Although this guidance deals primarily with property retailers who only use the internet as a means of operating, the same principles will apply to other businesses which use other methods of operating but which, by virtue of their activities, fall within the legal definition of estate agency work.
Under section 1 of the Estate Agents Act 1979, the legal definition of what constitutes estate agency work is very wide and even if you don't call yourself an estate agent you may be seen to be one in law when you do certain things. Subject to certain limited exceptions you will be engaging in estate agency work if, in the course of business and acting on instructions from a third party (your client) who wishes to either buy or sell property (an interest in land), you do either (or both) of the following:
(1) things for the purpose of, or with a view to, effecting the introduction to your client, of someone who either wishes to buy or sell property
(2) things after such an introduction has been made by you to secure the sale or purchase of the property.
The law also only requires you to do things for the purpose of, or with a view to introducing your client to a buyer or seller in order for you to be acting as an estate agent. It is not necessary for you to actually introduce your client to a buyer or seller in order to fall within the legal definition of estate agency work.
If you are merely 'publishing advertisements or disseminating information' then you will not be acting as an estate agent. However, this exemption is a very narrow one.
Below is a non-exhaustive list of examples of the types of activities typically carried out by property retailers that we consider would take them beyond the exemption of merely publishing advertisements or disseminating information. If you engage in such activities, you will be, or are likely to be, engaging in estate agency work:
You will be misleading consumers if you state that you are not doing estate agency work when you are. If you are acting as an estate agent, you must comply with your legal duties such as providing your clients with information on their prospective liabilities (e.g. be clear and upfront about charges) and declare to buyers and sellers any personal interest that you or a connected person (such as a business associate or a relative) may have in any properties detailed on your website. Further information about what you need to know if you are engaged in estate agency work can be found in the OFT publication The Estate Agency Guide.
It is also a criminal offence under the Property Misdescriptions Act 1991 for those acting as estate agents to make false or misleading statements about specified matters relating to property.
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