Calls have been increasing for years for more upfront information in the property sales and lettings process.
Campaigners argue that this would make home buying, selling, letting, and renting more transparent, faster, and less confusing.
A major leap forward was made recently when the Government and Trading Standards jointly announced changes that mean compulsory new data must appear on property listings by the end of May.
As a result of the changes, a property's council tax band or rate (for both lettings and sales) and the property price and tenure information (for sales only) must be included on all property listings. Over recent weeks since the announcement was made, data fields for these particulars have started to appear on the portals.
The amendments are the first phase of a major project led by the National Trading Standards Estate and Letting Agency Team, in conjunction with industry leaders and major property portals, to help define what ‘material information’ for property listings really means.
NTSELAT says the new required information is the first of three phases, with Part A of this three-phase project including information that is considered material for all properties, while a further two phases are in the development stages. These other phases are set to include further material information like restrictive covenants, flood risk and other specific factors that could affect certain properties.
If the new data fields for tenure, price and council tax that are being added to the portals are left empty by an agent, this will be noted on the listing so that customers can easily see what information is missing. In addition, there will be links to advice on why that information is vital and how best it may be secured.
Once all three phases of the project have been completed, NTSELAT wants all material information to be compulsory on property listings, with a statement from the body at the time of the announcement saying it had evidence highlighting huge support within the industry for the mandatory disclosure of material information. Earlier this year, PropTech firm Gazeal revealed that over 90% of agents want more upfront information now.
By the stage where all three phases have been finished, agents must include all the required information before it is able to be listed on a property portal.
NTSELAT insists that benefits of more upfront information include a reduction in unnecessary enquiries (potentially from timewasting or unserious buyers), speedier sales and a lower number of transactions falling through – which should in turn help improve the industry for all parties.
James Munro, a senior manager at NTSELAT and a Trading Standards officer for many years, 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.”
He added: “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.”
He said that, 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. For example, the changes could prevent someone unknowingly or unwittingly purchasing a leasehold property when they explicitly hoped to avoid it, or equally someone purchasing a home on a flood plain or a home at risk of coastal erosion.
“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,” Mr Munro went on.
“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.”
Meanwhile, Neil O’Brien, a minister from the Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, said a key part of the much-discussed levelling up programme ‘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,” Mr O’Brien said.
Estate agents and letting agents will, NTSELAT insists, be supported in preparing for the changes at each stage, with Trading Standards working in partnership with professional bodies and redress schemes.
The National Trading Standards website has a full list of the Part A material information. It also provides a summary of the type of information that will be included in Parts B and C.
What’s more, full guidance for the industry is being developed alongside industry partners to cover all three phases. There will also be specific guidance to support consumers looking to buy, sell or rent a home.
The changes were pushed forward by a steering group from a cross-section of the property market, including members from redress schemes and professional bodies representing agents. This was alongside the three main portals - OnTheMarket, Rightmove and Zoopla – and in collaboration with a range of software companies.
Northern Ireland’s PropertyPal portal is piloting the project in advance of its wider adoption across the UK, NTSELAT confirmed.
How did the industry react?
The announcement generated a mostly positive response from key stakeholders, with the long-term programme of new compulsory information being included on property listings receiving a thumbs-up from the industry.
Nathan Emerson, chief executive of trade body Propertymark, commented: “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.”
Elsewhere, David Cox, Rightmove’s legal and compliance director and the former CEO of ARLA Propertymark, gave a portal-side view. “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 of OnTheMarket, added: "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.”
The major redress bodies also offered their support.
Sean Hooker, head of redress at The Property Redress Scheme, said the announcement was great news for the consumer ‘and will lead to a much more transparent and consistent way of introducing properties to the market’.
He added: “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 the changes were 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’.
She went on: “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.”