Mystery continues to surround the online agent Hausmart and who is behind it. Its timing and motivation has also been called into question.
Yesterday EYE – still unable to contact the site, which appeared to make a number of frantic-looking changes yesterday including trying to remove a property EYE had drawn attention to – tweeted warnings that the public should be wary.
Some claims had been removed, including that Hausmart belonged to the NAEA and TPO, but it still said it listed properties on the likes of Rightmove and Zoopla.
However NAEA Propertymark – whose logo was being used on the Hausmart site without permission – has reported the matter to both local Trading Standards and the regulator, and suggested an investigation could be in order.
Similarities also yesterday emerged between Hausmart and another site, Houzez, which is American.
Some of the same pictures were used – for example, yesterday we found “Brittany Watkins” pictured on Houzez, with the same picture used but captioned “Donna Reed” on the same site.
The “Brittany Watkins” was also appearing on Hausmart as a local property expert in Watford. The same picture of “Brittany Watkins” was also also used for a “Virginia Holland” on Hausmart.
Other similarities noticeable yesterday were that both Hausmart and Houzez have chunks of their site unfinished.
Whether Hausmart and Houzez are connected is unclear. The Houzez website is a WordPress one, meaning that its template elements can be easily used by anyone else, elsewhere.
We also yesterday highlighted the use of a stock picture on Hausmart for “James Hawker”. While apparently a local property expert on Hausmart, we found his picture was actually a stock photo being offered online.
Thanks to a reader doing a bit more research, it turns out James Hawker is a Canadian actor called Stephen Powell.
The domain name hausmart.co.uk was registered last year by GoDaddy, but the registrant information is incomplete, meaning we do not know who actually registered it.
EYE’s tweet advised the public to be “extremely cautious” about Hausmart, and our tweet was copied to BBC Watchdog, the Advertising Standards Authority and Trading Standards.
We also asked Rightmove, Zoopla and Primelocation, plus TPO and NAEA – all of whose names are used on the site, despite Hausmart not belonging to any of them – to comment.
David Cox, chief executive of ARLA Propertymark, hit back with a furious statement on behalf of NAEA whose boss Mark Hayward is on annual leave.
Cox said yesterday evening: “Despite displaying the NAEA logo on their website, Hausmart are not members of NAEA Propertymark and never have been.
“We have tried to contact them today and have been unsuccessful, with the phone number ringing out and our emails bouncing back.
“We have been in touch with City of Westminster Trading Standards and the National Trading Standards Estate Agency team. During the day we noticed the NAEA logo has been removed from the site, as have all the properties that were listed for sale and rent earlier today.
“This is a prime example of a company trying to establish credibility and legitimacy through unlawful use of our logo.
“This is why the Government needs to take appropriate resourcing for trading standards teams seriously. This would provide far more effective protection for consumers than applying increasing regulations and laws which cannot be policed by under-resourced and over-stretched local authority enforcement officers.”
The letter to Westminster Trading Standards, from Propertymark head of regulation David Oliver, was copied to industry regulator the National Trading Standards Estate Agency Team, and included screen grabs.
The letter said: “Throughout the day, whilst investigating the matter, we noticed that various pages were being taken down and/or amended; one such amendment included the removal of our logo from the website.
“Nevertheless, we felt it pertinent to inform you of the situation and confirm that we are willing to assist in any investigation which you undertake.”
A spokesperson for TPO said: “I can confirm that TPO has no knowledge of this company or any pending application from them.”
A spokesperson for Zoopla said: “Thanks for bringing this to our attention. Hausmart has never advertised with us. We will be contacting them and insisting they remove our brand logos from their website immediately.”
A spokesperson for Rightmove said: “They are not a Rightmove customer. We have contacted them to request that they remove any references to Rightmove from their channels.”