President-elect of the National Association, as well as an inaugural member of the Property Standards Board with Lady Diane Hayter.Britain s best small estate agents   Telegraph 800 pixels W.png
More latterly, along with a few other estate agency ‘rebels’, I’ve worked to expose portal juggling and consumer fraud and am now working regularly with the BBC, Which(tm) and broadsheet financial journalists to expose what appears to be serious wrongdoing in estate agency by a number of companies across the UK.
It’s a bit old-fashioned but I believe in weekly customer contact, high quality photography and 3D imagery, accompanying all viewings, straight talking honest advice (we won’t flatter you with an unachievable figure just to secure your business and tie you into a long contract) and feedback within one working day, even if there is little or no news. We won’t leave you sat in the dark wondering what’s going on.
A HUGE thank you to all my customers and clients over the years. With very exceptions, you’ve all been wonderful people to help and work with during a stressful life event whilst having to move home too and I hope you’ve enjoyed the experience and that my team and I made the process at least a little better than you were expecting/ hoping.
Chris Wood
PDQ Estates Ltd
01326 561561

Are Purplebricks set to repay millions?

Laurel and hardy sad gif

Related posts Purplebricks – and the case of the regulators who won’t. Is my agent, local, an expert or even legal?! How do I check? Attempted intimidation by a PLC or fair comment? Purplebricks – What is really going on? Portal juggling – What is it, and why you should care

17/08/2018 – UPDATE: A well-placed Purplebricks*  insider has claimed that after a year of announcing to the stock market that they were partnering with respected review site Feefo the company has received less than 500 verified reviews from customers who have sold (completed). It is also claimed that the average customer rating is lower than the average Purplebricks Trustpilot claimed score.

Given the thousands of listings and the 88%** listing to sold (completion) ratio that Purplebricks CEO claimed, this very low number of completed Feefo reviews and at a lower rating begs a number of rather obvious questions and conclusions.

Purplebricks ratings have been the focus of a number of consumer protection investigations by the BBC and others amid many claims that Trustpilot reviews can be manipulated, falsified and, that Purplebricks staff are heavily incentivised and pressured to ask customers for ratings at the begining of the whole process, rather than at the end when scores might be lower. Claims that Trustpilot and Purplebricks deny.

Purplebricks publicly maintains that all of its Trustpilot reviews are verified but that is clearly not the case as a simple check on the TP website shows (only one review out of twenty was verified on the page we checked today 13.09 17/08/2018)

*stock market ticker symbol # PURP – Purplebricks PLC

**in comparison to the 51% or so of all listing claimed by Jefferies

If you have paid hundreds or thousands of pounds up front to an agent (or been signed up to a loan agreement to defer payment – especially without your knowledge) and have little or nothing to show for it, this article is for you.

If you are an investor in Purplebricks (stock market ticker #PURP ) You may also be a regular visitor to my blog and may also wish to take a close look at the arguments I advance below.

Consumers in the UK are protected by a multitude of laws both civil and criminal. Various bodies are charged to police these and do so with varying degrees of success and ability. Sadly, for a variety of reasons, policing and enforcement often doesn’t happen until a consumer affairs programme, writer, show or journalist picks up the story and brings it to light, in doing, shaming the appropriate authority to act.

Since launching, thousands of home-owners and landlords have signed up and paid out many millions of pounds to Purplebricks PLC (PB) having made a “transactional decision*” to use their services. I.e. having considered the advertising, press statements, news statements and marketing information provided in the press, online by the company, Directors and CEOs’, as well as hundreds of ‘LPEs’ (allegedly ‘local property experts’).

However, a quick glance at PBs’ Twitter feed or Mumsnet on any given day, will show that the hype and claims often don’t match the advertised service.

There are any number of potential points where thousands of members of the public could reasonably make a case to have their upfront fees returned having been potentially misled, however, space and time don’t permit so, I will list what is, p[robably, one of the most contentious.

  • PB repeatedly claim that they sell more, more quickly and at better prices than other agents; most notably by their own Directors, CEO and lawyers

As an investor or a consumer, it is reasonable to believe that if the CEO or Director of a company makes a clear statement that they sell (complete on, not just sold subject to contract) 88% of all they list, then that is what they achieve.

I.e. consumers paying £1,100 on average, up front, can expect to complete on the sale of their home by a buyer introduced by Purplebricks in 88% of cases. Except that, with PB, this claim, seems, at best, rather ‘fluid’.

Michael Bruce, CEO stated it was 88%. Their solicitors stated it was in excess of 90% and Kenneth Bruce, Director said it was in excess of 80%. The current CEO stated to the BBC that they only sold 78% (and even that was subject to contract, not completed sales). Furthermore, independent analysts keep awkwardly placing the listing to sold figure well below that level too. Jefferies, for example, famously describing parting with £1,100 upfront to Purplebricks as “a coin toss”  My own data from 2014 – date just the West Cornwall area date also gives the lie to this figure** by a considerable margin.

Adapted from the Citizens Advice letter “Letter to claim damages for misrepresented goods or services” here

Roy Wilkinson and Sandy James
29 Lode Way
Karl Keanes
1 Lode Way

8 May 2018
Dear Purplebricks

Consumer Protection Act

I entered into an agreement with your company on INSERT DATE at a cost of £1,100 plus a further £300 for accompanied viewings which we were told we could defer at no additional cost or penalty.

At the time of purchase, it was indicated by a representative of your company, Michael Bruce, that the service/goods would include:

  1. An 88% chance of selling our home.
  2. That all Purplebricks reviews on Trustpilot were and are verified
  3. I was not signing up to a loan agreement.
  4. All I would normally expect from an estate agent which, I reasonably believed to mean you had high street offices.
  5. My ‘local property expert’ would accompany all viewings and not just a paid helper.
  6. I would save money compared to a high street estate agent
  7. I could use my own solicitors without additional cost
  8. That my LPEs held a nationally recognised RICS or NAEA NVQ level 3 or higher qualification in estate agency with many years of experience and thus reasonably qualified to be classed as a property expert

I have since discovered that none of the above is correct, I therefore feel that the advertising of your service and the contract itself was misrepresented to me. As such, I have no option but to cancel the contract without penalty in accordance with the Consumer Protection Act and request a refund in full by return.

I look forward to your response within 14 days so we can resolve this matter amicably. I also require being advised of my LPEs’ office address (as registered with TPO, HMRC/ FCA etc for redress and money laundering etc.) as I may also wish to take this matter up with The Property Ombudsman Scheme, The Competition and Markets Authority and The Financial Conduct Authority. Thank you.

Yours sincerely

Roy Wilkinson and Sandy James

List to sold 01.01.14 to 04.05.18

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Multiple donations are permitted. Please declare if you have any potential conflicts of interest for any donation over £1,000


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*2.5 Apart from the banned practices (which are banned outright), these breaches have a threshold: the commercial practice will be unfair if it affects or is likely to affect the transactional decision making of the average consumer.7
 ‘Transactional decision’ is defined widely and is not simply a consumer’s decision to use your services or not, or to buy a property or not. It could, for example, be a client’s decision to accept an offer, or a buyer’s decision to enquire about a property, commission a survey or instruct a conveyancer. [para 3.4]
 The ‘average consumer’ is someone who is reasonably well-informed, and reasonably observant and circumspect. For example, an average consumer would pay some attention to documentation given to them, but not necessarily to the small print unless key points in it are brought to their attention. An average consumer would check out publicly available facts for themselves where this is straightforward to do, although what checks they actually make will be influenced by the information that you have given them. [para 3.4]
 The important question is whether your act or omission is likely to have an impact on the average consumer, not an actual consumer (who may be more or less well-informed, observant or circumspect than the average one).
Source: National Trading Standards guidance notes

**Copy of List to sold 01.01.14 to 04.05.18List to sold ratio of 33.3%. Listings to withdrawn for the same period 55%

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