Estate agents banned from using baiting tactics to lure offers

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Estate agents will no longer be able to list properties for sale and quote the ‘asking price’, after the tactic was branded ‘illegal’ and ‘misleading’ by the trading standards watchdog.

Agents have generally withheld guide prices when advertising larger, more expensive homes, although the practice has become widespread during the last housing boom.

But National Trading Standards, the consumer protection watchdog, has warned that keeping a property’s asking price a secret from potential buyers prevents them from making an “informed transactional decision”.

James Munro of the watchdog said: ‘Our clear position is that the use of ‘price on request’ in property listings is illegal.

Property portals and agents have until the end of May to ensure that a property’s asking price, along with its council tax bracket and any land tenure information, is included in all advertisements.

The decision was backed by the Competition and Markets Authority, the competition watchdog, which warned listings that did not include the price of a property ‘depriving potential buyers of a key detail needed to make informed choices”.

Keeping the price of a property a secret is a tactic most commonly used on ‘big ticket items’, said Jeremy Leaf, a North London estate agent, when agents want to gauge buyer interest or that the seller wishes to keep his price private.

“I’m not surprised the practice is banned, most people find it boring. Buyers want to know the price of a property before doing unnecessary research and finding that it is not in their price range.

“Although sometimes a seller will insist on it being quoted as an asking price, especially new property developers who release properties in phases,” Mr Leaf said.

Agents are notorious for relying on “price on demand” when also marketing less aesthetic properties. “If a property doesn’t photograph particularly well, perhaps an apartment above a store, sometimes real estate agents withhold the price to test the waters,” Leaf added.

The practice has also found favor with sellers keen to avoid anyone “window shopping”, acting as an extra hoop through which serious shoppers must jump before asking for a viewing.

Emma Fildes of The Brick Weaver, a buying agent, compared withholding the asking price from a listing of properties to “agents and sellers chasing demand”.

Ms Fildes said: “It’s a horrible exclusivity mechanism. It’s incredibly annoying to have to chase after the agent for a price and it’s a good thing the practice is on its way out.

“If a seller really wanted to keep the price of his house a secret from neighbors or the public, he would sell it off the market.”

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