Four Somerset estate agents have admitted being involved in a price-fixing sales fee cartel in and around the seaside resort of Burnham-on-Sea and in total have been fined £372,233 by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA).
Gary Berryman Estate Agents Ltd (and its parent company Warne Investments Limited), Abbott and Frost Limited, Greenslade Taylor Hunt and West Coast Property Services (UK) were found to have colluded together to set minimum commission rates for residential sales at 1.5%. This follows a year-long investigation by the CMA.
Abbott and Frost Limited has agreed to pay £30,099, Gary Berryman Estate Agents £97,807 and West Coast Property Services £58,273. Greenslade Taylor Hunt, a partnership, received the largest fine, of £186,054.
All the fines involved included a 20% reduction for assisting in the investigation while Greenslade Taylor Hunt received a further 15% reduction ‘for leniency’ while West Coast Property Services’ fine also included a ‘leniency’ reduction, of 35%.
The cartel was brought to the attention by a whistle-blower, Annagram Estate Agents which trades as CJ Hole locally and that, consequently, has not been fined.
This is part of a strategy introduced by the CMA in 2015 to persuade errant agents to report competition law being broken, even if they are involved. The strategy was introduced following its £735,000 fine for the Three Counties Estate Agent Association.
“Moving home is expensive and this shouldn’t be made worse by estate agents conspiring to deny their customers the best possible deal, by agreeing not to compete on fees,” says Stephen Blake, Senior Director of Cartel Enforcement at the CMA.
“Price-fixing cheats customers, and we are committed to tackling it regardless of the size of the businesses involved. We have taken action against estate agents before, and will do so again if firms break the law.”
The CMA says it is still investigating a sixth agent in the Burnham-on-Sea area, also for cartel activities.