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Tuesday, July 8, 2014

More accountability wanted in real estate transactions - Business in Vancouver Magazine




Business in Vancouver Magazine has followed up on our last post about the Condo Industry's dark secret exposed by the MAC Marketing scandal.

Critics are calling on the B.C. government to do a better job of protecting real estate buyers in light of the results of an investigation into MAC Marketing Solutions and an incident last year in which staff made “false” statements to media.

The investigation revealed that it's legal for marketing companies and developers to have unlicensed staff at presentation centres. It also made clear that industry regulator Real Estate Council of British Columbia (RECBC) has no authority over those unlicensed staff if they work for the developer.

RECBC fined former MAC manager Nicolas Jensen $1,250 in late June and suspended him between July 9 and July 22 for his role in a scheme to dupe media in February 2013.

Jensen directed two unlicensed MAC staffers to pose as sisters who were waiting for wealthy Chinese parents to visit and buy them a condominium at Cressey Development Group's Maddox development as part of Chinese New Year celebrations, RECBC deputy executive director Larry Buttress told Business in Vancouver.

Jensen lost his job at MAC 12 days after the incident, and that loss of employment was a mitigating factor in what some, including Toronto real estate blogger Garth Turner, dismissed as an RECBC slap on the wrist.

The RECBC had no jurisdiction to take action against the unlicensed women, who posed as sisters, because the organization is limited to punishing licensed realtors and marketing companies.

The RECBC could have fined MAC, as the marketer, but its investigators chose not to levy any additional fines because Buttress said it deemed that Jensen alone directed the ruse.

Had the women worked for the developer, Cressey, instead of the marketer, MAC, RECBC could have meted out no punishment because it has no authority over developers or their staff.

“Everyone along the promotion chain should be accountable ultimately to the public,” said West End Neighbours director and Vancouver real estate observer Randy Helten. “If the RECBC is not doing that then some changes are needed [to B.C.'s Real Estate Services Act].”

Vancouver Cedar Party mayoral candidate Glen Chernen, who is a former licensed real estate broker, agreed.

“You're dealing with buyers who are making possibly the largest investment of their lives, a massive investment, and you would hope that the person dealing with them would have a certification,” he said.

“We don't know what's being said between the salespeople and the buyers in negotiations. A lot of things might be said that shouldn't be.”

Regardless, B.C.'s Real Estate Services Act and its regulations have a host of exemptions that allow non-licensed salespeople to sell real estate.

Developers support the status quo.

Cressey had unlicensed salespeople involved with projects about 15 years ago but now has no sales people, executive vice-president Hani Lammam told BIV.

Instead the company contracts all its marketing to third parties, such as MAC.

“I don't see a case for requiring all real estate transactions to involve realtors,” Lammam said. “I can go buy a home directly from an owner. I can go make a deal. I don't have to have a licensed agent involved in it.”

He added that if buyers want their own representation, they are free to bring along their own realtor.

“I don't think it's fair for the consumer to add the cost of representation when it's not necessary,” Lammam said. “Realtors are not inexpensive. So requiring everyone at presentation centres to be licensed would be an added cost.”

There are approximately 21,000 licensed realtors in B.C. It's unclear how many unlicensed sales staff are working for marketing companies and developers.

MAC owner Cameron McNeil told BIV that all of his sales employees are licensed and that the women who posed as sisters were not in sales roles but, instead, had “greeting and administrative duties.”
Greeting and administrative duties? But free to lie their asses off to the public in order to make the sale?

Marvellous.

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Tuesday, July 1, 2014

MAC scandal reveals a dark secret of the Condo Industry. Exposes how public is 'at-risk' to Realtor shenanigans!



As noted on Friday, the Real Estate Council of BC (RECBC) has finally taken action on the MAC Marketing scandal. That's where four employees of MAC attempted to manipulate local media with a story about fake asian buyers in Vancouver for Chinese New Year

The end result? Only the project manager on site that day (Nic Jensen) received a suspension. And as far as suspensions go, it was the most meagre of wrist slaps: two weeks and a $1,250 fine (plus remedial training).

This is the penalty for overseeing a complete and total ethical breach of the Realtor Code of Conduct? This is the penalty for orchestrating a lie that was subsequently seen by hundreds of thousands of people? Many pundits and observers at the time correctly identified the whole charade as a blatant attempt at trying to influence market conditions and sell a product under false circumstances? So what of MAC Marketing Solutions? No penalty for them? 

But by far was most intriguing fact was that the three other players in the media charade escaped scott-free.

Was there no accounting for the fictitious 'Chris Lee', Amanda Lee and the unnamed older blonde sales person who showed them around the display suites on TV? Did they not also violate the Realtor Code of Conduct?


When pressed on the issue, the RECBC let slip an astonishing revelation. All other staff on site at the MAC condo pre-sales centre were not licensed realtors. They were "unlicensed staff'" and therefore untouchable by the RECBC.

Huh?  Wait a minute... despite TV footage profiling these staff members actively showing and, in essence, marketing the pre-sales condos, they are 'untouchable' because they are "unlicensed staff"?

How can this be?

We are told this a legal loophole the real estate industry has been dancing through for quite a while now.

It appears that MAC (and other Condo sales companies)  use 'sales associates' to basically show and market the condos to potential customers. Then they trot the primed customer into the sales manager (the only licensed realtor of the bunch) who then completes the paperwork.

Since the 'sales associates' are not licensed realtors, they are not bound by any code of conduct. As proven in the MAC Marketing Asian Buyer Scandal, these 'sales associates' can lie and say anything they want - and they will not be held accountable for their actions.

This is an astonishing revelation.

Compare this to the world of car sales.

A member of the public walks into a car dealership (much like a Condo dealership) and wants to buy a car. Does the auto industry allow the primary sales activity to be handled by unlicensed staff who can say and make any claims they want to make a sale, the only contact with an accountable industry member occurring when the business manager closes the deal with the official paperwork?

Absolutely not.

The auto industry demands all car sales persons be licensed if they are to participate in selling process. This is done specifically to prevent the MAC Marketing type of abuse from ever occurring. When you walk into a car dealership, you have to wait for a licensed sales person to show you an automobile. The car jockey or secretarial staff is not allowed to do this for them.

Not so, apparently, in the Condo sales world.

It has now been revealed by the RECBC that unlicensed staff at a Condo Sales Centre, unbound by any code of conduct, can do and say anything they want in their efforts to sell and promote their product without repercussion. MAC Marketing Solutions was in no way sanctioned or punished for the actions of these unlicensed employees.

Real Estate and financial services guru Garth Turner advises that one senior executive working for a major Toronto-based developer has confided:
“You can work for a builder as a sales representative and sell homes legally in Ontario if you are hired as an employee of the organization. However, most builders prefer to hire a 3rd party sales organization which provides salespeople. Benefits do not have to be paid by the builder who subsequently saves money and liability.”
Clearly regulatory bodies have dropped the ball.

Who is protecting Canadians from a massive potential for abuse here?

The parable of 'Chris' and Amanda Lee proves these 'sales associates' are free to lie and deceive customers at will... and that's wrong.  

The only people who should be allowed to show, market, or otherwise promote condos at a real estate sales centre are licensed Realtors bound by their professional code of conduct, a condition which allows the real estate buying public recourse when misconduct occurs.

Exactly how widespread is this apparently perfectly legal practice in any given Condo Sales Centre? And how do we know this immunity isn't being regularly abused?

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Monday, June 30, 2014

Mon Post #2: The Agreed Statement of Facts as released by the RECBC



What follows is the "Agreed Statement of Facts" in the matter of the Real Estate Services Act S.B.C. 2004, c. 42 and in the matter of Nicolas Hans Jensen:
On February 14, 2013, Council received an email from a CBC News reporter, K.W.,regarding concerns about an interview on February 9, 2013, that had been conducted by a reporter from CBC and CTV with purported buyers from China, with respect to the marketing of a project and the impact that Chinese New Year may have on sales activity. The report had aired on CBC and CTV on February 9.

The background was that on February 9, 2013, arrangements were made by the general sales manager of MAC Marketing Solutions Inc. ("the brokerage") for reporters from CBC and CTV to attend a sales presentation centre which was marketing pre-sales on behalf of the brokerage.

When the sales manager was unable to attend the media event, she arranged for a licensee, Nicolas Jensen to attend the sales centre on behalf of the brokerage and to be interviewed by the reporters.

When Mr. Jensen attended the centre, he observed that four hostesses were sitting at the front desk. Prior to his interviews, he asked two of the four brokerage employees to take off their name tags, change their clothes as much as they were able and to act as pedestrian traffic behind the site model in the centre while the interview was being conducted.

When he made these arrangements, he did not ask them to provide statements to the press nor did he intend for that to take place.

After Mr. Jensen's interview with CTV, he was asked by that reporter if she could interview a potential buyer on camera. Mr. Jensen approached a couple who were present in the sales centre and asked them if they would speak to the media. They refused.

Mr. Jensen then spoke to the two brokerage employees and told them that the reporter wanted camera shoots and for them to continue being traffic. The media believed the employees were prospective buyers and were being made available to be interviewed. As Mr. Jensen prepared for his next interview with CBC, he observed that the reporter from CTV was interviewing the two employees and one of the employees in particular was answering questions and posing as an international buyer.

Observing that, Mr. Jensen left the centre and called the MAC Marketing VP of Sales (who managed the two employees) to tell her what had happened and for her to call him back as soon as possible.

Mr. Jensen then returned to the centre and completed his interview with CBC. All of the licensees and employees present at the time of the interview in question state that the events happened very quickly. The information provided to the media by the two employees was not rehearsed or coached.

On February 14, 2013, after the story had aired on CBC and CTV, some bloggers recognized the two women, or at least one of them, and after researching social media and other sources, it was discovered that the women were actually employees of the brokerage.

The managing broker of the brokerage issued an apology on February 17, 2013 for the media having been misled.

Due to the controversy and publicity of the situation, Mr. Jensen resigned from MAC Marketing on February 18, 2013.

Mr. Jensen has no prior discipline history with the Council
And here are the actual documents from the 'agreed statement of facts' (special thanks to CBC-TV and Reporter Matthew Black):


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Mon Post #1: CBC-TV video clip covering MAC Marketing Solutions suspension for misconduct


 
 As mentioned yesterday, CBC's Matthew Black and his coverage of the suspension.  ==================
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Sunday, June 29, 2014

CBC follows up with story on RECBC suspension for MAC Marketing Solutions' fake buyer fiasco - but we still ask: why were the others not dealt with?



CBC-TV has picked up on the news item that the RECBC has finally acted on MAC Marketing Solutions attempt at manipulating the local media.

CBC reporter Matthew Black (@TheMatthewBlack) tweeted earlier today he ran a story on the 6:00pm CHEK news and it will also air on the 11:00pm CBC broadcast:


Black also tweeted out this statement from MAC Marketing President Cameron McNeill:

McNeill says,
"I have always been proud of the high level of professionalism of the BC Development industry. MAC aims to uphold those standards and we pursue the highest of professional excellence and business ethics. This incident was a difficult learning experience and because of it, MAC integrated a combination of revised training and corporate governance measures so everyone on our staff clearly understands and adheres to our high standards. It is our commitment that this kind of incident does not happen again. When anyone is new to MAC and joins the company, business ethics and standards are reviewed as part of the initial company familiarization. MAC has taken this incident very seriously and our goal is to be the premium provider of services in our service area. Professional excellence has moved to the forefront of our core values and business practices."
We will throw up the CBC clip when it becomes available (you can now see clip here).

In the meantime, we invite you to review our last post where we ask a very pointed question: "what happened to the others involved the MAC's role in attempting to manipulate the local media?"

Why were they not suspended?

Some have speculated that Jensen was in charge and arranged the whole charade, the others in attendance that day simply following 'orders', but while that is a neat and tidy explanation - it's simply not the case.

So why were they not dealt with by the RECBC?

We suspect the answer will be highly disturbing for anyone who deals with purchasing a condo pre-sale in British Columbia.

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Friday, June 27, 2014

The RECBC Investigation into MAC Marketing Solutions misconduct is complete - but something is very, very wrong here. (Updated)


So on the Friday before a four day weekend for many - and with many out of town for the Canada Day holiday - the Real Estate Council of BC (RECBC) has finally issued results of it's investigation into the MAC Marketing Solutions media manipulation scandal.

A presentation suite for the Salt building on Hornby Street was the site of a charade where realtors posed as offspring of wealthy Chinese parents who were going to buy them a condo as part of Chinese New Year celebrations.

Nicolas Hans Jensen, who works for Onni Realty Inc., took part in a charade on February 9, 2013, when some MAC Marketing employees under his control pretended to be waiting for wealthy parents from China to come to help them buy a condominium as part of Chinese New Year celebrations.

Jensen is suspended for the two weeks between July 9 and July 22, must pay the costs related to successfully completing the Real Estate Trading Services Remedial Education Course and pay the RECBC $1,250 for expenses related to its investigation.

MAC’s CEO Cameron McNeill apologized to media immediately following the February 9, 2013 incident and said he would conduct his own investigation.

Jensen resigned from MAC 12 days later.

The day before that resignation, McNeill told BIV that a “senior manager” had left his company.

“Some poor judgments were made and those poor judgments led to unfortunate circumstances,” McNeill said at the time.
Faithful readers will be extremely disappointed with the outcome.  A two week suspension? A lousy $1,250 fine? You can view the RECBC disciplinary decision here.

But whether you find the decision disappointing (or expected, depending on you level of jadedness with the BC Real Estate Industry) there's something a-miss here.

What about the other players?

There were a number of MAC Marketing Solutions employees involved in this media sham. And no one knows the actual extent of their involvement. 

Why is there no reference to the infamous 'Chris Lee' and Amanda Lee?

Chris Lee' was the fake name for the MAC Marketing sales assistant who along with MAC administrative assistant Amanda Lee, presented themselves as house-hunting sisters to both CBC-TV and CTV-BC as part of a condo marketing publicity stunt.



Then there was the MAC employee who quarterbacked the fake couple through the display suite as part of the phoney presentation. She obviously knew these fake buyers were really her co-workers:

All the players in attendance before the TV cameras that day purposefully lied to and deceived the media/public.

And the scandal didn't stop them from plying their trade. In a promotional photo for the MThree development in Coquitlam several months later, the MAC employee we know as the fictitious 'Chris Lee' is shown as a member of the sales team.

Word is the RECBC investigation is now complete and there will be no further disciplinary action.

So why have these other MAC Marketing Solutions employees not been dealt with by the RECBC?

Stay tuned, the answer is very disturbing.

And the more we think about it, the implications may just rock the industry to it's very core.

(Also see: CBC follows up with story on RECBC suspension for MAC Marketing Solutions' fake buyer fiasco)

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Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Investors Group shakes up Canadian R/E market announcing the 1.99% Mortgage



Are these the effects of the Bank of Canada's recent declaration that low interest rates are here to stay?

Today Investors Group unveiled a 3-year mortgage at 1.99%, a move sure to reverberate through the real estate industry:
The Winnipeg-based financial services firm posted the rate on its website Tuesday, offering a 36-month term at a variable rate 101 basis points below IG's current prime rate of three per cent.

"It's probably something we may see more of," Toronto mortgage broker Marcus Tzaferis said. "They offer it up so they can cross-sell their investment products."

The offer comes with strings attached — namely that you can't break the mortgage for any fee during the three-year term, unless you sell your home. But the offer does come with the ability to double up monthly payments, or pay a 15 per cent lump sum once a year.

In real dollar terms, it could knock a lot of money off a mortgage payment, at least over the short term. A standard 25-year $500,000 mortgage at a five-year rate of 2.99 per cent works out to $2,364 a month. That mortgage under IG's new terms would be $2,115 a month — savings of $249 monthly, at least for the first three years, and as long as the variable rate doesn't increase.

Tzaferis speculates the company is willing to take a loss on the home loan temporarily in the hopes of making money elsewhere down the line.

"They get the opportunity to wrap you up and cross-sell their mutual funds and you'll probably renew and pay an extra half a per cent for a five-year then," he said.

Investors Group's five-year posted rate is currently at 3.4 per cent, slightly higher than what the market-leading big banks are offering.

Tzaferis says he recalls seeing five-year variable rate mortgages below two per cent several years ago, but it's believed this is the first such posted product since the recession that began in late 2008. Kelvin Mangaroo, president of mortgage comparison website RateSupermarket.ca, says it's the lowest rates he has seen in his company's six-year history.

"I think they were trying to break the psychological barrier of two per cent to generate some interest ... ahead of the peak spring buying season," Mangaroo said.

"Rates will go up over time, but it looks like it won't be any time soon," he said.

In 2012, a number of Canadian banks offered five-year mortgage rates below three per cent — something that earned them a stern rebuke at the time from then-finance minister Jim Flaherty. The banks quickly dropped the offer.

In March, Bank of Montreal again offered a five-year rate of 2.99 per cent, a deal that Flaherty's successor Joe Oliver was much more silent about.

Oliver released a statement Tuesday following news of the rate, noting the government has moved repeatedly in recent years to tighten lending rules and keep a lid on consumer debt and the housing market, but offering no hint it has any pressing intervention plans.

"I will continue to monitor the market closely," the statement read.

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