Monday, November 13, 2017

Even with its impressive brain power BIG BUSINESS never learns not to do the dirty on its own customers

Dear Readers,
Save's Hyper director Ebrahim Kajee
Picture The Times
          The South African arm of Smeg, the Italian manufacturer of multicoloured kitchen and other appliances has just been revealed as a price fixer, a practice outlawed almost 50 years ago.
          Caught out it agreed to pay the Competition Commission a fine of R100 000.  This was certainly not a proud addition to its colourful history.
          As an investigative reporter on the Business Times (part of the Johannesburg based Sunday Times) my expose` resulted in the country’s first price fixing conviction way back in 1975.  Yet, as Smeg has proved, companies are still at it to the detriment of consumers and the firms like Smeg that have their names tarnished by this type of greed.

          In 1975 Hampo Trading a subsidiary of Premier Milling was fined R300 by a Johannesburg Regional Magistrate for price fixing on the accessories it sells with its Japanese made Pentax cameras. The fines have certainly inflated since then. My impression was that the magistrate was overawed by the occasion by restricting the conviction to the accessories because he said the law did not apply to the cameras as they were patented.
          The authorities had clearly been very lax in policing this type of illegal activity because price fixing was rife in those days. This was the first conviction under a five year old law that stipulated that “any agreement, understanding, business practice or method of trading which is calculated to have the effect of compelling or inducing a reseller to observe a specified resale price is unlawful.”
          Hampo had told its retailers that it must not grant discounts of more than 10% off its suggested retail price. And it warned in a circular that “those who do not observe our pricing conditions will not be supplied at all.”
          At the time I obtained irrefutable evidence that manufacturers and supplies of anything from cameras, mattresses, furniture, electrical appliances, toiletries and pantyhose either would not supply discounters or stopped supplying any retailer that did not abide by their pricing structure.
          Pick n Pay’s chief buyer at the time phoned some firms in my presence and asked for stock. The head of the firm that was the agent for a well known brand of men’s toiletries didn’t mince matters when he said Pick n Pay could not be supplied because they did not allow their toiletries to be discounted. He couldn’t afford to antagonise chemists and some other big chain stores by allowing Pick n Pay to cut the price.  

Another one in the same type of business said he could “never permit” any price cutting of his product because it could cause his firm an enormous amount of trouble.
          Apart from Hampo trading I named six other firms that were clearly in the business of price fixing, but no action was ever taken against them to my knowledge. I haven’t identified them in this post because I don’t know whether or not they still fix prices. In all probability they don’t because they would have been out of business by now.

          The Competition Commission that I rate as possibly the best Government department has really been making up for what was not done in my day as a newspaper investigator.  
          The impressive way it has been tackling the furniture removal firms (dishonestyrecalled another of my Sunday Times investigations all those years ago. Companies that have been having a collusion field day for decades are now finally being made to pay serious money for breaking the law.
The Commission also fined South Ocean Electric Wire Company R13-million after it admitted price fixing and collusive tendering between 2003 and 2012. And what was possible a record was the R98-million Tiger Consumer Brands had to pay for fixing bread prices in the Western Cape from 1994 to 2006.
          Smeg was nailed because Save, an eight supermarket family business based in Pietermaritzburg, had the guts to take a stand by reporting it for price fixing when Smeg tried to stop it unduly cutting the price of Smeg’s products.
          Three years ago a Hirsch's customer complained that it was selling a Smeg gas stove for R17 999 when Save’s Hyper price was R14 999. Then, according to reports, Hirsch's took this up with Smeg.
          Hirsch's is another family business founded with R900 by Allan and Margaret Hirsch in a tiny showroom in Durban in 1979. It now has 17 appliance and furniture stores all over the country making it a lot bigger than Save, which is confined to the Northern KwaZulu Natal area.
          Smeg told Save to cease rocking the boat by selling its products at such low prices that they were upsetting its other retail customers. When Save refused to comply Smeg stopped supplying its main store a Pietermaritzburg Hyper.
          Save took this up with the Competition Commission and that’s when the fine was imposed and Smeg was ordered to lift its supply ban on Save, which had lasted for almost two years.
          A Commission spokesperson commended Save for its stand against Smeg.
                       Dolce & Gabbana might be great creators but they 
                                 lack a sense of humour (bananas).

          In an email I told Margaret Hirsch her firm’s Chief Operations Executive that the reports could have given the impression that Hirsch's use its buying power to stop competition that under cut it.
          She replied that before she commented she would rather get her attorney to do this as it was a “sensitive issue.”
          Meanwhile her Chief Executive Officer husband Allan told me in an email exactly what happened and it was clear that Hirsch's never tried to stop Save selling Smeg because it was cutting the price so drastically.
          Smeg was contacted to find out if it was giving any special deals to retailers which Hirsch's would obviously have liked to be part of.
          “The bottom line is we buy a gas stove from Smeg at R14 600 plus VAT,” Allan said. “We add 8% and we sell it for R17 999. Save was selling it for R14 999 including VAT. That’s why we queried it with Smeg as we were unsure how they could retail it at R3 000 below our price at R1859 odd below our cost.
The Hirsch's first team

          “Smeg advised there was no special deal and they would speak to Save.”
          What happened hasn’t put Hirsch's off Smeg. “We are trading very well with it,” he said. “Our customers love it and we love it.”
          On the phone he told me that Save’s main business was in grocers and every now and again they had these very special deals like the Smeg one on which they would not have made any profit.
          I then emailed his wife saying: “Not to worry. Save your attorney’s fees. Your husband spoke to me and he cleared up everything as far as I’m concerned.”

          Jon, who has been a Consumer Watchdog since before the Boer War so he knows a little bit about the subject.

P.S. The Save Group was founded by Moosa Noorgat in 1987. And apart from sorting out price fixers its charitable side lived up to its Save name by giving R100 000 worth of grocery vouchers last year to help feed the 82 children at the Salvation Army home in Pietermaritzburg. The previous year it donated R2 500 monthly. Smeg might like to do something like this instead of harassing its customers or wasting money on a fine.

Monday, October 16, 2017


Dear Readers,

         The drought in Cape Town devastated our kikuyu lawn which can normally be expected to revive as soon as the winter rains arrive. But this year they were so pathetic that instead of being green it turned red.
         Flanders poppies took over. We didn’t plant them nature did.
         About four years ago a neighbour gave us a few seeds. They are minute, like small grains of sand.  After that we had some in the flower beds here and there and one year they almost disappeared completely for no particular reason. So the last thing my wife and I expected was that a drought would supercharge their growth to something we had never seen before in the 10 years we have been in our house.

             And they didn’t only appear where the lawn had been. They popped up all over the place. If our driveway hadn’t been brick paved it too would have been covered in red. As it was they still managed to end up flowering in some of the joints between the pavers.
         One even gained a foothold on the side of a small brick wall. How that little seed could have remained there long enough to germinate in a soilless environment only nature knows.
         The majority are red, but inexplicably a few pure white ones appear every now and again.  We have tried planting the seeds from these in the past, but we never get anything like a bed of white. How it works I don’t know.

         A Canadian doctor’s haunting poem and the efforts of an American school teacher put this red flower on the map as a symbol of remembrance of those who fought and died in various conflicts from the First World War onwards.
         In Flanders Fields, the world’s most famous War Memorial Poem was composed by Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae on the battle front at Ypres, Belgium in 1915. These poppies grow naturally in areas of disturbed earth throughout Western Europe, so when World War 1 churned up the fields of Flanders and Northern France they turned the barren earth into a sea of blood red so different to the fighting that had just ceased.
Lt. Col. John McCrae's poem In Flanders Fields
         Then thanks to the determined efforts of an American school teacher Moina Bell Michael an artificial red Flanders Fields Memorial Poppy was adopted by numerous organisations around the world to raise money for ex-service men and women in need of assistance. 
        Now almost 100 years later it is still the inspiration for a Poppy Day every November because it was on the 11th of that month that the Great War ended in 1918.
          Michael, who was inspired by McCrae’s poem, wrote her own one We shall keep the faith. And that’s exactly what she did by starting this everlasting remembrance movement.
         The White Poppy has had a much more chequered existence. Perhaps that’s why it doesn’t grow nearly as prolifically as the Red one. Britain’s Women’s Co-operative Guild adopted it in 1933 as a lasting symbol of peace.
         Worn on Armistice Day, now Remembrance Day white poppy replicas were at one time produced by the Co-operative Wholesale Society because the Royal British Legion refused to be associated with its manufacture. Veterans felt it undermined the meaning of the red poppy.
         It was so divisive that some women lost their jobs in the 1930s for wearing the white ones. In 1940 Britain’s Daily Mail called for it to be banned because it was encouraging conscientious objectors.
         The White Poppy Appeal is now run by the Peace Pledge Union, the oldest non-sectarian pacifist organisation in Britain.

P.S. Here’s hoping they will stick to gardens and won’t be popping up after any battles in South Africa in the future.

Thursday, October 5, 2017


Dear Home Owners,
          A new French law stipulates that publications with digitally altered pictures of models have to make this clear in a warning. This, it is hoped, will avoid false ideals of beauty in a country with 600 000 people with eating disorders.
          The penalty for those that ignore this is huge with a minimum fine of R597 000 in our money.
          South Africa should do something similar to stamp out the subterfuge in estate agency advertising.
          I recently took Greeff Properties, a Christies International Real Estate affiliate in Cape Town, to task for misleading advertising (advertising). Its newspaper advertisements contained ON SHOW pictures of homes in new developments that had not yet been built. The illustrations were very realistic computer generated ones.
The next time this was advertise Artist's Impression appeared in
very small letters below this same picture of the complex
          Mike Greeff, the CEO and founder, told me initially that his firm was doing nothing wrong as the pictures were obviously an artist’s impression. Then he had second thoughts and when the same properties appeared again in the Cape Times the advertisements had Artist’s Impression in the smallest of letters in the one corner.
          He thanked me “for my input in this regard.”
          But if a South Africa law was to make this compulsory it should require the truth warning to be a certain size in relation to the advertisement so that agencies could not get away with something that is so small as to be almost meaningless.
          As I have already told Mike I can’t understand why he doesn’t openly admit in these advertisements that building has not yet begun because anybody who is interested will soon find this out when they go to the vacant site.
Mike Greeff

          Since he changed his newspaper advertisements his firm’s “Top 21 Property SHOWCASE – CHRISTIE’S International Real Estate” for the Kommetjie and Scarborough suburbs of Cape Town has been circulated. It’s in the Spring 2017 Village Post, a local news flyer originated by Village Homes before it was absorbed into Greeff Properties. This is delivered to people in those areas.
          The entire one side of it is taken up with pictures of what appear to be 18 existing homes with the three others being clearly vacant plots.
          So in an email I told Mike that it would make an interesting competition to ask the people who had the flyer dropped in their letter boxes if they could spot any fictitious buildings.
          “There is not a single picture there in which the building shown clearly looks like an artist’s impression. So if people know that one of them doesn’t exist, doesn’t it make the whole lot suspect?” I asked him.  
            I attached pictures of some of the 18 featured including the one of the building not yet built. I only know about this one because I live nearby. I have no idea if the others are fact or fiction.
          The one spotlighted is The Aviary.
          It is described too grandly as an “Exclusive Estate” when it is a small development of seven semi-detached units of just over 200 square meters being shoehorned into a tiny piece of land.
          Construction has not even started on any of the dwellings.
The empty Aviary site
           I wonder what Christies International Real Estate (christies) that is in 46 countries and prides itself on picking the right affiliates which are by invitation only, thinks about this unreal promotion.
          To give Mike the benefit of the doubt perhaps the honesty remedy that appeared in his later newspaper advertisements had not yet been formulated when the flyer was printed. So we’ll have to see what happens with the next one.            
          I once again asked him about his “Greeff Developments” claims for developments that had been advertised in his firm’s various newspaper supplements. He made no comment when I had previously suggested that this was misleading.
          I told him that people I had spoken to interpreted this as meaning that his firm had a financial interest in the developments mentioned and was not just the selling agent.
          “If you are merely the selling agents I think that most people would say that it is misleading to describe them as ‘Greeff Developments,’” I pointed out to Mike.
          Chapman’s Bay Estate was one of them and when I checked with one of the developers mentioned on its website I was told that Greeff Properties was the selling agent but not part of the development consortium.
          A lot of houses have already been erected on what can clearly be called an estate because it's huge and is for 145 well spaced homes.
Mike evidently read my email but did not reply.
          I have no knowledge of the property business so I don’t believe it should have been up to me to teach the likes of Mike Greeff what is or isn’t misleading in his advertisements.
          He should have known that already.
          The law I suggested would let me off the hook.
          Happy house hunting and watch out for those ads that are “clearly artist’s impressions” that could fool anybody they are so realistic. In the French case at least the models ON SHOW do actually exist.
          Jon, a model Consumer Watchdog.

P.S. The South African Government’s Estate Agency Affairs 
Board(real estate) is supposed to keep estate agents in line, 
but its efficiency leaves much to be desired.

Sunday, October 1, 2017


Dear Newspaper Readers,
Andrew Bonamour CEO of Tiso
Blackstar Group
          Being in the business of cornering shysters and highlighting inefficiencies would surely have taught the Sunday Times that coming clean was always the best way to defuse any situation.
          But when it had its own back to the wall about employing a crooked journalist it showed it has learnt nothing from its exposés or what it advocates for others.
          Apologising was not in its vocabulary.
          This was disturbingly illustrated after my post: Exposed: The Sunday Times’ love affair with a crook (love affair) was published on my blog on 10/9/2017.
          I pointed out how wrong it was that Jim Jones, the one time Editor of the Johannesburg based Business Day, had continued to be featured as a writer in the Sunday Times’ business section (Business Times) for eight years after he had been publicly exposed as a thief in a 2009 report in Noseweek, South Africa’s only investigate magazine.
          As if that was not bad enough Noseweek also revealed that he had abused his position as one of the paper’s freelances to get his own back by writing a scathing article about Moneyweb, an online financial publication. This was founded by Alec Hogg where Jones had been employed as its Mineweb Editor. Hogg was still there when the firm fired Jones after he stole the equivalent of R200 000 from it.
Bongani Siqoko

          On 21/9/2017 I asked the Sunday Times Editor Bongani Siqoko in an email if he was “big enough to tell me that Jim Jones will not write for the Sunday Times again.” But he wasn’t. I got a read report and nothing more.
          So I put the same question to Andrew Bonamour the Chief Executive of Tiso Blackstar (formerly Times Media) the Group that owns the Sunday Times. I told him I got no answer to my email from his Editor Bongani and gave him the link to my post.
          I added; “I accept that this happened before you took over as CEO (This was in 2012), but that should not stop you from healing the wound to some extent now, by giving me the undertaking that I have asked for.
          “How different in principle is this kind of behaviour by the Sunday Times to what KPMG and the like have been doing, even if it is on a smaller scale?”
          The replies I got were made even more peculiar by the fact that Andrew has been, or still is a director of a host of companies and his areas of expertise include investment banking and corporate finance. They were so odd that I wondered if perhaps they were the work of a hacker.
          Apart from this aspect his assertions had the same tone as the ones Jones displayed when he took Moneyweb apart. Bonamour’s ones however, did not even have a semblance of truth in them.
          “Are you sure you have the eighth(sic) person,” his email said. “*Jim Johns bea(sic) was former editor of BD. There is a *Jim Jones who is also a union leader.”
          Business Day is in the same Group as the Sunday Times so I would have expected Bonamour to have got his facts right about Jones’ tenure there. He also should have been aware of what happened to Jones when he was at Moneyweb, and if he didn’t know he could have easily found out.
          In a subsequent email he told me: “You(sic) wrong. Don’t just take Alec Hogg’s word for something.”
          “I’ve got the right person alright,” I replied. I included two attachments from Google that showed that Jones had been the Editor of Business Day and Noseweek had carried an article entitled: High on the Hog. How Jim Jones ripped off his website employer and then spun the story…… Former Business Day Editor Jim Jones.
          “If I had got it wrong,” I told him “I would have expected the Sunday Times Editor and the Business Times Editor to have corrected me by now.”
          Nothing I could do would get him to agree that his biggest selling paper had made a huge mistake in continuing to employ a known crook and that it would not be using him again.
          Having dismissed Hogg as a liar quite unjustifiably, he said something similar about Noseweek in his final email: “Noseweek is hardly a source. They write what they want.”
          So with the Sunday Times in the dock his pathetic defence was to just rubbish the prosecution regardless of the overwhelming evidence against his paper.
Alec Hogg

          Hogg, who is now the Editor and Publisher of BizNews, had this to say when I passed on Bonamour’s comments about him: “I never expected that from him. Sad.”
          He explained that the Moneyweb board had given Jones the chance to repay the money which he did. “I was against it and wanted to press charges but was overruled,” he stated. “They did agree that we would inform the SA Reserve Bank and tax authorities, which we did. I never heard anything more.
          “After he consulted his lawyers Jones’ defence was that I said he could inform our Canadian partners, Infomine, to divert money due to us into Jones’ Mauritius bank account.
          “Your concerns are valid but mud wrestling is an over-rated sport. There is nothing more powerful than the truth and it always wins in the end.
          “I moved on long ago.”
Today 1 October the Sunday Times explained exactly why its editor would not answer my question and why Bonamour was defending the use of Jim Jones even though he doesn’t seem to know who he is. 
Jim Jones

          Jones’ byline was on another Anglo American story on Page 6 of the Business Times. Could we suddenly find him being moved up to the paper’s Mining Editor, after all he did have the title of Mineweb Editor at Moneyweb.
          In the Letters to the Editor in the same edition Dave Harris fortifies my point perfectly. Headed Sunday Times is no holy cow he wrote that the paper had rightly shown no sympathy for KPMG, but we must not forget that by its own admission it had made mistakes in its reporting of the SARS investigative unit.
          “Barney Mthombothi (columnist) writes that the media has done a sterling job of exposing malpractice, while your editorial demands all must come clean and take it on the chin,” he continued.
          “The Sunday Times always needs to take into account its own fallibility, otherwise it may be the case of people in glass houses throwing stones.”
          Well it is certainly not making any admissions in the Jones case. It is doing exactly the opposite to coming clean, or taking it on the chin.
          How long can we expect this love affair to continue? And what will it do to the paper’s reputation, especial among the business fraternity that is well equipped to see the implications of this sort of thing.
          Before I posted this I sent a copy to Bonamour and invited him to make any comments he wished.
          He retorted that it was “bizarre that you would drag me into this when I don’t choose columnists nor do I interfere in ST or any publication. Media accounts for 20% of our business. I had never heard of Jim Jones until you emailed me.”
          It certainly was bizarre that he didn’t mention this in the first place.
Anonymous contributor
          He told me to take this up with the Editor of the Sunday Times and the Editor of the Business Times which I had already done.
He ended by saying: “You are welcome to run whatever story you like.”
So here goes.
          Jon, the Poor Man’s Press Ombudsman, who tells you what the main stream media won’t normally reveal about its fellow club members.

*Note: Jimmy Johns is a substantial American sandwich restaurant chain and James Jones, known as Jack Jones was a well known British trade union leader who died in 2009. Were these the people Bonamour was thinking of when he got Jim Jones’ background so terribly wrong and asked me: “Are you sure you have the eighth(sic) person.”

Friday, September 15, 2017

Estate Agency's advertising morality - Is it kosher for properties to be pictured as being ON SHOW when they don't exist?

Dear Prospective Property owners,
Mike Greeff
          I asked Mike Greeff CEO and founder of the Greeff Properties estate agency how he could justify newspaper advertisements for his firm that contained pictures of ON SHOW homes that had yet to be built?
          They were in the Cape Times in Cape Town where he says he started his business from his dining room table in 2001.
          He really hit the big time when his firm was asked to join Christie’s International Real Estate as an affiliate. Christie’s has built its world wide empire in 46 countries through a rigorous selection of local brokerages. These affiliate appointments are so prestigious that they are by invitation only.
          So Greeff Properties has a very high standard to live up to. That’s why I wondered why it resorted to this kind of advertising. And I was even more baffled when I tried to find out from Christie’s if it approved of what Greeff was doing.
          In spite of his extensive experience in the property game Mike doesn’t seem to be aware of the meaning of ON SHOW or SHOW HOUSE as Google refers to it. Numerous explanations from the Collins English Dictionary to Longman and others are given, and all of them say much the same thing.
          “A house that has been built and fitted with furniture to show buyers what similar new houses look like.”
          There is absolutely nothing to suggest that a plan or a model of a yet to be built property on a site that is currently vacant qualifies for that ON SHOW label that appeared on the pictures of some of the new developments Greeff was promoting in that supplement.
          The contentious issue at stake was this:
What would the majority of people expect to see on a development site if they were first attracted to it by an advertisement with very realistic colour pictures of a townhouse or flat complex building? In some cases pictures of furnished rooms were included. They also had ON SHOW in red on the corner of the pictures with the copy next to it making it appear even more real by giving directions like this: “ON SHOW Sunday 2-5pm. Follow boards from Brommersvlei, Rust en Vrede into Wycombe.”
11 August - Wycombe Place
11 August - Wycombe Place with nothing yet built on the site
26 August - Revised ad with *Artist's impression in the
bottom right hand corner
          Christo Weilbach, a Board member of South Africa’s Estate Agency Affairs Board (EAAB) that is the statutory body that polices estate agents, agreed with me that this kind of adverting is “misleading.” He emphasised that he was speaking in his personal capacity and not as a board member.
Weilbach is with Belinda Oosthuizen Properties in Pretoria and is Vice-chairman of the Northern Region of the Institute of Estate Agents. This is a national organisation that represents agents and their principals and Mike Greeff is a member.
Its Code of Conduct states that “members shall in offering property, avoid misrepresentation or concealment of material facts which are known to such member.”
Here are extracts of my email conversation with Mike Greeff about this touchy subject?
15 August 2017
Dear Mike Greeff,
I am a freelance journalist, who also has a blog and I am proposing to write a story about what I and other people I have spoken to consider to be misleading advertising done by your firm. This is why I am contacting you to get your comments on what I discovered. On 11 August your firm had a 16 page advertising supplement in the Cape Times. In it there were at least five advertisements (There could have been more as I didn’t check them all) with very realistic pictures in them that were described as being ON SHOW when they haven’t even been built yet. There was another picture of what looked like a completely built up estate, which also doesn’t yet exist. And while this one wasn’t labelled ON SHOW there was no other implication that people could have got other than this was what they could go and see.
On your website you are quoted as saying: “Our ethos is we are a boutique agency servicing a niche market and as such we specialise, which means our standards must remain impeccably high.”
How can this kind of advertising possibly be described as setting an “impeccably high standard” when it is clearly misleading? Image how somebody would feel, if based on your advertising, they had arrived at one of the sites on Sunday and found nothing there.
I haven’t yet established what Christies International, to which your firm is affiliated, thinks about this kind of advertising. But I see on the web that the three pillars of its business are “Integrity, Expertise and Discreet Client Service.”
11 August - The developer's website described this as "set on the banks
           of the Hout Bay River"
whereas this advert said it was "on the banks of
            the Disa River Wetlands"
possibly because Greeff didn't want to high light
Hout Bay where there have been violent protests recently

11 August - This was the closest they had got to a complex on
the site
26 August - Revised ad with *Artist's Impression in the bottom
right hand corner
17 August
I asked him if he wanted to say anything about this or whether I could assume he had no comment to make.
18 August 2017
He told me he would reply on Monday three days later.
21 August 2017 – Monday
His promised reply did not materialise so I sent him another email saying that I assumed that I could now go ahead with my post as he no longer wished to comment. I added: “Obviously I can’t force you to explain why your firm made the claims it did in that advertising supplement. In it buildings were pictured and referred to as being ON SHOW when they didn’t actually exist. And I think if you did a quick survey among passers by in the street, who own their own homes, all of them would say without hesitation that this kind of advertising is not at all kosher.”
22August 2017
He replied saying he wanted to get “all facts and opinions” and would get back to me on Wednesday 23 August. It was strange that he should take so long to answer my initial email if his advertising had been perfectly above board.
          Later the same day he finally replied to my email of 15 August saying:
“At Greeff Properties we are very involved in the sale of developments and your suggestion that we are in any way acting unlawfully or unethically in our advertising is incorrect and rejected. 
“We are busy with various developments which we have advertised as being on show, some of these developments are already built upon, some are in the course of construction and others where building has not as yet commenced. 
“The intention of having show days is for potential purchasers to be able to see the property upon which the development is to be constructed or is being constructed and to decide whether they want to buy into a new development.
“When people come to see the property they are shown details of the intended development and are given information concerning what is proposed to be built and the specifications relating thereto.
“We conduct our business in an ethical manner and according to the code of conduct of the Estate Agency Affairs Board.”
Clause 5.5.1 of its Code of Conduct stipulates that agents must not “wilfully or negligently mislead or misrepresent in regard to any matter pertaining to the immovable property in respect of which he has a mandate.”
Mike concluded his email by stating: “I’m not sure whether you are actually looking at buying in a development but, if you are, I am more than happy to meet with you and to discuss the development of your choice with you. If you require any further information please do not hesitate to contact me.”
This baffled me because I had at all times made it clear that I was a journalist about to write a story and no reporter worth his salt would consider buying property through an estate agency accused of misleading advertising that he was writing about.
In spite of having told me that there was nothing unethical about his advertisements lo and behold they changed. In the Weekend Argus of 26 August most of the developments that I had seen before were pictured once again with ON SHOW prominently displayed in the top right hand corner. Only this time in the tiniest of letters they had “*Artist’s impression” on one side of the last line of the copy below the pictures.
27 August
I told Mike that the changes were an admission that his previous advertisements had been misleading. Why are you so reluctant to tell people in your ads something like “Building is expected to start soon,” I asked, because they are going to find out soon enough that there is nothing on the site? What you are doing, I submit, could make some people wonder about the ethics of your firm in general.
30 August
Mike explained that the rejection of my allegation that their advertising was misleading was based on “our opinion that the images are clearly renderings/artist impressions. However, you drew our attention to your concerns, and your letter was taken to heart by our marketing department, and they, for the sake of future clarity, have implemented a few small changes. In this regard, thank you for your input.”

*    *    *    *
          He ignored my suggestion that his advertisements should make it absolutely clear that the stands were still vacant.
          Has his small addition solved the problem? You be the judge.
I have no idea how long Greeff Properties had been running the type of advertisements I had concerns about, before the changes were made.
          Jon, a Consumer Watchdog of long standing who would be a property investor if only……. he had the money.

P.S. Read about the incredible way Christie’s dodged my efforts to get comment about Greeff’s advertising from its CEO Dan Conn & the Estate Agent Affairs Board’s reluctance to say whether or not its original advertising was acceptable

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 . 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 ; ; and . 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 –”
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.
Jon, a really disgusted 
Consumer Watchdog.