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TPO warns agents over dangers of property virtual viewings

Ombudsman says sales and lettings should not progress sales or lettings without physical viewings and that if customers insist, a copy of the virtual viewing must be kept.

Sheila Manchester

Virtual reality headset image

Sales and letting agents are increasingly offering video viewings during COVID-19 lockdown to keep their pipelines going, and The Property Ombudsman (TPO) has today issued advice on best practice to ensure consumers who choose to buy or rent based on virtual viewings are protected from unfair practice.

TPO has also confirmed it is looking to obtain Assured Advice to clearly define the best approach to this new way agents are having to operate now and, in some cases, after COVID-19 restrictions are lifted.

Whilst viewing a property is always advised, point 9a of The Property Ombudsman’s Code of Practice for Residential Letting Agents references electronic means as an exception, stating:

9a.  It is not advisable for you to accept, or recommend a landlord to accept, an offer on a property that has not been viewed either by the prospective tenants themselves or by a suitably authorised representative of the prospective tenants, for example, an appointed relocation agent or direct associate. Exceptions might be made when a prospective tenant resident overseas is willing to be contacted by letter, fax or electronic means.

Regarding properties for sale, TPO suggests that video viewings are used by agents as a filtering exercise and that any serious buyers are provided with an ‘offer agreed subject to viewing’.

Consumer Protection

TPO reminds agents that under the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations (CPRs), agents still have an obligation to disclose material information and therefore this will need to be conveyed during virtual viewings.

With this in mind, where a live video viewing has been conducted, and the prospective buyer or tenant is serious about progressing the transaction, TPO would consider it best practice for agents to offer the viewer a download of the viewing, and the same advice applies for pre-recorded viewings. TPO is advising agents to keep video viewings on file, which could then be called upon in the event of a dispute where a consumer feels they have been misled.

Katrine Sporle imageKatrine Sporle, Property Ombudsman (left), says: “We appreciate that agents are having to adopt new ways of working to accommodate the government restrictions currently in place, and similarly we are working hard to ensure we provide the right guidance to help agents do this professionally and protect consumers from unfair practice.

“We fully appreciate that agents may not be in complete control if a video viewing has been recorded or is being conducted by the seller or landlord. In this instance, we would advise agents to remind the vendor/landlord of the CPR responsibilities upon them so that Agents can keep a record of what information was shared and when.”

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