The Property Ombudsman has said that in her view, there is no difference between ‘Sale Agreed’, ‘Under Offer’, and ‘Sold Subject to Contract’.
We asked Katrine Sporle for definitive advice after our story about Purplebricks on Friday.
Purplebricks’ Google adverts claim that the agent sells a home every 30 minutes, and puts one under offer every 30 minutes.
This provoked debate among our readers as to the difference. Purplebricks itself suggested there was no difference, as both claims refer to properties Sold Subject to Contract.
We asked Sporle to give definitions of:
Sold Subject to Contract
She told us: “All estate agents use different terminology to define the status of a property and The Property Ombudsman’s Code of Practice for Residential Estate Agents does not define which term agents should use.
“However, paragraph 7d says ‘any board you do erect must be appropriate for the occasion‘, meaning agents have an obligation to ensure it is correct.
“In my view, ‘Sale Agreed’, ‘Under Offer’ and ‘Sold Subject to Contract’ all propose the same, that the seller has accepted an offer on the property, that is, a sale has been agreed, but contracts are not yet exchanged.
“‘Sold’ should only be used once contracts have been exchanged.”
We also asked Sporle to clarify whether a consumer who accepts a refund from an agent, for example one charging an upfront fee, loses their right to redress.
We pointed out that any customer who accepts a refund from, for example, John Lewis, is specifically advised that this does not change their consumer rights.
So, for example, can a vendor dissatisfied with an online agent be advised that if they accept a refund, they waive their right to redress?
The issue appears to be particularly complex in the world of estate agency, according to TPO.
Sporle told us: “If a complainant is properly due a refund of a fee or any other monies, then that should be honoured.
“An agent cannot say to a consumer that by accepting money that is rightfully owed to them, then they accept in full and final settlement of a complaint and waive the right to take their complaint to TPO.
“For example, we might receive a lettings case where an agent has attempted to say to a landlord that if they accept the money offered (often deposit monies agreed with the tenant) then they do so in full and final settlement of the dispute the landlord has with the agent.
“This is wrong if the monies are owed to that party.
“In this case, we will accept the complaint.
“However, if in response to a consumer asking for a fee refund, the agent is saying “We are due our fee in full, but as a goodwill gesture, to resolve the dispute, we will make an offer of £X”, then, if the complainant accepts this, TPO will not take on the dispute and would consider it resolved.
“While the consumer may see this as a partial fee refund, it is not.
“The fee is due in full and there is a separate goodwill offer for perceived service failings.
“By accepting the dispute has been resolved, there is no right to pursue through TPO.”
We have asked TPO whether she will be issuing advice to consumers and agents about the acceptance, or otherwise, of refunds – an issue for letting agents, but also for online sales agents charging money upfront.