What constitutes estate agency work? The OFT has come up with some new guidelines to clarify the situation...
In the olden days before the advent of the internet, the role of an estate agent was fairly obvious - selling a property on behalf of the vendor.
But since the arrival of the information super highway, matters have become a bit more complicated - so much so that the Office of Fair Trading has had to step in.
There are around 200 internet property retailers currently trading in the UK, which is where controversy can arise.
Some of these companies claim not to be involved in estate agency work when many of them do seem to fall within the legal definition, says the OFT.
In the view of the internet companies, customers who are already signed up to sole agency agreements with traditional high street estate agents are not breaking that agreement when they sign up with them.
But agents disagree and the end result is consumers pay twice - the agent and the internet property retailer, even though the latter had advertised itself as not being an estate agent and told the client they wouldn't have to pay a fee to their original agent.
No Frills? To prevent this from happening, the OFT has collaborated with the Trading Standards Institute (TSI) and the Local Authorities Coordinators of Regulatory Services (LACORS) to produce new guidance which aims to clarify the estate agent situation for both consumers and businesses.
The OFT says that the guidance provide examples of the types of activities carried out by property retailers that are likely to fall within the definition of estate agency work as set out in the Estate Agents Act of 1979. These include:
Providing clients with a "For Sale" board and/or putting it up outside their property, particularly where the board contains the property retailer's contact details
Receiving and fielding queries from potential sellers or buyers and passing on details to their clients
Sending out property particulars and arranging viewings
Trevor Kent, former president of the National Association of Estate Agents, explains:
"In a nutshell what this means is that if a seller gives an estate agent a sole agency to sell their home and then calls a '£99 no frills internet firm' in who finds a buyer they still have to pay the agent their fee."
Full details of the new guidance can be found on the Office of Fair Trading website Estate Agents Act - internet property retailers
Christine Ward, OFT Director of Consumer Regulation Enforcement, added: "All those involved in estate agency work owe duties to their clients and must not mislead consumers.
"Today's guidance, produced in agreement with our regulatory partners, provides clarity in an important and growing sector within this market."