The head of the new Trading Standards authority regulating estate agents says Online firms are treated exactly the same as High Street ones - even if some traditional agents suspect otherwise.
James Munro, in an exclusive interview with Estate Agent Today, admits that some online agencies have “sailed close to the wind” with some of their activities, but he says his team treats issues surrounding ‘disruptor’ agencies in exactly the same way as any other.
“I can understand that many regard online agencies as a threat to the status quo, with new ways of doing things. Some have sailed close to the wind but most, like Purplebricks, have put a lot of money, time and thought into what they do. People may not like them but what we have to judge is whether online services are breaking the law” says Munro.
He says he regularly reads the agency trade media and realises there is scepticism amongst some traditional agents about the way online rivals are dealt with across the board, from how and what they claim in advertisements to their employment processes and how they work minute-to-minute.
“One issue is that the Estate Agents Act is 40 years old and makes no provision for anything online” he adds, but he says his team has access to substantial amounts of information that are unavailable to the industry as a whole.
This includes data from Companies House, HM Revenue and Customs, anti-money laundering information and material from the Advertising Standards Authority.
“I don’t see the treatment of online agents as being in any way different to how we treat the rest of the industry. I don’t see it as an issue at all” says Munro, adding: “The problem we’re up against is people’s expectations and what they think is happening - which may be different to what is happening.”