Summary of Council decision:
Two issues were investigated, of which one was Not upheld and one was Upheld.
A TV ad for HouseSimple, an estate agent, seen in July and August 2016. A man speaking to the camera said "Get an expert evaluation, professional photos and floor plans". A voice-over stated, "sell your home for just £495 upfront or choose 'no sale, no fee'. How simple is that?"
The ASA received two complaints:
1. One complainant, who said that the person who took photographs of their property told them that they were not a professional photographer, challenged whether the claim “professional photos” was misleading.
2. One complainant, who said they were told that they would have to pay additional charges unless they used the advertiser’s conveyancing and mortgage services, challenged whether the claim “just £495” was misleading.
1. HouseSimple stated that their agents undertook home visits where they would take a full set of pictures on a professional standard camera and complete the floor plans to make sure that the valuation produced was accurate. They considered their agents’ photos were of a standard that could be described as “professional photos”.
Clearcast stated they had received confirmation from the advertiser that the photographs were of a high quality and professional standard, and were used online to sell the property, as would be seen on other online estate agent websites. They considered that the average consumer would interpret the claim “professional photos” to mean the type of photos provided and that the agents and surveyors taking the photos would have the proficiency to take high quality photos as part of their job, rather than that HouseSimple specifically employed professional photographers to take photos of properties.
2. HouseSimple said that the charges referenced by the complainant were not additional charges as they were included in a package at a cost of £495. They explained that the ‘pay upfront’ package at £495 included the use of their recommended conveyancers and mortgage brokers. They could offer that package at a lower price because they claimed a commission from their conveyancers and mortgage brokers and therefore were able to pass on the savings to the customer.
Clearcast stated that the complainant would have found that they would have to pay more than £495 unless they used HouseSimple’s own conveyancers and mortgage services. They said that they received substantiation from HouseSimple at the script clearance stage which stated that customers could receive all the necessary services required to sell their property online for the featured price of £495 upfront.
1. Not upheld
The ASA considered that consumers would interpret the claim “professional photos” to mean that the photographs taken of their property would be of a high quality and would be taken on a camera with a high specification, rather than that HouseSimple employed professional photographers to take photos of properties. We considered that consumers would expect the images to be of a similar standard to those used by other estate agents in their advertising.
We understood that the photos were taken by HouseSimple’s agents, and that they were experienced in taking photographs of properties on a professional standard camera which would give a clear quality depiction of the property and would then be used online. We therefore concluded that in the context of the ad and the service it promoted, the claim “professional photos” was not misleading.
On this point, we investigated the ad under BCAP Code rule 3.1 3.1 Advertisements must not materially mislead or be likely to do so. (Misleading advertising) but did not find it in breach.
We considered that consumers would interpret the claim “sell your home for just £495” to mean that they would not have to pay more than £495 upfront when selling their property with HouseSimple.
We acknowledged that the price of £495 was available to customers who used HouseSimple’s recommended conveyancing and mortgage services. However, we understood that where consumers chose their own conveyancers and/or mortgage brokers they would be charged an additional fee. We considered that was a significant limitation that had been omitted from the ad, and in the absence of qualifying information which made clear that the price only applied to customers who used HouseSimple’s recommended conveyancers and mortgage brokers, we concluded the claim that consumers could sell their home for “just £495” was misleading.
On this point, the ad breached BCAP Code rules
Advertisements must not materially mislead or be likely to do so.
Advertisements must not mislead consumers by omitting material information. They must not mislead by hiding material information or presenting it in an unclear, unintelligible, ambiguous or untimely manner.
Material information is information that consumers need in context to make informed decisions about whether or how to buy a product or service. Whether the omission or presentation of material information is likely to mislead consumers depends on the context, the medium and, if the medium of the advertisement is constrained by time or space, the measures that the advertiser takes to make that information available to consumers by other means. (Misleading advertising), 3.10 3.10 Advertisements must state significant limitations and qualifications. Qualifications may clarify but must not contradict the claims that they qualify. (Qualification) and 3.18 3.18 Price statements must not mislead by omission, undue emphasis or distortion. They must relate to the product or service depicted in the advertisement. (Prices).
The ad must not appear again in the form complained about. We told HouseSimple Ltd to ensure their ads made clear that the advertised price was only applicable to customers who used their recommended conveyancing and mortgage services.