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Henry Pryor Blog

Friday 17th June 2011

Is it me or is it just the industry that bitches about touting? 

I read with interest the Property Ombudsman’s latest foray into the murky world of ethics in his catchily entitled ‘Canvassing for New Business’.

I’ve just re-read it to try discover what I’m missing. Whilst there will be many estate agents who will be affected by this, I estimate there are still only about 50% of letting agents who have followed the ARLA updated advice which now allows ARLA members to tout each others’ properties rather than regard them as off-limits.

Won’t this just impact on the guys wearing the white hats and leave the cowboys to continue?

Like most of the posts that I expect will follow this latest entry in what I should stress is my own confusion and not that of EAT, those who seem to cry loudest are those involved in the selling and letting game.

Like the over-paid actors on a professional football pitch either faking a foul or claiming that a fair challenge was an attempt at assassination, I find that the subject of canvassing (or touting as we all know it) is usually most hotly debated at business functions. 

A brief cruise through Google’s archive does indeed bring up instances of members of the public ‘appalled’ by the approaches made by various firms.

One can’t help wondering if these charges, often levelled at the more successful businesses, are motivated entirely by the disgruntled landlord or home owner. The cynic in me says not.

So the Ombudsman proposes that in his Code of Practice, something that most members of the Scheme sign up to, can’t go door knocking or cold-calling, make unsolicited calls, send emails or general junk mail (is your house magazine junk?) or post a ‘with compliments slip’ through their door asking the owner to “contact me urgently”

See the EAT report of the judgement of the ASA handed down on Spicer Haart in December 2009

Furthermore, the Ombudsman forbids you from pretending to act for someone you are not or ‘using third parties to project your business’ – so no more testimonials then.

And he absolutely rules out targeting tenants to obtain details of landlords presumably in a similar fashion to the complaint reported here on LAT in March

Flyers must clearly state who they are from, warn a potential client of the dangers of being liable for two fees and be careful when claiming to be better than someone else.

Finally, and just to be on the safe side, it would be best practice for the consumer to sign a declaration confirming that they have understood their potential liability with regards to paying fees.

Like many other agents, I have been impressed by the new tools developed by the likes of the Digital Property Group and Rightmove, and indeed from software providers like Vizzihome.

Products like Market View are very powerful and some big names are now using it, but as some of these guys are honest enough to admit in their pitches, these are ‘canvassing’ aids, or to put it bluntly, touting tools.

Like a nuclear weapon, you only have this because you are prepared to use it.

In central London, the excellent Lonres.com service is often wrongly accused of being a similar touting tool, but it is very, very rare for evidence of this to be substantiated.

A call to the BBC Watchdog researchers fails to throw up a postbag of complaints from viewers and it is impossible to find figures from the likes of Trading Standards. I’m not even sure if touting is officially an offence.

I accept that if a member of the public has been bothered or inconvenienced by ‘canvassing’ then they should have the right to opt out. Like junk mail, you can join a Mailing Preference list to avoid this.

But can we really demand competitive agents to play by the Queensberry Rules?

If they wish to, then that’s fine and they can boast that they do in the literature they publish, but it is my professional experience that it is often those who squeal the loudest who are the worst offenders, and with the volume of sales now half what it was just three years ago, we must expect to see more of this as agents squabble for business, whatever the laudable aims of the Ombudsman may be.

(1) Comments

Added by Mike Wilson on 2011-06-17 13:38:20

Well my twopence worth is ... in my area there is a marked downturn in touting. In the days of the boom estate agents were patrolling the streets in gangs - thrusting cards through my letter box showing that they had just sold the house round the corner and the one at the end of the road and, why on earth don't I get them round for a free valuation to see how much my house is worth NOW!

I was never quite sure what their message was ... but it may have been something along the lines of ... 'your house has gone up in price, find out by how much, be astonished and instantly move up to your dream home'.

The fact that if the market has boomed the next house up the ladder is proportionately more expensive seems to escape most people.

You'd think that now agents would be touting on the basis that the market is tough - why not sell through us (we'll get you the best possible price, of course) and bag yourself a bargain when you negotiate a great deal on your next purchase.

The gap between the rungs has narrowed, now's the best time to move up a level.

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