The home page of a website, www.housesimple.com, for the online estate agent HouseSimple, seen 29 July 2019, stated at the top of the page “SELL YOUR HOME FOR FREE” and in smaller text “with the online estate agent of the year”, next to an image of a house with a ‘sold’ sign outside. Further down the page text stated “No fees, No commission, No catch” next to a list with tick marks which stated “Local expert valuation”, “Professional photos and floorplan”, “Ads on Rightmove, Zoopla and many more”, “For Sale Board”, “Negotiations and sales progression” and “Your own friendly property expert throughout”.
The estate agent Manning Stainton challenged whether the claim “Sell your home FOR FREE” was misleading.
HouseSimple Ltd said that they marketed every property for free for an initial six-month period. At the end of that period, they performed a market review on the property and if they felt that they could collaborate with the vendor to sell the property, the marketing period was extended free of charge. HouseSimple said that they have never charged anyone for marketing beyond the six-month period nor had they ever refused anyone marketing beyond that period of time.
HouseSimple said their service was offered in the North of England where their “SELL YOUR HOME FOR FREE” policy was available, but that it was not the case that they charged for their service at locations they did not serve. They said they did not make any claims that their service was available throughout the UK and that their website made clear to users that their service was only available in certain postcodes.
HouseSimple said that their landing page included a facility where users could enter their postcode and that users who entered a postcode outside the area they served were presented with a pop-up box that stated “Our free Estate Agency service is coming soon”. They also said their FAQs prominently stated the areas they served. HouseSimple believed it was clear that their service did not apply nationwide and they said they tried to target their advertising appropriately to consumers covered by their service. HouseSimple said that their terms stated they reserved the right to charge travel costs to get to a property if it was particularly remote. They also reserved the right to charge if a property took longer to photograph because it was particularly large or if there were multiple properties. However, they had never charged a fee in either situation and they did not intend to do so.
HouseSimple said they included those clauses in their terms as a precaution for extreme scenarios, which they had yet to encounter. They said they would be certain to notify a customer of any potential additional charges when they signed up to the service. HouseSimple believed that the terms would not render the claim misleading because they had never relied on them and did not intend to do so. HouseSimple said that they provided a free ‘for sale’ board to every customer without exception. They said that the vast majority of their customers required just one ‘for sale’ board, but that in the rare event that a vendor requested an additional board, they reserved the right to charge for them. However, they had never charged any fee for additional boards.
The ASA considered consumers would interpret the claim “Sell your home FOR FREE” to mean that they would not be charged for using HouseSimple’s service to sell their home. We considered that impression was reinforced by text further down the web page which stated “No fees, No commission, No catch” and by the ‘ticked’ list of services next to it, which included “Local expert valuation”, “Professional photos and floorplan”, “Ads on Rightmove, Zoopla and many more”, “For Sale Board”, “Negotiations and sales progression” and “Your own friendly property expert throughout”.
We understood Manning Stainton had raised their complaint based on various provisions in HouseSimple’s terms and conditions. These included a clause which stated that after an initial six-month period, marketing of a property would be reviewed and marketing would only be continued for free at their discretion. Additional clauses also stated that HouseSimple reserved the right to charge reasonable travel costs to get to a remote property and to charge for additional ‘for sale’ boards. However, although those clauses were in place, we understood that HouseSimple had never charged their customers for marketing beyond the initial six-month period, for travel costs or for additional ‘for sale’ boards.
We understood that there were geographical restrictions that applied to the “Sell your home FOR FREE” claim. However, we understood that those restrictions resulted from the extent of the area covered by HouseSimple’s service, as opposed to it being the case that they charged a fee on properties outside a specific area. We considered consumers were likely to understand that they would not be able to sell their house for free in areas where the advertiser’s service was not provided at all. For those reasons we concluded that the claim “Sell your home FOR FREE” was not misleading.
We investigated the ad under CAP Code (Edition 12) rules
Marketing communications must not materially mislead or be likely to do so.
Marketing communications must not mislead the consumer 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 the consumer needs to make informed decisions in relation to a product. Whether the omission or presentation of material information is likely to mislead the consumer depends on the context, the medium and, if the medium of the marketing communication is constrained by time or space, the measures that the marketer takes to make that information available to the consumer by other means. (Misleading Advertising), 3.9 3.9 Marketing communications must state significant limitations and qualifications. Qualifications may clarify but must not contradict the claims that they qualify. (Qualification), 3.17 3.17 Price statements must not mislead by omission, undue emphasis or distortion. They must relate to the product featured in the marketing communication. (Prices) and 3.23 3.23 Marketing communications must make clear the extent of the commitment the consumer must make to take advantage of a "free" offer. (Free), but did not find it in breach.
No further action required.