Purplebricks or Purpletricks? CIELA Founder statement: Michael Bruce is a liar and a conman
By CIELA Founder Charlie Wright.
Purplebricks founder and CEO Michael Bruce is a liar and a conman.
Tens of thousands of mostly first-time home-sellers have handed over non-refundable money in the vain hope it would save them money on the cost of selling with conventional estate agents. That money is lost because, unlike a conventional estate agent who earns nothing unless a sale is achieved, Purplebricks do nothing proactive to find a buyer other than list on the web. Their fee is secured regardless of the outcome.
Michael Bruce has known from the outset that some hopeful home seller customers would be handing over money without selling. It was his idea.
But those home sellers’ money is lost, along with the time wasted while they waited in vain, perhaps missing the opportunity to buy the new home they were hoping for.
Even after the ASA’s ruling that the commisery ads are misleading, he remains unapologetic, attacking conventional agents for not being transparent enough over their fees. Well Mr Bruce, rather than a one-size-fits-all flat fee for the sale of someone’s most important asset, perhaps these agents come to a specific arrangement for each of their home-seller clients, which reflects their personal circumstances, reasons for moving, motivation, saleability, flexibility and relationship with the agent. But one thing is for certain, those home-sellers choosing a conventional agent (which by the way is more than 90% of them) are fully aware of what their fee will be, if they sell, before they sign anything, and they won’t be tricked into signing a consumer credit finance agreement without their knowledge, as some of your staff have done to your customers.
Tricking vulnerable people into parting with money they can’t afford to lose for a service which might result in a sale of their property is not clever; it’s criminal, exploitative conduct that to me is worse than the Wonga.com scandal. At least Wonga’s vulnerable customers knew they were being exploited from the start, they were just so desperate they didn’t have a choice.
Now that the ASA has ruled their advert to be misleading, every Purplebricks customer who paid their fee but didn’t sell should be considering the following three steps:
- Demand an immediate refund
- Calculate any additional losses incurred as a result of lost time on the market and additional fees paid elsewhere to achieve a sale
- Consider whether their lives have been adversely affected by failing to sell within the hoped-for time frame, for example missing out on a new home, if the move was for new employment or a growing family, hoping to move into a new school catchment area.
I would not be surprised to see a class action being brought against Purplebricks by its customers. Anyone who profits at the expense of misled customers is, in my mind, tantamount to a thief, and should be treated accordingly. The Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Act of 2008 says the same thing, and that criminal charges can be brought against companies who breach these regulations.
Worst, it’s not only Purplebricks customers who have been affected. The entire estate agency industry of firms large and small have experienced the worst downward pressure on fees in decades as a result of the perception of what selling fees should be.
Every conventional estate agency, from Countrywide and Foxtons, down to the thousands of local, one-man-band independent agents across the country have suffered, and not only from falling fees and instructions lost to the purveyors of dishonest advertising campaigns. Countless agents have experienced a slowdown in their chains when it has involved a Purplebricks property, because of the almost non-existent sales progression services of that company.
Nobody objects to new competition in any form, if it plays by the rules. It’s easy to make money if you cheat customers, but eventually you will get caught out. Purplebricks’ success depends upon misleading marketing and lies about their completed sales rate. One specific lie I refer to is Michael Bruce’s repeated claim of how many properties they sell. He resolutely refuses to confirm that these figures represent completed sales, but continues to claim that a property with an accepted offer is countable as sold, and in doing so continues with the misleading tactics, aka lying.
Watchdog’s investigation into the many complaints made against the company made little difference, as Mr. Bruce’s slippery performance and their equally slippery TV ads continued unchecked.
But tricking people into signing a finance agreement without them knowing is absolutely against the law, and they have got away with that saying that all companies make mistakes and they need to do better.
This ASA result may prove too little too late for CIELA, but that does not deter me one moment from pursuing this scandal until PB has ceased all its dishonest conduct. I have stood up to bullying my whole life, and the kind of bullying CIELA and I personally received from the Purplebricks’ lawyers was classic empty threats and posturing, designed to intimidate the uninformed into backing down.
Taking money from people who cannot afford to lose it for the sake of profit is one of the most dishonourable, disgusting ways a person can become wealthy. Shame on you Michael Bruce. You are nothing more than a common thief to me, the Del-boy of conmen who got lucky, abusing the livelihoods of other honest people so you can go and buy another shiny, ill-fitting suit.
If this sounds personal, it’s because it is. I have been serving independent agents for almost 20 years. They are the unsung heroes of people who need help to move house. What he has done, at the expense of them and their customers, is despicable.