Two complaints made against Homewise property ads have been upheld by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA).
Two property listings for Homewise Ltd wee placed on www.rightmove.co.uk. The first (a) was headed “£234,000 Guide Price”. Text below stated “OPEN HOUSE SATURDAY 9TH MAY 2015 – by appointment only. PRICE REDUCED FOR THE OVER 60’s UNDER A HOME FOR LIFE PLAN (lifetime lease) subject to property criteria … Alternatively this property can be purchased without a Home Fo [sic] … More details …”.
The second listing (b) was headed “£234,000 Guide Price”. Text below stated “Key features. Over 60’s only … PRICE REDUCED FOR THE OVER 60’S UNDER A HOME FOR LIFE PLAN (lifetime lease) subject to property criteria. Call for your personal quote …”.
Two complainants challenged the headline price claims. One complainant challenged whether “Guide Price £234,000” in ad (a) was misleading, because he understood that the property was considerably more expensive than £234,000 if purchased not using the Home For Life Scheme.
The other complainant challenged whether “Guide Price £234,000” in ad (b) was misleading, because he understood that the property would be significantly more expansive than £234,000 for him as he was only just over 60 years of age.
Homewise Ltd explained that the ad contained a formatting error which had led to the description of Homewise services not being placed at the start of the ad. They said they had taken steps to rectify the error. They pointed out that, had the ad been formatted correctly, text at the bottom stating “Alternatively this property can be purchased without a Home For Life Plan for the full asking price of £X from [another agent]” would have been visible in the ad. They explained that they could only sell the property through the Home For Life Plan to the over-60s, but that it could be purchased for the full asking price through another agent and they believed that was made clear in the ad.
They explained their properties were listed as retirement properties on Rightmove. They said on a standard search of Rightmove the properties were included, but explained that the results could be filtered to remove retirement properties, including their Home For Life properties. They pointed out that text in the body of the ad identified the product as a Life Lease product.
Regarding the second complaint, Homewise explained that under the Home For Life Scheme, the price of the property depended on a person’s age, circumstances and property criteria, and the guide price reflected a mid-range price. The price could be higher or lower than the price quoted depending on those factors. For example, someone aged 75 would pay less than the guide price, whereas someone aged 62 would pay more. They said that Rightmove did not allow “from” prices in their ads or a range of prices to be quoted in the headline. Homewise considered “Guide Price” to be a more accurate description than a “from” price because the price could be higher or lower than the price stated.
Homewise pointed out the ad stated “Call for your personal quote” and believed that indicated that the price varied, depending on the individual. To make it clearer, they said they would amend their ads to state in the body copy “The price shown is for guidance only, the actual price you pay will depend upon your age, circumstances and property criteria. We cannot assist those aged under 60”.
On the firm complaint, the ASA understood that under the Home For Life scheme, consumers aged 60 or over could purchase a home with a discount of up to 40% of the value of the property. It also understood that a general search of properties for sale on Rightmove listed all properties, including retirement properties such as the Homewise properties, although we noted that those properties could be filtered out once the search had been carried out.
The ASA considered that consumers were likely to interpret “Guide Price” to mean an approximate price based on market value, whereas we understood that the guide price reflected the 40% discount applied under the scheme, and that the property was not available to anyone under 60 at that price. Whilst the ASA noted the text in the body of the ad, about the full asking price, it considered that it contradicted rather than qualified the headline claim. The ASA concluded that the claim “Guide Price £234,000” in the headline was misleading, breaching CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 and 3.3 (Misleading advertising), 3.9 (Qualification), 3.17 (Prices), 14.1 and 14.2 (Financial products).
Regarding the second complaint, the ad watchdog said it understood that the property was available to the over-60s on the Home For Life scheme at a range of prices and that £234,000 was around the mid-point of the range. It noted the body text which stated “Call for your personal quote”, but considered that did not sufficiently explain that the price quoted in the ad was a mid-range price and that it could be higher or lower depending on a person’s age.
Whilst the ASA welcomed Homewise’s changes to the ads, it noted the text “The price shown is for guidance only, the actual price you pay will depend upon your age, circumstances and property criteria” was not included at the time the complainants saw the ads and was in any case not linked to the guide price and therefore did not adequately qualify it. The ASA also considered the ads did not make clear that the guide price was the mid-range price or what the lower and upper price ranges were. For those reasons, it concluded that the claim “Guide Price £234,000” in the headline was misleading. On that point, ad (a) breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 and 3.3 (Misleading advertising), 3.9 (Qualification), 3.17 (Prices), 14.1 and 14.2 (Financial Products).
The ASA told Homewise that the ads must not appear again in their current form, to ensure that in future the guide prices quoted in their ads were not misleading, and to ensure that qualifying text clarified rather than contradicted headline claims.