Misleading estate agents must obey the law

Thank you for publishing our letter (Observer, March 7) commenting upon estate agent King & Chasemore publishing what we saw as misleading information regarding a bungalow in Kingsway being ‘located close from the private beach’ and also for reporting that, to their credit, their spokesman told the Bognor Regis Observer that upon being informed of their publication, ‘we changed our details immediately’.

This clear and transparent acceptance of their wrong-doing for ‘not acting with the standard of care and skill that is in accordance with honest market practice and in good faith (failing to show professional diligence)’ is as required by Consumer Protection regulations. King & Chasemore acted promptly to correct their marketing information.

We also said they were ‘not alone in this dubious advertising practice’ and, sure enough, Coastguards Estate Agent – located within Craigweil – appeared in the same edition advertising a house for sale in Wychwood Close, quoting, as its first sales descriptive attraction and feature that it was ‘situated in a cul-de-sac of the private estate just 300 yards from the private beach.’

There can be no excuse for Coastguards giving this misleading information for their office has always been at the end of The Drive and they must know the area better than any other estate agent.

This does not excuse King & Chasemore, for they had a duty to give accurate and truthful information, but one may accept they are in Chichester and, maybe without checking, printed what they were incorrectly told locally.

And ‘maybe’ it is, for there is much legislation controlling the process of property selling, including the need to comply with the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008; the Business Protection from Misleading Marketing Regulations 2008 and an up-to-date Guidance published by the Office of Fair Trading on September 13, 2012, which, inter alia, warns against ‘misdescribing a property for sale’.

But, perhaps, the most telling legislation of all is the Property Misdescriptions Act, 1991, which creates offences and penalties specifically relating to the practices of estate agents. Section 1(1) says ‘Where a ... misleading statement about a prescribed matter is made in the course of an estate agency business ...the persons by whom the business is carried on shall be guilty of an offence.’ Section 1(2) states that ‘where the making of the statement is due to the act or default of an employee, the employee shall be guilty of an offence’.

In short, the estate agents and all estate agent employees involved in the process of circulating false or misleading advertising material – even the junior clerk who sends it to the Bognor Regis Observer – commit offences punishable by significant fines either by magistrates or at crown court.

Within recent months, the writer has encountered residents who have lived at Craigweil for several years who truly believed the private beach was theirs and that, presumably, is why the estate company, quite obscurely, organises an annual clean-up of the beach (owned by the individual house-owners!) – an act which does everything to encourage, and certainly not to discourage, such thinking.

They certainly do nothing to advise newcomers of the conservation area designation and the constraints it imposes upon house-owners and land; nor do they notify them of the tree preservation orders or other issues outlined in the previous letter.

The law on sales of property is, rightly in our view, severe and this association now asks, through the Bognor Regis Observer, that estate agents make effort in the future to comply with the law for they will continue to ignore this legislation and to publish misleading advertisements at their peril.

Richard Ostler

Chairman

Craigweil House and its Environs Conservation Area Association