Online estate agent HouseSimple has been investigated by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) following an advertisement published on their website in July 2019.
Their main webpage featured an advert stating “sell your home for free” and in smaller text “with the online estate agent of the year” next to an image of a house with a ‘sold’ sign outside.
Further down the page, text stated “No fees, No commission, No catch” next to a list of tick marks which had various statements including “Local expert valuation”, “Professional photos and floorplan”, “Ads on Rightmove, Zoopla and many more”.
The estate agent Manning Stainton challenged whether the claim “sell your home for free” was misleading.
HouseSimple responded to the claim by stating that they marketed every property for free for an initial six-month period.
At the end of that period, they performed a market review on the property and if they felt that they could collaborate with the vendor to sell the property, the marketing period was extended free of charge.
The online estate agent added that that they have never charged anyone for marketing beyond the six-month period nor had they ever refused anyone marketing beyond that period of time.
The response also highlighted how their service was offered in the North of England where their “sell your home for free” policy was available, but that it was not the case that they charged for their service at locations they did not serve.
HouseSimple said that their landing page included a facility where users could enter their postcode and that users who entered a postcode outside the area they served were presented with a pop-up box that stated “Our free estate agency service is coming soon”.
They also said their FAQs prominently stated the areas they served.
HouseSimple added they included those clauses in their terms as a precaution for extreme scenarios, which they “had yet to encounter”.
They said they would be certain to notify a customer of any potential additional charges when they signed up to the service and believed that the terms would not render the claim misleading because they had never relied on them and did not intend to do so.
The complaint was not upheld by the ASA as they considered consumers would interpret the claim “sell your home for free” to mean that they would not be charged for using HouseSimple’s service to sell their home.
The authority also claimed that Manning Stainton had raised their complaint based on various provisions in HouseSimple’s terms and conditions which the ASA believe that although those clauses were in place, they understood that HouseSimple had never charged their customers for marketing beyond the initial six-month period, for travel costs or for additional ‘for sale’ boards.
The ASA furthered that they understood the geographical restrictions that applied to the “sell your home for free claim” however also understood that those restrictions resulted from the extent of the area covered by HouseSimple’s service, as opposed to it being the case that they charged a fee on properties outside a specific area.
The authority considered consumers were likely to understand that they would not be able to sell their house for free in areas where the advertiser’s service was not provided at all.