Property portals

by Christina Hirst DipRSA BSc(Hons) FRICS AIITT (see below)

If you use a property portal you should ensure that it complies with the following:

1. Transparency in its operation as a company

The property portal should:

  • Have a physical business address at which it can be contacted.
  • Provide information on its site about itself, its policies and its terms and conditions. The information must be easy to find and clearly stated. Information should include:
    • its legally registered name or the name of its proprietors or partners, all names under which it trades, the address of its registered office, its physical business address, an email address to which questions and complaints can be sent and a telephone number together with the hours during which that telephone line is open;
    • in the event the property portal takes payment for services from users, it should make clear the services and products offered, prices, taxes and other charges payable, payment arrangements, delivery times, any restrictions on customers served and any warranties, guarantees or other conditions, including cancellation and refund terms;
    • information on its responsibilities and complaints and resolution procedures, including how to submit a complaint;
    • details of its compliance with relevant legislation or regulation of its activities.
  • Ensure that, where it subcontracts the performance of certain activities covered by these standards to a third party, subcontracted work conforms to these standards.

2. Honesty in obtaining property details

The property portal should:

  • Ensure that all properties displayed have been obtained with the permission of the client and the agent appointed by the client.
  • Either enter into a direct commercial relationship with estate agents to display their properties or, in the case where another party (e.g. software supplier) has the commercial rights freely entered into by the estate agent to pass on their property details, will notify the estate agent that their properties will appear on the property portal.
  • Will maintain and make available a register of all those organisations (and their URLs) to whom property details are passed or to whom it provides software allowing its property database to be searched. The register should be available on written request and, where it exists, on a part of the website accessible to estate agents.

3. Quality in the conduct of its business

The property portal should:

  • Maintain access to the website for users and estate agents, including having in place site monitoring procedures and procedures for prompt restart of the site in the event of failure.
  • Ensure that adequate information is presented about individual properties to allow the user to make high level selections of suitability in a similar manner to the presentation of information in a property newspaper.
  • Conform to the Advertising Standards Code of Practice in all its advertising, including any statements made on the website.
  • Allow its estate agent members to indicate which professional bodies and/or industry accreditation schemes they belong or subscribe to (e.g. Association of Residential Lettings Agents (ARLA), National Association of Estate Agents (NAEA), Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS), Ombudsman Scheme (OEA) and Surveyors Ombudsman Service (SOS), though is under no obligation to require membership of any specific body.

4. Shared responsibility for the accuracy of property information and compliance

The property portal should:

  • Publish its policy on accuracy of information, indicating how information is obtained and with what frequency it is updated.
  • Publish its policy on responsibility for property information and compliance and also as to what codes and standards it complies with.
  • Ensure that estate agents from which it accepts properties for listing conform to relevant current legislation and regulations.
  • Provide the facilities to display the status of a property in terms of being for sale, under offer/sold subject to contract and sold.
  • Remove duplicate details of the same property where those duplicate details have been provided by the same estate agent.
  • Apply changes to and remove property details based on updates supplied directly from the estate agent or from the estate agent's chosen business partner (typically a software provider) within 24 hours of their receipt.
  • Provide facilities for the estate agent to be able to amend and to be able to remove a property from the property portal within 24 hours, independently of any regularly applied data feeds.
  • Take responsibility for all property accuracy and compliance issues.

5. Clear respect for the privacy and security of estate agents' property and other data

The property portal should:

  • Ensure that information supplied by the estate agent is stored securely, including physical security, control of access to systems, back up and recovery of information and use of virus checkers.
  • Put in place suitable authentication processes to secure the estate agents' access to their data.
  • Provide contact details on the site for any estate agent wishing to contact the portal by email and telephone and will undertake to respond to such contacts within one working day.

6. Clear respect for privacy and security of users' personal data

The property portal should:

  • Display its privacy policy on the website which should include:
    • what information is collected;
    • the specific purposes for which the information may be used;
    • whether and for what purposes the information may be disclosed to other parties;
    • a contact point for Data Protection Act enquiries; and
    • policy on the use of cookies.
  • Have available a data security policy signed by senior management describing how information is secured and procedures to ensure the policy is conformed to.
  • Ensure that information supplied by the user is stored securely, including physical security, control of access to systems, back up and recovery of information and use of virus checkers.
  • Ensure that the user is able to change their personal details and requirements online.
  • Put in place suitable authentication processes to secure the user's access to their data.
  • Ensure that the user can exclude themselves from direct mailings or other unsolicited contact by the property portal or effected by the property portal on behalf of others.
  • Ensure that all data is obtained, stored and managed in compliance with the Data Protection Act.

7. Transparency in role as a communicator between user and agent

The property portal should:

  • Make clear in all instances where information on a specific property is displayed, who the estate agent is and how the estate agent can be contacted.
  • Pass all enquiries and correspondence intended for the estate agent to the estate agent within 24 hours of receipt, or, in the event of a technical failure, will notify the estate agent within 24 hours of the existence of a technical problem.
  • Not use the contents of correspondence for its own commercial gain, and specifically undertakes not to pass details of users or their requirements provided in relation to an estate agent selling a particular property to any other agent.

8. Taking payments from users via the website

Where a property portal accepts payments for goods and services via its website it should conform to and be accredited by a recognised web accreditation service.

Christina Hirst  runs a management and training consultancy specialising in surveying, real estate and construction.