“Marketing and advertising” remains leading cause of home moving complaints

The benefits of providing greater information up front have been laid bare in the latest The Property Ombudsman (TPO) Annual Report which has again highlighted “Communication and record keeping” and “Marketing and advertising” as the leading causes of home moving complaints.

2020 also saw a significant increase in enquiries with a record 39,285 reported, up 29% on 2019. The majority were resolved at first contact through effective advice, guidance and signposting with 5,122 enquiries accepted as complaints by TPO.

One case highlighted by the report discusses a scenario in which a buyer paid a reservation fee of £1,000 to secure the property from the market following a viewing.

During a second visit after paying the reservation fee they noted the ground to the rear of the property was soggy and a ditch behind the garden fence. This was only behind the property and not the neighbouring properties.

The Buyer spoke to a neighbour who informed them that there was a flood in 2007 which badly damaged the original property. They learned that the flood water came in from the road and was carried away to the ditch to the rear. The Buyer also learned that a builder informed the neighbour that the property required underpinning due to the water damage and, as such, it was cheaper to demolish it and build two new semi-detached properties in its place. Hence why there were now two properties, numbers 19 and 19a.

After discovering these issues with the house, the Buyer decided it was best to withdraw their offer and request the return of their reservation fee. The Agent refused their request and the Buyer complained referring to misleading information about the property.

In total TPO dealt with 1,656 relating to sales and issued consumers £1.9m in financial awards during 2020, down 13% on 2019.

Sales overview:

  • 65% of complaints were supported by the Ombudsman
  • 68% of complaints were received from sellers, while 30% came from buyers
  • The top causes of complaints were: (1) communication & record keeping, (2) instructions/terms of business/commission/termination, (3) marketing & advertising, (4) complaints handling

Rebecca Marsh, Property Ombudsman commented

“2020 was a year like no other for all businesses and everyone had to quickly respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. TPO effectively transitioned from an office-based service to a remote working operation with no loss of service. I’m extremely proud of the whole team who performed well whilst rising to the challenge of global events.

Our customer services team responded to another record volume of consumer enquiries with an ever-increasing number of people opting to contact us via TPO’s complaints portal, launched in February 2020. The pandemic is not over yet, so it will be interesting to see if this trend continues or adjusts as we slowly get back to normal.

TPO helped over 34,000 enquiries that did not need to go on to become accepted cases by signposting them to organisations that could help, or giving advice and guidance to promote a local resolution between them and the agent. Providing a front-end enquiry service is one of the unique functions of an ombudsman. Its importance in helping consumers in such a complicated sector, whether or not their issues fall within TPO’s remit, should not be understated, as often straightforward guidance and advice can help stop disputes from arising in the first instance.

Enquiry levels in 2021 are already showing further year-on-year increases and we are expecting this to continue as the impact of the pandemic on peoples’ relationships with their homes continues to play out.”

The full annual report is available on the website and in PDF and all case summaries are available on the TPO website.

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