Adventures in Reporting Portal Juggling : What happens in practice?
One honest agent’s experience of trying to combat Portal Juggling
The Advertising Standards Agency
They seem uninterested in hearing complaints unless they are from members of the public. If you happen to be in the same industry as the advertiser you are contacting them about or a competitor, they will refuse to hear your complaint until you have exhausted the advertiser’s own complaints procedure. This is particularly frustrating as the advertiser can exhaust your complaint, buying even more time until the offending advert is removed. Its even more worrying as it naturally prevents businesses from reporting inaccuracies or misleading adverts, as they will be forced to exacerbate a turf war or become involved in bitter confrontation with a competitor. It’s unfair and ultimately ensures that the majority of complaints will fall by the wayside.
The Property Ombudsman
The TPO’s updated terms are quite clear: Manipulating internet portals (and other channels of marketing) to give the impression a property is new to the market, when it is not; inflating your market share by listing properties multiple times; listing properties that are not currently available to buy; or claiming to have sold a property which was sold by another agent, is misleading.
And yet when it comes to investigating these matters, the TPO are uninterested, immediately delegating their role to Trading Standards, and would not taking any action pending Trading Standards looking at the matter.
National Association Of Estate Agents
Mark Hayward, Managing Director of National Association of Estate Agents, has gone on record as saying “So-called portal juggling cannot in any way be condoned, a practice that seeks to misinform, manipulate the truth, or hide inaccuracies that would influence transactional decisions is clearly in contravention of CPRs and therefore must cease.”
It’s therefore very disappointing to learn that the NAEA are unwilling to talk to their member about the alleged activity until Trading Standards have investigated the matter. You can see where this is going. There’s a lot riding on the Trading Standards at this point.
Rightmove firstly had to decide whether, or not, the issue reported was correct. I got an email confirmation within a week to tell me that it was correctly identified as re-uploading and therefore they would investigate the matter. An email I received last week stated that they had investigated the matter and seemed to downplay the issue. The offending agent had blamed their software providers for the issue and Rightmove wished to close the case as quickly as possible and go back to business as normal. So as a peace offering, Rightmove promised that they would ban the agent from using statistics and Rightmove Intel. And yet the next day the agent was publishing its Rightmove pie charts once again.
As Robert May will confirm, the re-uploading that Rightmove promised to ban, is still happening. At the time of writing their systems do not prevent it — they need to get Robert and his team in, to make sure that their software and systems are up to the task.
The ban on intel is ridiculous. Despite what Rightmove might have said, the agent still has full access to the intel and is using it. How long are Rightmove going to offer hollow promises to their customers and the public? You better hope Trading Standards are going to make sure justice is coming after all this delegation and blame shifting.
POS said ‘Speak to Trading Standards’. The NAEA said ‘Speak to Trading Standards’. Trading Standards therefore must have promised both organisations that they will make sure that any juggling offenders are brought to book.
This just in from Trading Standards: “We have opened a file (one month later) and are talking to Rightmove about the matter”.
So… there you have it folks. Rightmove want to go back to playing happy families and have a vested interest in seeing the pounds continue to roll in from all their advertisers — both the offenders and the good guys.
If Trading Standards settle with Rightmove’s stance, and take no further action, it’s a ridiculous situation which ensures that these offences will never be effectively policed. I have informed Trading Standards that this needs to be looked at without wearing Rightmove’s goggles and hopefully some meaningful action will be taken.
For any agent forced into taking a stand, this represents a worrying cycle of toothless institutions passing the buck. Being charitable, it is perhaps a case of these institutions lacking the resources to tackle juggling effectively. Perhaps, like some of my detractors have said in online and offline comments, the underlying feeling is that juggling is a victimless crime — if this is the case they would be mistaken on a several levels. Members of the public are being defrauded and honest agents will sometimes lose business on the basis of incorrect statistics.
The fact that no money changes hands in these transactions does not make it any less worthy of the correct and proper attention from our industry ‘champions’. If the NAEA and TPO defer their investigations to NTSEAT in the belief that NTSEAT have the resources, manpower and expertise to forensically investigate these matters as they claim, then they will achieve the feat of disappointing everyone but the guilty party.