8:53 AM, 22nd February 2022, About A year ago
A property’s council tax band or rate and the property price and tenure information (for sales) must be included on all property listings by the end of May 2022 and these data fields will start to appear on portals over the coming weeks. These changes represent the first phase of a project by the National Trading Standards Estate and Letting Agency Team in partnership with industry leaders and the UK’s major property portals*, to define what constitutes material information for property listings.
Developed in response to estate and letting agents’ requests for clarity on what information should be disclosed as standard when marketing a property, Part A of this three-phase project includes information that is considered material for all properties. A further two phases are being developed, which will incorporate further material information such as restrictive covenants, flood risk and other specific factors that may impact certain properties.**
As new data fields for tenure, price and council tax are added to portals, if they are left empty by an agent, this will be flagged on the listing so consumers can see what information is missing. This will link to advice on why that information is important and how it may be obtained.
National Trading Standards wants all material information to be mandatory on property listings once all three phases of the project are complete. At that stage, agents will need to include all the required information before it is listed on a property portal.
Evidence shows overwhelming support amongst agents for the mandatory disclosure of material information, with benefits cited including a reduction in unnecessary enquiries, swifter sales and fewer transaction fall-throughs. Last year, National Trading Standards and its industry partners surveyed*** more than 300 agents and found that:
James Munro, Senior Manager of the National Trading Standards Estate and Letting Agency Team, said:
“This represents an important milestone in the journey to improve material information on property listings. I’m delighted with the progress that has been made with the industry to help define and clarify what constitutes material information and I am grateful to the property portals and other industry leaders who have supported this work. I am aware that there are software companies who are already enabling this information to be included in property listings.
“These technical changes will prompt all players in the property market to do things a bit differently. Vendors and agents may find that bringing conveyancers on board at the outset helps ensure all information is available for marketing, and issues with things like restrictive covenants or boundaries can be addressed earlier. For consumers, a better understanding of why certain information such as a property’s tenure is important will enable them to make informed decisions when they embark on a property search.
“This project will make it easier for estate and letting agents to meet their legal obligations and we look forward to supporting them as they get to grips with a new way of working. We also welcome the involvement of the conveyancers, lawyers and other organisations who are already on board with the process and are putting support in place for agents.”
Alongside this, the Government has reiterated the importance of this project in its recent White Paper, Levelling Up the United Kingdom**** and signalled that legislation may follow.
Levelling Up Minister Neil O’Brien MP said:
“A key part of levelling up is creating a fair and just housing system that works for everyone, and this includes supporting more first-time buyers to move onto the housing ladder.
“Far too often when buying and selling properties, deals fall through, costing young people thousands of pounds in wasted expense. By providing all the necessary information up front, this can be avoided, and it will make the process of buying a first home much easier and more cost-effective.”
Estate and letting agents will be supported to prepare for the changes at each stage by the National Trading Standards team in partnership with professional bodies and redress schemes. A full list of the Part A material information is available on the National Trading Standards website here; this also gives an overview of the type of information that will be included in Parts B and C. Full guidance for the industry is being developed in conjunction with industry partners to cover all three phases, as well as guidance to support consumers looking to buy, sell or rent a property.
National Trading Standards’ work has been supported by an industry steering group. This includes members from redress schemes and professional bodies representing agents alongside the main property portals who have helped shape the project. These include On the Market, Rightmove and Zoopla and in collaboration with the software companies, they have been crucial to the project’s success. Northern Ireland’s PropertyPal is a property portal piloting the project in advance of its wider adoption across the UK. It will provide continual ‘real world’ feedback as the project progresses.
David Cox, Rightmove’s Legal and Compliance Director, said:
“It’s been really encouraging to see that more than 80% of all property listings on Rightmove now include the tenure of a property; up from 70% last year before we started to encourage more agents to add this information to help with National Trading Standard’s initiative. We hope that having an industry-agreed official list of material information will better help agents know exactly all the info they need to add when they’re advertising properties.”
Jason Tebb, Chief Executive Officer of OnTheMarket, said:
“We are supportive of any innovations which help both our estate agent customers and our home buying consumers. We are already working on ways to enhance the properties on our site with more material information and we share the view that more transparency throughout a property transaction could lead to a smoother process for estate agents, buyers and sellers.”
Sean Hooker, Head of Redress at The Property Redress Scheme, said:
“This is great news for the consumer and will lead to a much more transparent and consistent way of introducing properties to the market. It will also give clarity and assurance to agents that they are doing the right thing, will set the ground rules on what is expected and avoid the consequences of not providing a good level of information. Fewer complaints, faster transactions, happier customers, what is not to like?”
Rebecca Marsh, Ombudsman at The Property Ombudsman, said:
“This is a positive start along a path that will eventually see full disclosure of material information embedded not only in the ways agents conduct their business but importantly in how properties are presented on the portals. By providing more vital information at the point a consumer first becomes aware of a property, the less likely transactions are to fail, leading to higher consumer trust and confidence in the sector.”
Theresa Wallace, Chair of The Lettings Industry Council, said:
“The material information project is a crucial piece of work to ensure that consumers looking at buying or renting property can make an informed decision earlier in the process. The objective is to provide consumers with more information prior to viewing a property. This will be a big change for the industry who have come together to support this initiative and The Lettings Industry Council felt it was important to be a part of a project that can have a real benefit for consumers.”
Nathan Emerson, CEO of Propertymark, said:
“Propertymark are supportive of the National Trading Standards Estate and Letting Agency Teams’ initiative and I am really pleased we have been able to be involved. Being able to provide transparent material information upfront is essential to helping all parties in the home buying and selling process make informed decisions. This means that consumers have a better knowledge, making the process easier, reducing fall through rates and allowing the agents and conveyancers to be more proactive and efficient. The industry has long held the goal of decreasing the time required to progress from sale agreed to completion and these improvements are in sight.”
Mairead Carroll, Senior Specialist, Land & Property Standards at the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, said:
“RICS is fully supportive of finding ways to improve the homebuying process for consumers. Providing more upfront and transparent data between market participants across the whole buying, selling and conveyancing process, coupled with a home survey, means buyers are able to make more informed offers, reducing the time taken for a sale to complete and avoiding unnecessary costs for all involved. There may be concerns over storing this much data but by using RICS standards, property data can be captured for a range of due diligence purposes, whether that’s to check the flood risk of a property, energy performance risks and opportunities, or whether to find out if there is a right of access to consider. The information is protected and can support governance, privacy and ethical considerations.”
Errol Maxwell, Managing Director of PropertyPal, said:
“PropertyPal is keen to support this positive initiative and welcomes the opportunity to contribute. As a property portal, we realise the important role we play in supporting customers on their journey to find a new home. That’s why we’re right behind NTSELAT’s efforts to ensure consumers are provided with the material information they need to ensure their property search runs smoothly. Agents too will now have clarity as to what information they are required to obtain, helping reduce transaction times and the number of deals falling through.”
The initiative to improve the disclosure of material information launched in April 2021, when National Trading Standards published The Case for Change: improving the provision of material information in property sales and lettings. This included data***** from people who have moved in the last three years or are looking to move in the next three years and showed that:
The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has also been working to improve how the leasehold market works for consumers. It is investigating, and has taken action against, potential breaches of consumer protection law in the leasehold housing market, including unfair contract terms in leases as well as broader allegations of mis-selling of leasehold property.
Simon Jones, Director of Consumer Protection, CMA said:
“It’s important that people are fully aware of the annual costs of owning a home before they buy. The CMA’s leasehold investigation identified that clearer up-front information is needed when properties are sold and today’s announcement is a positive step in that direction.”