Comment by Neil Jenman
Reading time: 10 mins apx
On Friday, June 16, 2023, in Victoria’s County Court, former estate agent Richard Hayden was sentenced to a year in prison plus a two-year community corrections order. He pleaded guilty to two charges of causing a deficiency in his trust account and one charge of using $770,000 in trust funds for personal use.
Stealing money from a trust account is about the silliest crime agents can commit. Offending agents are near certain to get caught. But most don’t see it as “stealing”. They see it as “borrowing”. They always intend to repay the money.
As the saying goes, desperate people do desperate things. They rarely think rationally.
MY FRIENDSHIP WITH THE HAYDENS.
Richard Hayden was (and still is) my friend. His wife, Lisa Hayden was my best friend (after my wife, Reiden). Tragically, Lisa died in January 2019 after a long battle with breast cancer.
Shortly before she died, Lisa completed a book about her life and illness. She sent it to me in the hope it would be published. It is near-impossible to read the first few pages without crying.
The true story of Richard Hayden, and his wife Lisa (who, like everyone in Richard’s life – knew nothing about his offending) is about the saddest real estate story I have ever heard.
THE MAN WHO SHOULD NEVER HAVE BEEN IN REAL ESTATE.
Richard Hayden never planned to be a real estate agent. He didn’t want to join the family business, Hayden Real Estate in Ballarat, established by his grandfather in 1928.
But then, in the early 1990’s, Richard’s father, who owned Hayden Real Estate, was diagnosed with leukemia. Richard, who had recently completed university – where he met his wife, Lisa – was a promising young accountant in Melbourne. His father urged him to return home to Ballarat and help the business. Richard obeyed. Shortly thereafter, his father died.
Despite Lisa’s misgivings – she disliked real estate – Richard dutifully took the reins of Hayden Real Estate.
It would be the worst mistake of his life.
Lisa was right, Richard was not cut out for real estate. He was too kind, too gentle. He abhorred confrontation. When tough decisions had to be made, Richard would often avoid unpleasantness. In doing so, he would follow a path trodden by many overly-kind people. He would hurt himself and his business.
While Richard Hayden’s lack of business acumen might have ultimately caused his demise, that was not the trigger for his problems. His first financial problem hit him hard after he took over the business.
To his – and Lisa’s – horror, they discovered a terrible secret about Hayden Real Estate. Despite its reputation for honesty and reliability, the agency was riddled with debt. It was essentially broke.
Lisa begged Richard to walk away. Let the business sink. After all, the company’s problems were not his making. He and Lisa were had just started their lives together. Why should he “work his guts out” to repair damage he hadn’t caused?
Richard Hayden gave his wife a compelling reason for not abandoning the fledgling family business he’d inherited – duty. He did not want to disgrace the family name.
His father, like many agents do, maintained an illusion of success. Fancy cars, nice clothes, big homes, luxury travel, private schools for children, impressive office premises and, of course, heavily involved in real estate groups and clubs.
It’s always a similar story. Agents are hooked on image and how they are perceived. This obsession causes terrible damage to themselves and their customers. Their egos are out of control. One of the most common sayings in real estate is “Fake it until you make it”.
Aside from the sharpest and most aggressive operators, most agents never make it. “Aggressive” did not describe Richard Hayden.
In 1994, Richard Hayden did what thousands of agents were then doing – he attended a Jenman seminar on how to succeed ethically in real estate. He loved what he saw. Like most agents he promised to follow the Jenman System, the first rule of which has always been “Obey the Law”.
He abandoned common dodgy real estate methods such as auctions and charging sellers advertising costs. He placed the interests of clients first.
Slowly, Richard Hayden began to pull the business out of debt. Soon, it was profits instead of pressure.
CANCER STRIKES LISA.
In 2004, Lisa Hayden was diagnosed with breast cancer. She was plunged into the horrors that thousands of Australian women suffer: radical surgery, chemotherapy, and terror.
All the while, Richard rarely left Lisa’s side.
Without Richard at the helm, the business slipped backwards again. But, by 2007, Lisa seemed to recover. Richard then threw himself back into work – rarely coming home in time for dinner with Lisa and their children, Gretel, and Samuel.
Cancer is an insidious disease. When it attacks a human body, it rarely retreats completely. Even after heavy medical treatment, cancer is like a retreating army that marshals its forces and plans its revenge. Years later, it mounts a counterattack.
This is what happened to Lisa Hayden.
In 2016, after being in remission for several years – and hoping and praying the cancer had gone, it came back. Worse than ever.
And so began more cancer treatment, more suffering, and more stress. Once again, Richard rushed to support his wife. Near the end of her life, Lisa told me: “Saying goodbye to my beautiful husband, the most decent man I have ever known, is the hardest thing I will ever face.”
RICHARD’S BROTHER IS KILLED.
In July 2017, Richard and his family were struck by another bombshell. His younger brother, Stephen Hayden, a Torquay builder, was killed in a car crash in New Zealand.
The greater shock was that his brother, a responsible and upstanding citizen, had done something completely out-of-character. After a heavy drinking session, he had crashed head-on into a vehicle driven by a local 72-year-old New Zealand farmer. Both Stephen Hayden and the farmer, Nigel Freeman, were killed.
Richard was near inconsolable.
LISA SEEKS HELP FOR THE BUSINESS.
By now (mid-2017), Hayden Real Estate was again under pressure. No business functions well with absent owners. Lisa Hayden approached me. “Help Richard increase sales, please,” she pleaded. I agreed to do whatever I could to help.
For almost two years, I often visited Hayden Real Estate. Thankfully, and as Lisa hoped, sales began to climb. The business was profitable again.
At the start of 2018, while in Ballarat, I asked Richard and Lisa a personal question: “If you were told that 2018 was Lisa’s last year of life, what would you both do?”
Lisa spoke first, “I wouldn’t go near the real estate office,” she replied.
As I often do, I asked for an answer in the positive: “Don’t tell me what you don’t want to do,” I said, “tell me what you do want to do – as if 2018 was Lisa’s last year.”
RICHARD TAKES LISA AWAY.
And so, they went overseas. To places Lisa loved – Paris, London, Switzerland, and New York (their favourite). After many months, they arrived in Hawaii where they were met by their now-adult children, Gretel, and Sam.
Lisa, who contacted me near constantly, sent me a text: “I’m a happy girl; my babies are coming to meet us. Thank you for helping us, Neil.”
Ironically and tragically 2018 was indeed Lisa’s last year of life. And, despite the mammoth increase in sales – which Richard later described as giving him “the best profits in the history of Hayden Real Estate” – no one knew the business was still in financial trouble. Except Richard.
The sales team – under their sales manager, Shane Glanford – had done exceptionally well. Lisa showered praise on me. To receive messages from all over the world from the woman I admired most in the world (other than my wife) filled me with an immense pride.
DETECTING FINANCIAL PROBLEMS.
As with any real estate office, the trust account is the responsibility of the agent in charge. The auditors for Hayden Real Estate gave their annual approval. The inspectors from Consumer Affairs attended the office. Although tight-lipped and humourless – as befits government inspectors – they never flagged problems.
No one who knew him ever considered Richard Hayden to be anything other than scrupulously honest. No one suspected anything.
But, looking back, I suppose there were clues.
Richard Hayden had a near perpetual look of worry about him. If you didn’t know him, he was the sort of person to whom you’d ask, “What’s wrong mate?” And yet, those of us who knew him well, especially his devoted wife Lisa, simply shrugged it off with “That’s just Richard”.
Although he travelled the world with Lisa in 2018, they returned to Australia two or three times. On one occasion, I was in Ballarat with my wife. Richard asked if we could lend him money. Apparently – or, as he told us – there had been a misunderstanding with the tax office. We trusted him, so we loaned him a considerable amount of money.
A couple of months later – well within the time he promised to repay – Richard repaid us. In full and with profound thanks.
He begged us not to say a word to his wife. “Please,” he said, “the doctors have told us that the greatest danger to Lisa’s health is stress. If she thinks I asked you for a loan it could hurt her badly.”
We said nothing.
I should have realised, of course, that borrowing money from a friend is not a good sign. As Lisa herself used to advise me when I was cheated by agents, “Neil, you are not a bank. There is a reason these people are in financial strife.” And then she said what many people, especially wise women have told me: “You can’t save everyone.”
But I could, perhaps, have saved Richard Hayden. Had he come to me – at any stage during 2018 or even early 2019, before the authorities strode into his office in March, and closed the business – I would have helped him.
If he had asked me. He was my friend.
I can’t help someone if I don’t know they need help. And Richard Hayden never said a word about his near-chronic financial situation. Not to me, not to his family, not to his staff.
THE WORST YEAR.
2019 was the worst year of my life. In early January, Lisa Hayden, was admitted to hospital in Ballarat. The nurses adored her. She once said they had written her a card saying, “Don’t worry Lisa. We will look after you.”
But all the kindness in the world is not enough to save the almost seven hundred thousand women worldwide who die each year from breast cancer.
On January 19, Lisa Hayden passed away. She wasn’t expected to die – not yet. Sure, I had asked them about 2018 being her last year. But it was a “what if” question. I didn’t think it would happen.
The funeral in Ballarat was packed. My wife and I joined hundreds of mourners including her beloved “babies” – Gretel and Samuel.
Lisa Hayden had been voted ‘Citizen of the Year’ for the city. Her death in 2019 was front-page news in Ballarat’s loved newspaper, The Courier. On Saturday (June 17, 2023), their front-page story was the jailing of her husband, Richard Hayden.
Two months after Lisa’s death, Consumer Affairs Victoria forced the closure of Hayden Real Estate.
While inspectors from Consumer Affairs were at Hayden Real Estate, Richard called my wife, Reiden, and broke the terrible news.
“Tell Neil I can’t speak with him,” he cried. “I am too ashamed. I am not the man he thinks I am. I am a criminal. I have been taking money from my trust account.”
There is only one person in the world with whom Richard Hayden is tough – himself. Even on Thursday (June 15, 2023), with his certain prison sentence looming, he was denigrating himself. We spoke for more than an hour. He was calm and composed, resigned to his fate. “At least, I will finally have some certainty,” he told me. “I will know how long I will be in jail. I will have a date when I will be released.” The only time he lost his composure was when I asked him what he wanted me to say if I was attacked over his disgrace. “Oh God, that makes me feel sick,” he moaned.
My wife said I sounded more upset about Richard’s fate than Richard. Never mind that, legally, he deserves his prison sentence, he is still my friend.
Many agents hurt far more consumers than Richard Hayden ever hurt. Indeed, Richard confirmed that not one client of Hayden Real Estate lost money.
TRUST ACCOUNTS ARE SAFE.
State governments have fidelity funds. If agents misappropriate (the polite word for “steal) money from their trust accounts, the consumers (known as “victims”) are reimbursed by the fund.
There is much, of course, that the public – and probably the media – does not know. For instance, after his business was forcibly closed, Richard Hayden sold his assets. He repaid most of the money he’d misappropriated. The balance was covered by claims made to the government’s fund.
Another unknown fact – according to Richard – were a few people who submitted fake claims. In one case, a property owner claimed $30,000 in rent that was allegedly not paid by Hayden Real Estate. Richard swears it was paid.
Why didn’t he say something?
Who’s going to believe him now? His reputation is in tatters. It’s his word against the claimants.
No, surely not. Surely there are records.
But Richard Hayden, the man who, all his life, shied away from confrontation, was not willing to go looking for it now, not when he was about to get closure on this horrible chapter of his life.
WHAT FEW PEOPLE KNEW.
During the final months of Lisa’s life, a new drug was available. It was no guarantee of a cure. But it gave Lisa what all cancer patients cling to – hope.
There was a downside – the cost. Ten thousand dollars a month. It was not covered by the PBS (Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme).
Later, a glimmer of good news surfaced, only to be dashed instantly. The medication was approved by the federal government. Instead of costing $10,000 a month, it was now around $50. But only for future patients. Existing patients, like Lisa Hayden, didn’t qualify.
It has been more than four years since Hayden Real Estate closed. During those years, there has been barely any mention of Richard’s (and Lisa’s) philanthropy and commitment to their community. Each Christmas, Richard and Lisa allocated thousands of dollars to give-away Woolworths food vouchers to any residents who were financially struggling. Not just customers, everyone.
For three years – between 2014 and 2016 – our then-teenage daughter, Grace Kathleen Jenman, joined around fifty thousand volunteers who raised money for the 40-hour famine. Each year, we, her parents, proudly watched our “Gracie Girl” become the highest fund raiser in the nation. In her final year, she raised more than $50,000. The second-place getter raised half that amount.
And who were among the top donors who helped Grace Jenman become the top fundraiser for World Vision’s annual 40-hour famine? Yes, the Haydens.
While no one has reported the efforts Richard made to do what he always intended to do – repay the trust funds – the story in Saturday’s The Courier (the Ballarat newspaper) was the most accurate.
Written by journalist, Alex Dalziel, the front-page headline was one word (in caps): “SPIRALLING”, followed by the subheading, “Out of control embezzlement leads to jail for real estate agent”.
The story stuck to the facts.
It quoted the Judge at the Country Court, Marcus Dempsey. At no stage did his honour’s remarks paint Richard Hayden as a villain. On the contrary, the Judge described Richard as a “kind, trustworthy and sincere” person who was “thoroughly decent”.
The Judge said he considered Richard’s otherwise “unblemished character”. The Judge made much of Lisa’s illness and subsequent death and, 18 months earlier, the death of his brother.
At no stage has Richard Hayden blamed anyone other than himself for what happened. He has never mentioned the debt-ridden business he inherited. Not once has he complained about the hours of work over many years, the times he barely saw his family. And, unlike his somewhat “feisty” (as she often described herself) wife, Richard never denigrated his staff whose numbers swelled to nearly thirty people more than half of whom (in this writer’s opinion) were non-contributors. For years, Richard’s business struggled under the weight of poor performers.
Richard Hayden did everything in his power to protect his wife from stress. Even if it meant breaking trust account laws. Even it meant he could end up in jail, that was a fate preferable to the death of his wife.
In the end, however – as happens with most people who break laws (at least obvious and easy-to-detect laws) – they lose twice. First, they lose whatever they were trying to achieve and second, they are punished for breaking the law.
Richard has now lost his freedom as well as his wife.
During our talk on Thursday, I near screamed at Richard asking him why he didn’t ask me for help. I had never denied him a request.
Surely he knew, I said, what a good friend I am to my friends. He had seen the way I helped so many agents who didn’t deserve it (Hecht, Hart, Harrod to name a few whose names, like Hayden, started with H). In my 25 years of training agents, hundreds had ripped me off to varying degrees. I once allowed an agent suffering from cancer to stay rent-free in our Melbourne home for several months. A few years later he repaid my wife and I by ripping us off for more than $40,000.
If I helped rogues, surely I’d help a friend.
Richard’s reason for not approaching me was simple: He knew I’d report him to the authorities – and therefore his wife would have discovered his perilous finances. “I could not less Lisa know,” he said.
“Yes, but if you had confessed, you may have avoided a jail sentence, especially if you repaid all the money and there was no claim on the fund.”
But Lisa would have known.
A TOO GENTLE MAN.
Richard Hayden was too gentle for the real estate industry.
He avoided confrontations, the ones that required a tough leader.
Perhaps I am making excuses for him because he’s my friend. But I am convinced of the following: If Richard Hayden had removed poor performers from his business, if he had not donated so much to charity, if he had not been so kind to his community and if he had said “NO” when asked for monetary favours, he would not be broke today. He would not be in prison.
There is only one good aspect of this terrible story: Lisa Hayden died believing her decent husband was safe and secure. She doesn’t know he’s now in prison.
And that is a true blessing.