Friday, September 15, 2017

Christie's International Real Estate & SA's piddling Estate Agency Board vie for Worst Media Service title

Dear Readers,
Kathy Coumou
Christie's Executive Director
          There was nothing real about the way Christie’s treated my media inquiry. In fact it was so bad it was out of this world. You would think that a company with 32 000 agents in 12 000 offices in 46 countries with sales of $115- billion last year would be very profession when dealing with my simple, if perhaps embarrassing question.
          It’s hard to believe that operating out of New York in the land of free speech Christie’s was so much worse than South Africa’s Government run, humpty dumpty, Estate Agency Affairs Board (EAAB) in Johannesburg.
          Well it was, a lot worse, not that the service the Board provides is anything to brag about. And that not only applies to a blog inquiry like mine, but to the way it functions generally.  
          While researching a story (advertising morality)about misleading advertising by Greeff Properties, a Christie’s affiliate in South Africa, I felt I should find out if Christies approved of what the Cape Town estate agency was doing, before I wrote my post.
          Being a wishful thinker I wanted to get the views of Christie’s CEO Dan Conn.
          I looked for the most likely contact details on the internet and started by emailing the Press Centre at press@christiesrealestate.com . All I got were read reports from ostensibly different people. It was like emailing the wall. I wasn’t sure if the names like Ilana Markus, Lisa Gluck and Antonia Koumantaropoulou belonged to real people so I tried emailing two of them by name. Nothing happened.
Joachim Wrang-Wide`n

          Then I tried advertising@christiesrealestate.com ; info@christies.com ; and jwrang-widen@christies.com . Joachim Wrang-Wide`n is the Director of Affiliate Services for Europe, Middle East and Africa. So in theory if anybody could help me he could. Again I got no reply.
          I thought I was getting somewhere when Kathleen Coumou, an Executive Director listed third in the executive team below the CEO and the Chief Operating Officer, replied to my email asking for the best person to contact for a media inquiry.
          “Copying in Lisa Bessone. She can assist” was all she told me. So I sent her the full details of what I wanted the CEO Dan Conn to comment on. That put her back into silent mode and instead of getting something from her or Bessone, Elaine Brens, the Marketing Manager replied saying: “Please email our PR team at – press@christiesrealestate.com.”
Dan Conn

          I had gone full circle on the Christie’s roundabout.
          “I have done that already,” I told her in yet another email. “I find it hard to believe that I am having so much difficulty in getting a reply from such a large organisation like Christie’s.”
          In a final email I told Kathy Coumou: “I have done more than enough to get Christie’s side of the story, but as nobody is apparently prepared to give it to me I will just have to assume that your company has no problem with the type of advertising that was done. And I will be saying just that in my story.”
          Guess what – even that didn’t generate a response.
          I thought that if anybody could tell me if Greeff Properties’ advertising in a Cape Times supplement was misleading it would be somebody at the EAAB, the statutory body that controls estate agents.
          On the phone I was told that Margie Campbell, the Marketing, Publications and Communications Manager, dealt with the media. After sending her several emails and ones asking when I could expect a reply she told me that she was the wrong person.
          She had forwarded my email to Jimmy Baloyi, the Executive Manager and Deli Nkambule, the Legal Manager. Again I struggled to get a reply from either of them.
          Three days after my last email I sent another one on 21 August addressed to both of them. I told them that your Board claims at the bottom of its emails (the ones I got from Campbell) that it is committed to “achieving and maintaining the highest levels of consumer service excellence”, when in reality your service is terrible. After Margie Campbell sent my email on to the two of you and I got no reply my efforts to speak to you on the phone proved fruitless, because neither of you ever seemed to be in your offices and when I left messages nobody phoned me back.

          It was only after I had emailed Jill Corfield, the only member of the EAAB’s 15 member Board, whose contact details I could find, that I finally got a response from Deli Nkambule.
          I had asked if it was acceptable for an estate agent to advertise a flat for instance, for sale with a very realistic computer generated picture of it with ON SHOW in red in the one corner and the copy next to it saying something like “ON SHOW Sunday: Follow boards down Smith Street into Jones Road.” And if a potential buyer was to do that they would come to a vacant stand and what was shown in the picture would certainly not be ON SHOW.

          On 23 August Nkambule replied by first ticking me off for not going through the proper “formal process” with my question as “sending emails to individuals was not the proper manner of getting assistance from the EAAB.”
          From what she told me it appears that the EAAB has no special way of dealing with media inquiries, they have to be sent through the same channels as everybody else – people lodging complaints and the like. And as I told her this would take so long no section of the media would bother.
          Having told me that it would amount to misconduct if an estate agent’s advertising misrepresents something she would not say whether this would apply to the example I gave.
          As she described my question as being “unclear” it was inevitable that I didn’t get it answered in her eight point reply.
          Up to that stage I had not mentioned that the estate agency involved was Greeff Properties. But when I asked her if I should send her the full details I didn't get an answer. 
          
          Eventually on 29 August Beloyi’s email arrived saying that while each matter had to be dealt with on its merits Regulation 5(5.5.1) of the Code of Conduction stipulated that no agent shall “wilfully or negligently mislead or misrepresent in regard to any matter pertaining to the immovable property in respect of which he has a mandate.”
          However he could not answer “Yes’ or “No” to my question as a “whole lot of circumstances needed to be taken into consideration before it can be said that an estate agent has contravened this provision of the Code of Conduct.”  
          The following day I thanked him and told him he badly needed to “jack up” the service at his board. I outline my experience and told him to look at Hellopeter, the poor service, complaints website.
          “There have been numerous complaints against your Board,” I wrote. “All had ‘No response’ next to them, which would indicate that nobody on your Board cares about maintaining any kind of reputation.”
          I left it to him to look for what I found on Hellopeter - a disturbing list of comments made in the last few months such as “Still waiting;” “No service;” “Shocking;” “Its systems down for two weeks or more –No CEO accountability, No response” and so on.
          I expanded on my original question by saying: “I can't understand why you can’t answer this: Is it misleading for an estate agency to advertise a property development with the following: A very realistic picture of the entire complex with trees and veldt around it with ON SHOW in red in the top right hand corner of the picture; 20% SOLD in another corner and Sole Mandate in the bottom left hand corner. Below this picture were two more very realist pictures of a furnished bedroom and lounge. Further down were five lines describing the property’s, finishes etc. This was followed by “On show Sunday 3-5pm” with details of where a viewer could find the agency’s boards to get to the development. But if you followed the direction instructions you would have come to a vacant site with a hut of some kind used as a sales office. Nowhere in the advertisement was there any indication that nothing had yet been built. In fact just the opposite was true. 
"How you can say that there are a 'whole lot of circumstances that need to be taken into account' before a judgement can be made as to whether or not this is misleading? All that has to be judged is what is in print and nothing else.
“What would you say if an estate agency, contemplating an advertisement like this, asked your Board if it was acceptable, so as to avoid any problems afterwards?
“If your Board can’t answer this question I can’t see how it qualifies to police the Estate Agency business.”
I heard nothing more from him.
Hello Christie’s and the Estate Agency Board, it seems that your huge international real estate company and our relatively small Board are almost as bad as one another when it comes to dealing with media inquiries.
You should both be ashamed of yourselves, Christie’s more so than the Board, as we have come to expect this sort of thing from anything the South African Government runs.
Regards
Jon, a really disgusted 
Consumer Watchdog.

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