Complaints about savings claims by online agent HouseSimple both on its website and within a recent TV ad have been upheld by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA).
The watchdog has issued a detailed 1,500-word adjudication about the two complaints, one of which was about average fees charged by high street agents, and the other about how much vendors could save using the agent compared to a traditional agent.
The adjudication’s wording also features an increasing weariness that another online agent had made claims that the ASA felt could not be justified or were misleading.
This included the use of a 2011 Which? survey which many online agents have used in the past to justify the difference in fees between them and high street agents, and material published by the Home Owners Alliance.
The first complaint was about copy seen on the HouseSimple website in February that claimed agents charged between 1.5% and 4% plus VAT to sell a home at an average cost of £5,237.
The complainant challenged whether these figures could be substantiated and where therefore misleading, which HouseSimple said were based on the Which? report and a Home Owners Alliance secret shopping survey among agents, but admitted the percentage charged figures were out of date. The ASA upheld the complaint.
The second complainant challenged whether a claim made during a recent HouseSimple TV ad that vendors could “get an expert evaluation, professional photos and floor plans … just like a traditional estate agent … but the big difference, HouseSimple customers saved on average £5,000 in fees” could be substantiated and might be misleading.
Based on a survey of 391 of its customers, HouseSimple and its media agency Clearcast said it used data from this survey to work out an average saving, but didn’t claim the savings were universal.
The ASA also considered the use of the words “much cheaper” to describe HouseSimple’s service when compared to high street agents.
HouseSimple said that despite the ambiguity of the claim “much” even on the lowest scale of the high street commission rate, a seller would still save a significant amount by using HouseSimple.
It understood that it was standard practice for high street estate agencies to provide other services including accompanied viewings as part of their fee, whereas HouseSimple did not offer that service as part of their basic fee, but would for an additional charge.
“We considered it was not clear from the ads that the service provided for HouseSimple’s fee was different to that of high street estate agents and that the omission of that information was likely to mislead in the context of the savings claims made,” the adjudication says.
The ASA also considered the ‘savings’ claims made in both ads to be misleading and that HouseSimple had not been able to substantiate them. The ASA says the ads should not appear in their current form again.