Business

Property group threatens legal action over website's refusal to advertise its houses

"We want this situation resolved" says Mayfair Group director Victoria Patterson
Gary McDonald Business Editor

BELFAST-based property developer Mayfair Group is threatening to instigate legal proceedings and seek damages from a leading property portal over its alleged refusal to allow it to advertise £9.5 million worth of homes for sale on its website.

Mayfair, which has active development interests across the UK and Ireland and which in the last 25 years has helped to build more than 2,000 homes, is taking the action against Propertynews.com, which is headquartered at Lough Road in Lurgan.

The case is being taken because Mayfair - which also carries out the functions of an estate agent, dealing with the sale of its own new properties and also the resale of some former homes - was told it “doesn't meet the required criteria” to advertise on the Propertynews site, despite being allowed to do so on other portals.

Propertynews.com is owned by Lurgan-based firm GCD Technologies, a custom software development business, having been acquired last November from print and digital publisher Mediahuis.

Mayfair has now written to Propertynews putting it on notice of its intention to issue proceedings against it for breach of statutory duties under the Competition Act 1998 and the Enterprise Act 2002.

Mayfair's legal representative is arguing that Propertynews is “abusing Mayfair's dominant market position to unfairly prevent it from selling its own properties from its own estate agent business”, adding that blocking the advertisement of Mayfair homes is detrimental to consumers by limiting the properties advertised to them.

The developer's estate agency division Mayfair Residential contacted Propertynews in April wanting to advertise the sale of a number of its properties including Henley on the seafront in Cultra for £950,000 and homes in Moira in the £258,000 to £358,000 range, and eight new homes at Thorburn Gate off Belfast's Antrim Road for £169,950.

But in a series of emails exchanged between both parties, seen by the Irish News, Propertynews initially said its decision to accept the adverts was “being reviewed by its management team”.

It said it was issuing new terms and conditions to all agents with an updated definition of an agent to check that it matched the Mayfair business model: “An estate agent is an office that has a high street presence, represents more than one vendor and is not a sole representative of one developer or a group of developers that work together”.

After several more weeks of email correspondence, Propertynews contacted Mayfair Residential on June 13 to say: “From time to time, new innovations in the industry challenge our criteria and cause us to re-evaluate our rules. Your application is one such example.”

It adds: “As part of the Mayfair Group, and with the clear focus on your website towards new build developments from the Mayfair Group, your organisation blurs the lines between an estate agent and a property developer.

“Under our current eligibility guidelines, while you are only listing properties built by the Mayfair Group, you would not be eligible to list on Propertynews, in the same way that we do not allow private individuals or companies to list their own properties on our site.

“We would love to find a way to bring you on board which is why we have been actively discussing this matter at a board level internally and working with our estate agent partners to refine our terms for an evolving world.”

Mayfair Group director Victoria Patterson told the Irish News: “We have ambitious plans to deliver hundreds of new sustainable homes over the next five years and we look forward to making a number of significant announcements in the near future, and are keen to have this issue satisfactorily resolved.”

When asked by the Irish News for a comment, Propertynews said: “We don't have any response to your business story but appreciate you reaching out.”

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