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Four agencies investigated in latest cartel case

Friday 14 June 2019

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) provisionally found four agencies of breaking competition law by taking part in a price fixing cartel.

The Berkshire based firms have been named as Michael Hardy, Prospect, Richard Worth and Romans and are under investigation for setting minimum levels of commission fees for the sale of residential properties taking place in the Berkshire area from at least September 2008 which lasted for almost seven years.

The CMA has provisionally found that the four estate agents:

  • agreed they would all apply minimum commission rates for residential property sales
  • exchanged confidential pricing information
  • held meetings and colluded to make sure that they were all enforcing and maintaining the agreed minimum commission rates

Price fixing may see homeowners denied the chance of securing the best possible deal when selling their properties, as they are unable to shop around all their local agents for better rates.

Mark Hayward, Chief Executive of NAEA Propertymark comments on the Competition and Markets Authority’s (CMA) provisional findings: “Agents must be aware of competition law; there’s no excuse for collusion. 

“Activities such as price-fixing are not in the consumers best interests and means they might not be able to secure the best deal when selling a property.

“We have been promoting the CMA’s Stop Cartels campaign to educate agents about price-fixing, market sharing and bid rigging. We continue to urge all our members to adhere to current legislation to ensure best practice.”

Howard Cartlidge, CMA Senior Director, Cartels says: "Everyone knows selling your home is expensive. So, it’s important that people should be able to shop around all their local estate agents to make sure they are getting the best possible deal.

"Estate agents who conspire to set minimum commission rates are cheating homeowners and breaking the law. Where we find evidence that this is happening, we will not hesitate to take action to protect people selling their home."

The CMA’s statement said: "Today’s findings in the Statement of Objections are provisional and will not necessarily lead to a decision that the companies have breached competition law. 

"The companies now have the opportunity to consider the detail of the CMA’s provisional findings and respond to it. 

"The CMA will carefully consider any responses before any final decision is made."

Two agencies promptly responded.

The CMA

Tackling cartels is a fundamental part of the CMA’s work, and this is the third case brought against estate agents in recent years.

Previous actions include:

If you think that you might have witnessed an illegal business cartel, do the right thing and help the CMA to stop them by reporting them on the stop cartels page.