Accurate advertising crucial despite appeal dismissal
Consumer Protection has emphasised the accuracy of price and location in real estate advertising remains a crucial element of consumer law and is essential in upholding the integrity of the industry and the reputation of agents.
The comment was made after the Supreme Court dismissed the Commissioner for Consumer Protection’s appeal against a Bunbury magistrate’s decision to find a local real estate agency not guilty of false and misleading advertising relating to two property listings.
One charge brought against the agency involved the advertising in January 2012 of a Cookernup property as being located in Harvey. Justice Allanson upheld Magistrate Langdon’s judgment that an interactive map on the advertising website sufficiently qualified the stated property location, so that the representation as to location was therefore not strictly misleading. The interactive map took prospective buyers directly to the true location, being 12 kilometres from the Harvey township but within the Shire of Harvey boundary.
A second charge related to the listing between January to April 2012 of a Pelican Point (near Bunbury) property which was first advertised at a price range of $2.2 to $2.5 million and later changed to $1.5 to $2.5 million, where the owner had said he would not accept an offer below $2.2 million. Justice Allanson found that Magistrate Langdon erred in how she came to her decision, but upheld the not guilty verdict on the basis that there was no evidence presented in support of the charge which identified how the target audience would have reacted to the advertised price range.
Justice Allanson rejected elements of the defence case put forward by the agent which stated that the advertising of the price range was agreed to by the owner, that it was a widespread practice by Bunbury real estate agents and that the lower price was based on market value.
Commissioner for Consumer Protection Anne Driscoll said the dismissal of the department’s appeal does not remove the legal requirement under consumer law for real estate agents not to mislead potential buyers.
“The original magistrate’s decision and the subsequent dismissal of our Supreme Court’s appeal are judgments made on the specific circumstances and the evidence presented in this particular case,” Ms Driscoll said.
“It should not be taken by the industry as a licence to advertise a property as being located in a more desirable nearby suburb, or advertised at a price that is not actually acceptable to the owner.
“The overarching principle of the Australian Consumer Law is that advertising must be fair and accurate, and not misleading. Consumer Protection will continue to enforce the law in relation to false and misleading representations and ‘bait’ advertising, and we will take action if there is evidence that these laws have been breached.
“We advise real estate agents to adhere strictly to consumer law and their codes of conduct by advertising properties for sale in a manner which is fair and accurate.”
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