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Real Estate Industry

May 18th 2007

MARVELLI THE MAGICIAN

Now you see him, now you don't.


UPDATE: August 15, 2012. On May 1 2012, Mr Giovanni Marvelli, the former Officer in Effective Control of LJ Hooker Hampton Park, was by consent found to have breached the Estate Agents Act 1980 and: reprimanded by the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal; fined $5,000 (the maximum allowed penalty); and had his licence to act as an agent suspended for a period of one year. What a paltry punishment.

Opinion by Neil Jenman

His name is Giovanni Marvelli. He likes to be known as John Marvelli.

So, ladies and gentlemen, please meet John Marvelli, a 43-year-old real estate agent from Hampton Park in Victoria.

Now, as well as an agent, Mr Marvelli is also something of a magician (although he probably won't admit it – and, like all magicians, he definitely won't want his tricks revealed. He has already warned me to be careful. I will).

Like thousands of agents, Mr Marvelli, has operated a franchise. A 'brand' is supposed to increase sales. LJ Hooker stood in front of Southern Star Real Estate Pty Ltd which stood in front of Giovanni Marvelli.

Nothing too magical about that structure.

The real magic emerged when Marvelli began flogging house and land packages. His target was the battler market – couples struggling to afford a home.

In October 2004, Steve McBride and his wife Linda were typical of the people flocking to Marvelli's LJ Hooker office. For months they had tried in vain to buy a home. With three children and one wage, it wasn't easy.

"If we can't help you, nobody can," said Marvelli's salesman. "We have a special plan which can get you a home in four weeks." He boasted that they were selling 60 houses a month "to people just like you".

Due to this special plan, LJ Hooker Hampton Park could, apparently, "negotiate deals that other agencies could not match."

For the McBrides, everything seemed to happen like magic. Especially the "special deal" on the stamp duty.

"These things are done all the time. There is nothing illegal. It's done with smoke and mirrors but it's fine," said Marvelli's man.

If they had any concerns they could get legal advice. And where better to get legal advice than Marvelli's mates over the road at Ausmort Finance and Conveyancing. They understood the Marvelli magic.

Papers, forms, documents, notices, applications, fees (oh, those fees, including $5,700 to a dodgy-feeling and aggressive mob called Medallion Finance Concepts.)

If you want your own home, leave it to the magicians. Just shut up and sign up.

"I didn't understand it all. I naturally figured I was in the hands of experts," said Steve McBride.

Steve's feelings were similar to hundreds of other buyers, all of whom experienced the Marvelli magic.

So, why could Marvelli – through his LJ Hooker office – weave such magic when other agents were turning away buyers such as the McBride family?

When battlers are stretched, every dollar counts and Marvelli had worked out a method to squeeze several thousand dollars extra for the trusting families that came to his LJ Hooker office.

Instead of paying stamp duty on a completed house, Marvelli (and his mates) arranged for the contracts to be back-dated to before the homes were built.

This meant that families only paid stamp duty on vacant blocks of land instead of completed homes.

For the McBrides it meant a saving of $9,700. It was the difference between buying or renting. They got their home and Marvelli got his commission.

Steve and Linda McBride say they had no idea that their contracts had been back-dated or that anything shady had occurred. They trusted the experts.

In November 2004 (a month after they walked into Marvelli's office), the McBrides were in their own home. The payments were high. But, finally, they had somewhere to call home.

The future looked bright.

Until April 23, 2007, when the McBrides got a letter from the State Revenue Office demanding almost $10,000 in stamp duty.

Following an investigation into Marvelli's methods, around 200 families have been hit with similar bills. They are devastated. Many struggle to pay for groceries, never mind several thousand dollars for stamp duty, especially years after they bought their homes.

So where is John Marvelli (Giovanni Marvelli) or his Southern Star Real Estate Pty Ltd which traded as LJ Hooker Hampton Park?

Well, like a true magician, Marvelli is trying his disappearing act. He's also trying to make people like the McBrides disappear.

In desperation – and after being [smugly] told to bugger off by LJ Hooker Hampton Park and Ausmort Finance and Conveyancing – Steve and Linda McBride wrote a note to other homeowners in the area. "If you find yourselves in the same predicament, call us to discuss the prospect of group legal action," they pleaded.

Legal action? The nerve of these battlers.

Didn't they know that as well as being a magician, Marvelli appeared rich and powerful? Hadn't they seen his shiny black Mercedes with the personalised plates (JM 0011).

Yep, Marvelli's the number one man around town. Be careful. Don't muck with the magician.

A lawyer called Mario Merlo sent a savage two-page letter to the McBrides telling them they had caused his client "much personal anguish and embarrassment".

As Merlo wrote, "Our client is greatly concerned about the impact that these false allegations have and will continue to have on it and its business and the reputation of our client's business within the community, all of which were, until your statements, without blemish."

Yes, that's right, until the McBride's complained, the agent's reputation was apparently unblemished.

But wait. Marvelli has another magical trick.

LJ Hooker Hampton Park has been sold. Marvelli has vanished.

As lawyer Mario Merlo told the Herald Sun, "The allegations (by Mr McBride) are made against the previous owner and have nothing to do with the current owner of the business."

So, who is the new owner of LJ Hooker Hampton Park?

Marvelli.

Yes, you read it right – Marvelli.

Not John [the magician] Marvelli. Another Marvelli with another company that they reckon has nothing to do with John Marvelli.

The fact that the new owner and the old owner have the same name is just a coincidence.

The fact, also, that the new owner is Maria Marvelli who is married to the old owner, magician Marvelli, well, that's irrelevant.

Understand?

When it was pointed out to Marvelli that this "new owner" line is a tad dodgy, he snapped, "There ya go, Neil, just trying to look for a story."

And what a story.

Now, remember, just as Marvelli threatened the McBrides, he also threatened me ("I legally caution you, Neil"). Terrifying.

So, let me choose my words carefully as I sum up the story of Marvelli the Magician.

To increase sales, Marvelli arranged for battling homebuyers to pay stamp duty on land not on completed houses.

Contracts were backdated to before the homes were built, thus giving buyers enough money to buy homes they otherwise could not have bought.

And giving Marvelli hundreds of thousands of dollars in commissions he would not otherwise have had (hence the shiny black Mercedes).

When he was busted, his company went into liquidation and a new company, appropriately called New Age Real Estate Pty Ltd, was born. The director was Maria Marvelli, wife of John Marvelli.

The office still traded as LJ Hooker Hampton Park. And John Marvelli was still on the web site, still at the office and still giving orders.

But, publicly, he tells his past clients, who are facing thousands of dollars in stamp duty bills, that the business has been sold and it's got nothing to do with him.

At a protest outside LJ Hooker Hampton Park last weekend, dozens of angry homeowners wanted to talk to John Marvelli. But they were told by Maria Marvelli, "He's not here."

But the shiny black Mercedes out the back told another story.

As John Marvelli made a hasty exit, the crowd surged around his car. "Get out of my way, I am not responsible," he shouted before he hit the accelerator and disappeared down the street.

In my opinion, you don't find many better blokes than Steve McBride. After speaking with him, I reckon he'd be typical of the battlers who buy homes in the Hampton Park and Cranbourne areas. Good decent folk.

As for John Marvelli, well, I have spoken to him too.

In my opinion, he's typical of the dodgiest of agents. His denial of responsibility, his callous disregard for the battlers caught by his stamp duty scam and, worst of all, the bullying legal letters, all sicken me.

Mr Marvelli, you are not a magician. You're a slippery shyster.

Now, go ahead, sue me. Make my day.


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Footnote: See the protesters outside the agent's office. Click here.
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