Spring Forward With National Trading Standards – What Is In Store For 2024?

James Munro

It’s no surprise that spring – being a season of renewal, optimism and new beginnings – is traditionally one of the more popular times of the year to move house. Gardens and trees are in bloom, and sellers can showcase their homes in a much brighter and positive light than the dark and gloomy days of winter.

Agents will be bracing themselves for an influx of enquiries and a surge in activity – and at National Trading Standards we’re ready to support consumers and agents as they navigate some of the most significant transactions people make in their lives.

Evolving material information guidance

Last year saw the launch of the final stages of guidance for agents to help them disclose material information in property sales and lettings, which was developed in conjunction with industry stakeholders – including property and legal professionals. This guidance aims to help agents source and provide the information necessary for prospective buyers and renters to make informed decisions about properties.

Whether people are looking on property portals, agent websites or shop fronts, they will find information at an earlier stage in the process. We’ve worked with property portals and CRM companies to help get this information where it’s needed – in front of consumers at the point of marketing.

Recognised benefits of the guidance and these changes on portal listings include a reduction in unnecessary enquiries, swifter transactions and fewer fall-throughs – as well as helping agents meet their existing obligations under the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations (CPRs) – and the guidance has been positively welcomed by the majority of industry stakeholders.

In all walks of life, positive change for the majority can raise concerns for some people, which is why there will always be some who are worried about change. For that reason, our team has always been very open to constructive feedback and new evidence to help feed into the guidance. We recognise that for some agents it can be a challenge to obtain or verify information about a property they are being asked to market on behalf of a seller or landlord. The guidance is there to help with sourcing information, as well as what to do in those situations where information may be difficult to establish – for example properties subject to probate.

The guidance itself isn’t set in stone; circumstances and industry trends evolve, which means updates to the guidance will be required from time to time. We’re also listening to feedback and considering how the guidance can be maximised wherever possible. With this in mind, agents and other professionals in the property industry can expect various updates to the guidance in the future – including updates later this year.

Customer awareness

We also recognise the importance of ensuring your customers – buyers, sellers, renters and landlords – are familiar with the changes. With this in mind, we’re planning a consumer awareness campaign to highlight the introduction of new information on the portals and to clarify the breadth of information their agents will be sourcing.

As property professionals, you are specialists and experts in the property industry. You will have insights and understanding about your individual customers and the information they need about their property search, so I actively encourage you to share your own thoughts and ideas on how raise awareness about the changes with your customers. Please send any thoughts and ideas to: [email protected]

Referral fees and conditional selling

Beyond material information, there are other issues affecting reputable agents in the industry that we are determined to clamp down on. Hidden referral fees and conditional selling are top of the list. We will also continue to investigate individuals and companies in relation to their fitness to engage in estate agency work, and issue warning and prohibition orders where necessary.

With specific regard to referral fees and conditional selling – and any other areas of malpractice – we’re always on the lookout for evidence. If you suspect someone is operating in an unfit and underhand way, please do report it by contacting [email protected].

Other priorities for 2024

Building on our material information work, we will be focussing on improving information provided for consumers at property auctions, as well as developing a model sales contract for estate agents.

We will also be working with local authorities up and down the country to help them tackle unfair trading practices in the property sector, and we are looking specifically at promoting intelligence sharing between Housing teams in England.

We’re also continuing to work on bringing together membership data from the redress and client money protection schemes and making this information available in a single search facility for consumers, property agents and enforcement officers. We will update you when this is available – watch this space!

Also, this year we’ll be looking at the way estate agency work is carried out in Scotland, with a focus on the difference between solicitors and estate agents marketing properties for sale and the provision of redress for consumers when things go wrong. We’ll also be looking at Home Reports in Scotland and how they align with the provision of material information.

We welcome your views about the work we do and are always open to receiving new information, evidence and views about the market and our work. To find out more about our work to protect consumers and safeguard honest businesses visit www.ntselat.uk

I’m sure I’ll see and speak to lots of you this year at various industry conferences and events – and I wish you all the best for the forthcoming financial year.

James Munro is head of National Trading Standards Estate and Letting Agency Team

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