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08 February 2016


How will James Robertson treat his clients?


by Neil Jenman

JAMES ROBERTSON is a salesman with Belle Property in Unley, a suburb of Adelaide.

Prior to working for Belle Property, James Robertson worked for another real estate agency in Unley, Walter & Irvine Real Estate, owned by Kevin Walter and his wife Leanne Walter.

Kevin and Leanne Walter are two of the finest estate agents in Australia. They are decent, hard-working, extremely ethical and completely dedicated to both their clients and their staff. Being part of a national real estate group, they have become respected across the country for their caring natures, their friendliness and their willingness to help so many people. I am proud to call them my friends.

In late 2013, James Robertson, who had no prior experience in real estate applied for a job with Walter & Irvine. In his early 30s, he presented well. He looked good, like a movie star; and, as the saying goes, “He said all the right things.” He said he was a man of integrity, he said he was willing to work hard and learn the system that Kevin and Leanne Walter used – a system based on ethics in real estate and superior client care. Indeed, James Robertson said that one of the reasons he was attracted to Walter & Irvine was because of their ethical systems and their commitment to client care. All sounded good.

James Robertson began working at Walter & Irvine in October 2013. After a short probation period, he became a salesperson at the start of 2014 on a salary of $77,000 which is more than double the gazetted rate in South Australia, but then Kevin and Leanne Walter have always believed in taking good care of their staff and if this means paying twice as much as other agents, that’s what they do. They have also found that by treating staff well, the staff treat them and, more importantly, their clients well. It’s a philosophy that has worked well for them.

Except with James Robertson.

James Robertson’s sales performance could best be described as lacklustre. In 21 months he averaged around two sales a month, about a quarter of the standard expected under the system he was using.

If Kevin Walter has a fault it’s this: He’s too soft. He rarely fires people, especially salespeople which, many times has worked to his detriment. It’s hard to pay big salaries unless salespeople deliver big results. But, despite his mediocre results, James Robertson was covering his expenses and so Kevin did what Kevin does – allowed a below-standard salesperson to stay on his team.

But then on October 12 this year, James Robertson knocked on Kevin’s office door and asked if he could “have a chat”. James said that he had been offered a job with another real estate office and he had decided to take it.

James Robertson explained the reason he was leaving. He plans to open his own real estate office and he wants to increase his profile in the area. Under the system used by Walter & Irvine they don’t believe in turning salespeople into movie stars. The office, not the individuals, is the main focus. But, as James Robertson explained, this new office, Belle Property, will give him more opportunity to promote himself.

Wonderful isn’t it? Kevin and Leanne Walter are expected to pay James Robertson twice the award salary so that he can promote himself so that one day he can open up an office in competition to Kevin and Leanne. Er, no thanks.

James Robertson gave Kevin a letter which thanked Kevin and Leanne for all they had done for him. He said goodbye and walked out the door.

And then the nightmare began.

James Robertson started contacting the clients of Walter & Irvine in an effort to persuade them to follow him to Belle Property. Kevin received a letter from the boss at Belle Property, Luke Holden, stating that Belle Property had now signed-up some of Walter & Irvine’s clients and that the agreements held by Walter & Irvine were hereby “terminated”.

This, of course, is highly improper because when sellers have signed an agreement with one agent and then, while under contract to that agent, are induced to sign with a second agent, it makes the sellers liable to pay both agents. And, at the average commission in Unley of around $15,000, this would mean that the sellers being signed up by James Robertson could now all be liable to pay $30,000.

But then, from James Robertson’s point of view, he needed to impress his new boss by getting some quick early results. And, when your skills are low and you’re not very good at finding new clients on your own, James Robertson obviously came up with a more expedient idea – steal from his previous boss.

But it got worse for Kevin Walter, James Robertson’s previous boss. It turned out that James Robertson had been plotting his exit for quite some time because, back in August this year, he gained access to one of the prospective client Data Base files belonging to Walter & Irvine and emailed the entire Data Base to his personal email address. He then deleted his office email showing how he had stolen the data base and emailed it to himself. He thought he had covered his tracks and no one would discover his theft.

But James Robertson’s computer skills are about level with his sales skills and it didn’t take long for an IT expert to discover what he had done.

Well, to say that Kevin Walter was gutted was an understatement. After all he had done for James Robertson: giving him a start in real estate when he had no experience; paying him double the required salary; paying him a percentage of the commissions which is also double the new recommended rate; providing him with some of the finest but most costly real estate training in the country, this is how he was repaid. As Kevin said, “If he had stuck a real knife in my back, it would have hurt less.”

But this time, Kevin Walter wasn’t going to follow his soft reputation. He reported James Robertson’s theft of the clients and the data base to the South Australian Police. They advised him to contact his lawyer. After getting advice Kevin wrote strongly to both Belle Property and to James Robertson.

Luke Holden from Belle Property has now agreed to back-off and not take the Walter & Irvine sellers and put them in the position of having to pay double commission.

As for James Robertson, he sent a short email to Kevin Walter saying: “I have now deleted all copies of the data base in my possession after seeking instructions.” Don’t you just love those three words “after seeking instructions”? What, did he need a lawyer to tell him that he was a thief? It seems that James Robertson might have an honest lawyer.

James Robertson then switched to what is clearly a favourite topic for James Robertson – money for himself. He said: “I am concerned that superannuation has not been paid on my earnings to date. Could you please confirm when these payments will be made?”

Well, James Robertson, you needn’t be “concerned”. You see, as you well know, Kevin Walter is an honest man, a man of integrity. He has never cheated anyone in his life.

James Robertson then ended his email to Kevin Walter with these words: “I believe that at all times I have acted in the best interests of clients that I have dealt with. I will continue to deliver great service to future clients I will deal with.”

That may be what you believe, James Robertson, but putting clients in a position where they are legally required to pay two commissions for selling their property once is hardly what most people would describe as acting “in the best interests of clients”.

The behaviour of James Robertson does give rise to an obvious question: If this is how he treats his boss, how will he treat his clients?

If you’re selling your home, be careful with James Robertson. He looks good, he says all the right things, but I wouldn’t let him handle the sale of any property I owned. And I most certainly will never recommend him for a position with any real estate agent in Australia.

You only get to fool me once, James Robertson. I don’t like people who steal from their employers, especially ones as wonderful and as genuine as Kevin and Leanne Walter.

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