A website for Purplebricks, an online estate agent, www.purplebricks.com, seen between September 2016 and February 2017, featured a page headed “MEET OUR EXPERTS”. Text on the page stated “Our Local Experts are some of the most respected estate agents in their local area. Below the text a banner stated “Find your Local Property Expert, for the very best service”. The page also featured a postcode search for Local Property Experts.
Four complainants, including Plymouth Trading Standards, Alexander Dawson (an Independent property consultant) and PQD Estates Ltd challenged whether the references to “Local Property Experts” were misleading and could be substantiated.
Purplebricks said the word “local” referred to the local knowledge of a Local Property Expert rather than their geographical location. They said that it was common practice across the industry for the word “local” to refer to knowledge or expertise in a particular area. They stated that they ensured that each Local Property Expert possessed the relevant local knowledge in the area where they worked.
Purplebricks said that their website explained to consumers which area a Local Property Expert operated within by using the postcode search tool. They said that the website would display a list of Local Property Experts who covered the requested area and would also inform consumers if a Local Property Expert was unavailable in the requested area.
Purplebricks said that Local Property Experts offered an equivalent service to traditional estate agents. They explained that a Local Property Expert would visit a consumer, conduct property valuations and prepare an advert for the website. They explained that there was not a set radius that a Local Property Expert would cover. They said that coverage was dependent on the geography and volume of sales activity of the area.
Purplebricks said that there was a four-stage recruitment process for the role of a Local Property Expert. They highlighted the recruitment page of the Purplebricks website which stated that applicants for Local Property Expert roles should hold “strong knowledge of the local property market” and “strong valuation experience”.
They explained that prior to joining the company; a Local Property Expert would have on average between five to ten years of experience within the property field. They said they informed Local Property Experts that while in the role they would need to pass all National Association of Estate Agents (NAEA) Technical Level 3 exams and become members of that organisation, if they were not already. They provided the CVs of all Local Property Experts that had been recruited in the past 12 months to demonstrate their experience. They said that all Local Property Experts were subject to an additional internal training programme prior to commencing their roles. They said that at the end of the training programme, individuals were subject to a 29-point sign-off sheet, which was completed by the Area Director for that region. They also confirmed that during the role, Local Property Experts were subject to a number of quality control checks.
Purplebricks said that in addition to Local Property Experts, they actively recruited for the Purplebricks Academy. They explained that the Academy was a development scheme which initially lasted for 12 months and included classroom training, field shadowing and an exam at the end of the programme. They said that the programme was open to people who may have not worked in the property industry before. They confirmed that the programme did not guarantee progression to the role of a Local Property Expert.
The ASA considered that many consumers would understand that Purplebricks was an online estate agent.
We noted that Local Property Experts offered similar services to a traditional estate agent such as visiting properties and conducting valuations. We understood that consumers were able to search on the Purplebricks website for a Local Property Expert using their postcode. We noted that the results would only display Local Property Experts who worked within the requested local area. If a Local Property Expert was unavailable within the customer’s area, the website stated “We’re not in your area right now, but we can notify you when we’ve arrived”. In that context we considered that the word “local” would be generally understood to refer to an individual’s expertise and knowledge of the area that they served, rather than their physical location. We considered that a Local Property Expert would therefore be understood to be an estate agent who worked within a defined geographical area, and who had relevant experience within a particular area.
We reviewed the CVs of 52 Local Property Experts. We noted that the majority of individuals (80%) had over five years’ experience in roles such as Branch Manager and Property Valuer. We also noted that the majority of Local Property Experts currently worked in areas that they had obtained experience in before joining Purplebricks. Although the Local Property Experts had varying experience, we noted that there was an internal training programme which all Local Property Experts were required to complete before commencing their roles. The training programme consisted of testing the Local Property Expert’s knowledge of the area in which they would be working and relevant regulations as well as field training. While we acknowledged that some individuals had less experience than others, we noted that those individuals would not pass training until they demonstrated understanding of the field. Furthermore, they would be provided with on-going support and training throughout the role. We considered that because there was not a single standardised professional qualification within the property field, the combination of property experience, qualifications, professional membership and an internal training programme was sufficient to substantiate the claim “expert”.
We recognised that the radius that a Local Property Expert could cover would vary. We acknowledged that Local Property Experts located in more rural parts of the country would cover a larger geographical area in comparison to Local Property Experts located in more densely populated areas. We also noted that there would be instances where Local Property Experts moved locations and therefore may need to build up their local knowledge in that particular area. However, provided they were estate agents, who served the relevant area and who had relevant experience working in that area or were building up experience in that area, we did not consider that consumers would be misled by claims that those people were Local Property Experts.
Because we considered the claim would be understood as referring to the expertise of the Local Property Experts and the area they served, not their physical location, and because we were satisfied that the Local Property Experts generally had relevant knowledge and experience in the areas they served, we concluded that the ad did not breach the Code.
We investigated the ad under CAP Code (Edition 12) rule 3.1 3.1 Marketing communications must not materially mislead or be likely to do so. (Misleading advertising) and 3.7 3.7 Before distributing or submitting a marketing communication for publication, marketers must hold documentary evidence to prove claims that consumers are likely to regard as objective and that are capable of objective substantiation. The ASA may regard claims as misleading in the absence of adequate substantiation. (Substantiation), but did not find it in breach.
No further action necessary.