Victoria Minister for Consumer Affairs Michael O’Brien
Bentleigh Real Estate Agent Agrees To Strict Compliance Conditions Over Underquoting
Victor P Taffa
A Bentleigh real estate agent has agreed to stringent compliance conditions in an enforceable undertaking over misleading price advertising or underquoting, Minister for Consumer Affairs Michael O’Brien said today.
Hocking Stuart (Bentleigh) Pty Ltd, a corporate estate agent and its officer in effective control Mr. Nick Renna acknowledged to the Director of Consumer Affairs Victoria that they had engaged in misleading and deceptive conduct under the Fair Trading Act 1999 (Vic) and that they had contravened the price advertising provisions of the Estate Agents Act 1980, on 11 occasions during July to October 2010.
The underquoting was identified during routine compliance inspections by Consumer Affairs Victoria, designed to educate agents about how to comply with Victorian laws.
“In the undertaking, Hocking Stuart (Bentleigh) Pty Ltd and Mr. Renna have agreed to put in place a compliance program to ensure the conduct is not repeated.” Mr. O’Brien said.
“The compliance program will be independently audited each year and reports on their compliance sent to the Director all at the expense of the real estate agency.
“Buying a home is the biggest financial outlay in a person’s lifetime and laws are in place to protect consumers from misleading advertising and underquoting.”
The company and Mr. Renna acknowledged that they had been involved in misleading and deceptive conduct and contravened the real estate price advertising rules on eleven occasions between July and October 2010 in respect of four residential properties.
The conduct involved publishing advertisements containing estimated selling prices which were less than the estimates given to the vendors when engaged to sell those properties.
Under the other terms of the enforceable undertaking given to the Director, Hocking Stuart (Bentleigh) Pty Ltd and Mr. Renna agreed:
- Not to make any statement in the marketing of real estate about the price of any real estate that is less than the selling price in its agreement with the vendor for a period of two years;
- To implement and maintain a compliance program to ensure that this conduct does not happen again;
- The compliance program is independently audited each year;
- The audit will involve inspections of company records, advertising and personal interviews with agents and staff;
- To publish a public notice in the real estate section of a major metropolitan newspaper and at their business premises to alert the public and industry of this conduct.
“This is a stern warning to the real estate industry and agents that any businesses suspected of misleading price advertising will find themselves under close scrutiny and could face legal action.” Mr. O’Brien said.
“If the company or its director fails to abide by the undertaking, the Director of Consumer Affairs Victoria will not hesitate to consider appropriate additional enforcement options, including court action if required.”