How thousands still lose millions.
by Neil Jenman
[This article is dedicated to Baby Willow and her beautiful mother.
Saving you both makes me feel so good.]
Reading Time: 9 minutes
Back in 2007, I was attacked by the director of a property investment company. Around a million Australians witnessed that assault. It was replayed on television over the ensuing weekend. It was then the lead story on the following Monday night’s episode of A Current Affair. The reporter was a determined and effervescent young man, Ben Fordham.
“You’re lying, Jenman,” yelled the director as he punched me in the face and kicked me several times. Unfortunately, the security guard was not quick enough to save me. Still, without that guard, it could have been worse.
On Monday night I watched the story on Channel 9 from my hospital bed. My injuries were more serious than first thought. “Life threatening,” according to the doctor in the emergency department. To me, it never seemed that bad. As often happens with injuries, the worst pain comes after the incident.
But my wife was distraught. And extremely angry. For years she had watched me railing against property crooks, often near-alone.
REGULATORS TAKE ACTION.
Back then, as now, the government authorities did little to protect property consumers. Indeed, were it not for the help of TV shows such as A Current Affair and Today Tonight and others in the mainstream media, thousands more consumers would have been ripped-off.
My wife was later consoled when an investigating officer from the ACCC (Australian Competition and Consumer Commission) contacted her. He was kind and somewhat apologetic at (as he put it) “letting your husband fight these battles alone.” Within days, the man who assaulted me had been driven out of business by the regulators. And Ben Fordham’s story helped save thousands more investors from losing money.
But it was too late to help investors who had already invested in this man’s nefarious scheme.
All lost all their money.
Yes, you read it right. Every investor lost every dollar they had been so cleverly (and wickedly) persuaded to “invest.” Not only did no one make any of the massive future profits the “expert consultants” promised, no one got back any capital. They lost all their money. Every dollar.
It was, as I predicted, Australia’s worst property investment.
INVESTING TAKES TIME.
The company had been going for 15 months. The director claimed he had not been “given a chance.” He said, “investing takes time.”
Investing does take time.
How much time is “enough” to get a return from property investing? Now, in 2022, it has been 15 years (a lot more than 15 months) since I confronted this director. And every investor has now lost every dollar.
Investors can die waiting for returns from bad investments. Indeed, no amount of time can save investors from the worst scams. Investors have more chance of finding the secret to eternal life than turning such scams into good investments. Indeed, even if life was eternal, these investments would still be duds.
The man who assaulted me and put me in hospital with life-threatening injuries was not able to hurt any more investors. I said at the time – and, despite my wife disagreeing – I still mean it: It was worth getting assaulted to protect investors.
I truly detest people who masquerade as “expert advisers” and fleece investors with bad property deals.
AN ENTIRE INDUSTRY TO SCAM “INVESTORS”
What upsets me now – 15 years after being attacked – is how investors are still fleeced. Company directors still destroy the financial lives of thousands of good and decent investors. Indeed, there is an entire industry in the real estate world set up for the purpose of fleecing such people.
Now, let’s be more frank – without being unkind to the people who lose their money in real estate (or make less profit than they should). To call these people “investors” is the wrong word.
I think of an investor as a person who places money into something that gives certainty. To me, there are two types of certainty. The first is certainty of safety. The second is certainty of profit. On the safety aspect, it must be 100 per cent – nothing less. On the profit aspect, it must be impressive.
The people who get suckered into bad investments do not qualify as investors. Now, to be sure, many (if not most) of these people are nice people. They are honest, decent, and trusting. And that’s one reason they get sucked into bad investments. They have a naïve and rosy picture of the world. They cannot conceive of evil – especially in the real estate world. Indeed, the very word “real estate” implies investing safety.
But no, please.
Not in the hands of those who operate in this scam industry. The people that these so-called “experts” are targeting are not investors, they are – and please do not take offence – suckers.
Nice people, sure.
Decent people, definitely.
But – as the saying goes – “too nice for their own good.”
I cannot believe how many good people still get scammed. Sure, the scams are slick. And yes, the scammers look less like scammers than years ago.
Most of all, these scammers seem so impressive and successful (in wealth terms) – that almost no one wants to challenge them. No one dares challenge them. Even their victims agree to accept confidentiality agreements (“gag clauses”) when the scammers – faced with an angry victim – agree to “release” victims from bad investments.
And besides, who else wants to risk being bashed? Or tied up in legal knots with threats from amoral lawyers who give scammers far more protection than victims ever get. No thanks.
Even I must agree that I don’t want to see my wife in tears. And yes, for her sake, I try to avoid putting myself in harm’s way these days.
IT’S NOT STUPIDITY, IT’S FRAUD.
But I will never agree – no matter how many times I am told or by whom I am told – that the people who get caught in bad property investments are “greedy” or “stupid.”
Sure, they are naïve and perhaps childishly inexperienced. But let’s call it for what it really is – fraud. The people who get sucked-in to these bad property deals are “suckers,” to be sure. They are also the victims of fraud.
One of the definitions of financial fraud is “to obtain a financial advantage by deception.”
And sure, fraud is very hard to prove. The number of times I have heard that statement (excuse) followed by the word “intent” – as if the scammer did not intend to do wrong – is enough to make me want to give up in despair.
Until last week.
Until I spoke with Willow’s mum. For more than two hours.
HOW WILLOW TOUCHED MY HEART.
Without revealing many personal details, let me just say this: Willow’s parents are not just good and decent people, they are beautiful people.
They are heading towards middle age.
To me, they are the near-perfect example of what it means to be a true success in life.
They have jobs that are deeply meaningful – helping others.
They have a family life that is loving and solid – plus a level of closeness with relatives such as siblings, parents, uncles, aunts, cousins.
And of course, the greatest love of their life, their adorable gift-from-the-Angels, their gorgeous daughter, Willow. At less than a year old, Willow just has a smile that melts their hearts.
One of the best reasons for their success is their attitude.
They are the near quintessential definition of the word “content.”
While talking to Willow’s beautiful mother, I kept thinking how Buddha said something such as: “To increase your happiness, lower your desires.” Or the Lebanese poet, Kahlil Gibran who said, “Love has no other desire than to fulfil itself.”
This is a family that truly “gets it” with the meaning of life. I love such people. The world doesn’t have enough but, still, they make the world a better place. They leave a trail of happiness wherever they go.
But there is only one small thing they don’t have in their solid life of success: Solid financial independence. They don’t have their own home. Not yet. But they will.
The arrival of Willow has made them far more financially security conscious. Until she arrived, they were too distracted on helping others and, of course, the joy and meaning this brings to their lives – than to worry much about their own financial lives.
Oh sure, they saved well – better than many.
But then they had a personal financial commitment that took most of their savings. They didn’t think twice. Family – especially a family as loving as theirs – comes first.
But now, living in a one-bedroom apartment in an inner-Melbourne suburb, they realise they should be focussed on their own home.
But look at prices.
Look at what’s happened these past few years – the last two, in particular.
And then along come the property experts.
The company with a safe sounding name.
With a director who tells people what they want to hear.
It’s all so good. This company truly seems to understand the predicament of this family.
And guess what?
Well, of course, the company claims to offer the solution.
But it’s a solution for suckers.
Fortunately, Willow’s mum told her Dad about this company. He wrote to me. His email went something like this:
EMAIL FROM WILLOW’S GRANDFATHER:
Hi Neil, I read your articles with great interest. My daughter tells me about a property investment company. The group has experts who suggest where and what to buy based on your situation and to maximise tax incentives as well. “So basically, it runs itself. You buy property leaving a buffer for unexpected costs. You then rent it out, it covers its own expenses. In a couple of years, or sooner, you meet with the property manager who looks at the increased equity and your additional savings. You then buy a second property. Then review again in a couple of years etc. The idea being that you don’t need much savings – just borrow from the bank because even if you must pay mortgage insurance, it’s nothing compared to the growth of the properties in the grand scheme of things. What is your take on this Neil?
EMAIL REPLY FROM NEIL
Your daughter is about to get ripped-off. This is a classic property spruiking company that preys on naive and gullible wanna-be investors. Call me and I’ll explain.
After more than two hours on the phone with this lady – and feeling good that I have protected her and her family from losing hundreds of thousands of dollars, I feel bad that thousands of other good and decent families are still being targeted.
But get this…
These scammers don’t look like scammers. And here’s something else, people (suckers) reading this article will be thinking: “This can’t be happening to me. My investment consultant is so nice. And so friendly.”
And here’s something else: Some people (suckers) fear discovering they have been scammed. Some would rather not know.
And here’s why these companies have good reviews: Because suckers do not know they are suckers. Like auction sellers who but don’t realise they should have got a better price, these suckers do not realise they have been suckered.
And here, in summary, is a one-sentence (40-word) description of a property scam that fits the definition of “The worst property investment in Australia” …
“A mass-produced (clone) property – probably a house-and-land package deal (or a unit/townhouse) that is shoddily built – located in an outer suburb of a major city and is sold to suckers for several hundred thousand dollars more than its true value.”
And the poor suckers – like husbands or wives with unfaithful partners – can go years before they discover they have been betrayed. Years lost when they could have been with someone worthy of trust.
There are few vices worse than deliberate disloyalty. It’s common in the real estate world.
AN OBVIOUS GOOD-TO-GREAT INVESTMENT.
How do you protect yourself from being sucked-in to a bad investment? Well, think of something obvious. What is the best real estate “investment” most people ever make?
Think about your parents?
Maybe your grandparents?
What is the greatest asset of almost every deceased estate?
That’s right, the family home.
And from whom was that home bought?
Not a so-called “property expert.” Just an ordinary estate agent.
People who buy ordinary homes in ordinary suburbs from ordinary agents are the ones who later discover they made an extraordinarily great investment. That has been the scenario in Australia since the end of the Second World War.
I need to tell you this to make my second last point to you: In my 50 years of real estate, I have never seen anyone buy a property from a “real estate expert” or via a real estate seminar or via someone who claimed to “locate high growth areas” and then, later, sell that property for a high profit. The people (suckers) who become victims of real estate experts (scammers) would have done better sticking a pin in a map of almost any suburb or regional centre in Australia.
Or, they could have just subscribed to the Jenman website and followed our suggestions over the years.
And yes, as my wife and family and friends often tell me, here’s the final point: “If they won’t follow the advice of a person who never asks them for money, who never asks them to sign anything and, most of all, who got bashed and hospitalised to protect the good and decent people he so loves and admires, who will they believe?”
All I can do is keep saying three words, DON’T SIGN ANYTHING in the real estate world without checking with us first.
Just as Willow’s grandfather told his daughter to do.
And yes, I will now guide them in the right direction, one where I know they will get two definite outcomes: First, they will be safe. And second, they will profit. And maybe, certainly more likely, get their own home.
Oh, and I won’t get assaulted.
Now that really makes me happy.
FOOTNOTE: Last week I wrote an article about an abusive auction agent called Tom Esze. I said that, of all abuse I’ve received, his was by far the worst. Some readers may feel that being assaulted and hospitalised is worse than a verbal assault on me (and my family). Not in my opinion. And besides, a few years later, the company director who assaulted me wrote to me and to my wife. He apologised and said to my wife: “I wish I could be a man like your husband.”
I have it on good authority that Tom Esze has been told (by real estate agents, no less!) that he should apologise for his horrible and gutless verbal abuse of our family. But as one agent said to us: “He’s obviously a bully with a hammer.”
And bullies are usually cowards.
And cowards rarely must the courage to apologise. Especially as this one was challenged to a debate on the alleged merits of the auction system. He’s run for cover on that one. Tom who?