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Real Estate Industry

September 23rd 2009

THE GOUGH RESPONSE

Harcourts and the hardest word.


Ben Gough. Claims to have done nothing wrong.
Ben Gough. Claims to have done nothing wrong.

UPDATE. October 6, 2009. A Media Statement has been issued by Harcourts Queensland announcing that it has terminated Ben Gough's Franchise Agreement. The statement said, in part, "We acknowledge and sincerely regret the distress this particular incident has caused the clients involved, and will continue to work with them to attempt to achieve a satisfactory solution."

Why not just follow these 5 words - GIVE THE MONEY BACK NOW?

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Opinion by Neil Jenman.

There are few sights more ridiculous in the business world than businessmen attempting to defend the indefensible.

When caught on the sharp end of an ethical hook, they wriggle and squirm. They blurt out all kinds of excuses together with predictable lines about having done nothing "legally wrong".

Their greatest mistake, however, is to treat the public like mugs. They think we'll swallow the corporate double-speak they shovel at us.

When they do something wrong, they don't realise there is only one word the public want to hear. That word is 'sorry'. Why is it such a hard word for businessmen to say? Ego, that's why. They just cannot bring themselves to admit they are wrong.

And they also don't realise that there is only one action the public want taken. That action is to right the wrong.

When they muck-up, they should apologise and then fix-up. No lame-duck excuses, no corporate double-speak. Just say sorry and fix it. Fast.

Anything less and they just look more and more dodgy.

Such is the case with Benjamin Gough, the real estate auctioneer from Harcourts at Bundaberg and his colleague, Aaron Brooks, the CEO of the Harcourts franchise in Queensland

Both Gough and Brooks are attempting to justify Gough's recent conduct which has now blown into a national news story.

As reported on this web site on Monday - and also on Channel Seven's program, Today Tonight - Ben Gough ripped off a couple of battlers who had placed their home for sale with Harcourts Bundaberg.

Here, in a nutshell, are the undisputable facts of Ben Gough's conductů

1. Gough describes himself as "the Number One auction salesperson for Queensland". In December 2008, Gough was the auctioneer of a home belonging to Rycki and Kylie Batchelor.

2. Despite having been told by another Harcourts salesperson to expect $330,000, the auction was a complete failure. The home was passed in at $250,000.

3. A few weeks later - into the new year of 2009 - Ben Gough, the champion auctioneer who had failed to sell the Batchelor's home at auction - bought the home from the Batchelors for $252,000.

4. He then re-sold the home for $297,000. He made a gross profit of $45,000.

When confronted and asked to explain his conduct, Ben Gough claimed that he had done nothing wrong.

He claimed that he "had been approached as a buyer".

He claimed that he was not the owner of Harcourts Bundaberg when he bought the home from the Batchelors.

He claimed that he spent $5,000 fixing the home before he sold it.

He claimed that he made complete "disclosure" to the Batchelor family.

He claimed that he has been "cleared" by the Office of Fair Trading.

He claimed that the Batchelor family were completely happy until they were "approached by a third party".

And on and on and on.

So what?

It seems like he's almost trying to make us believe that he accidentally bought the Batchelor's home from them and that he accidentally made a gross profit of $45,000.

Honestly, he must think we are all totally stupid.

The essential facts of this story are that Ben Gough auctioned the Batchelor's home and then, having failed to find a buyer for it, he bought their home and then, once he owned it, he quickly found a buyer to pay him $45,000 more than he paid for it.

Ben Gough couldn't find a buyer for the Batchelor family. But when Ben Gough was the owner he soon managed to find a buyer - and at a greatly increased price.

And he says he has done nothing wrong.

Yesterday, September 22 - the day after the story of Ben Gough became a national news story - both Ben Gough and the CEO of Harcourts, Aaron Brooks, issued media statements. The basic message of both statements was the same. Ben Gough had done nothing wrong. That's rubbish.

Both media statements also claimed that Ben Gough's purchase of the Batchelor's home had been done "by the book". It's not clear what "book" these two men are referring to. Certainly, there is no book on ethics and honesty that could ever condone Gough's actions.

In my opinion, if Ben Gough manages to step around the legal loopholes - and, indeed, has done nothing "illegal" (as he claims) - then this has to be a text book case in how agents in Queensland can legally rip off sellers.

In two recent cases, one in NSW and the other in Victoria, one agent was banned from selling real estate for ten years and the other agent was sentenced to three years in prison. Both agents had bought their clients' properties for well under the true market value and had then re-sold them for a profit. Ben Gough bought his former clients' property for well under market value and then re-sold it for a profit.

Both media statements seem to say something about Gough having "offered to return any profits made from the sale to the client". But, as several people have already asked, "Does this mean he will give the Bachelor family their $45,000 back." It's not clear. Again, with all the fluffing and posturing and excuse making, everything looks murky. And dodgy.

It seems too hard for both Ben Gough and Aaron Brooks to say one word - sorry. And it seems impossible for either of them to come straight out and say, "Yes, we will refund the $45,000."

In his media statement, Ben Gough claims the Batchelor family were perfectly happy "until they had been approached by a third party."

Yes, that's true, Mr Gough. Until I, Neil Jenman, got involved, the Batchelors had no idea that you had re-sold their home for an extra $45,000.

Gee, I am really sorry to spoil your little rip-off party. Not.

Now, how about both you, Ben Gough and your mate Aaron Brooks, making it really clear. How about doing two things.

First an apology and second a refund.

Just say sorry and then write out a cheque for $45,000. That's what the Australian public will understand.

Anything less is not acceptable.

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FOOTNOTE: The story of what Ben Gough had done at the Harcourts office in Bundaberg was emailed (by me) to 250 other Harcourts offices in Australia and New Zealand. I hoped that other Harcourts offices would persuade Gough to do the right thing. How na´ve of me. I received only three types of reactions from 250 Harcourts offices. Mostly silence, plenty of abuse and one threat.

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FURTHER FOOTNOTE: The Media Statements released by both Aaron Brooks and Ben Gough are reprinted below in their entirety.

MEDIA STATEMENT FROM AARON BROOKS

Harcourts Queensland Committed to Keeping Clients First   

Date: 22 September 2009

CEO of Harcourts Queensland, Aaron Brooks, has today assured clients and the community that the organisation in no way condones unethical dealings within the real estate industry.

"The core values of Harcourts as an organisation ensure that our entire team put people first by doing the right thing, every single time. It is only very occasionally that we hear of instances where our committed team fail to uphold these intrinsic values and in these unfortunate instances, we take severe action immediately," Mr Brooks said.

Mr Brooks said the recently publicised property transaction by Harcourts Bundaberg's Business Owner and Sales Consultant, Ben Gough, was carried out 'by the book,' and The Office of Fair Trading has already investigated this matter and has reported no wrongdoing. 

"While I commend Mr Jenman for his role in monitoring and reporting on the ethics of the industry, it is evident that Ben acted well within his rights during this particular transaction, confirmed by an independent assessment," he said.

"However, as providing client satisfaction and a positive experience is paramount within our organisation, Ben has agreed to a review of this transaction by an independent adjudicator or ombudsman and has offered to return any profits made from the sale to the client; This is an act of good faith that we support without reserve." 

For further comment, contact:

Aaron Brooks, CEO, Harcourts Queensland aaron.brooks@harcourts.com.au

tel: 07 3839 3100 or 0419 034 447

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Media Release from Ben Gough

Ben Gough, Harcourts Bundaberg says No Wrongdoing but Commitment to Put Clients First

Date 22 September 2009

Business Owner and Sales Consultant of Harcourts Bundaberg, Ben Gough, has today stated the facts were not accurately reported on last night's Today Tonight programme.

In response to the story regarding the Bundaberg property which aired last night, Mr Gough says it's a situation which was presented inaccurately and one that has been cleared by The Office of Fair Trading.

"The property was not bought and sold in the same day and in fact there was more than three months between the beginning and end of the transaction."

Mr Gough also says that, "full disclosure was made to the sellers - and at no time did they express concern or dissatisfaction until they had been approached by a third party."

"I am incredibly passionate about real estate and throughout my entire real estate career I have always put my clients first and built strong relationships within the community."

"Therefore as providing client satisfaction and a positive experience is paramount to my business, I have agreed to a review of this transaction by an independent adjudicator or ombudsman and will return the profit made from the sale to the client," he said.

CEO of Harcourts Queensland, Aaron Brooks, has today assured clients and the community that the organisation in no way condones unethical dealings within the real estate industry.

"The core values of Harcourts as an organisation ensure that our entire team put people first by doing the right thing, every single time," Mr Brooks said.

Mr Brooks said the recently publicised property transaction by Harcourts Bundaberg's Business Owner and Sales Consultant, Ben Gough, was carried out 'by the book,' and The Office of Fair Trading has already investigated this matter and has reported no wrongdoing.

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For further comment, contact:

Ben Gough, Harcourts Bundaberg tel: 0401 952 266. ben.gough@harcourts.com.au

Aaron Brooks, CEO Harcourts Queensland tel 07 3839 3100 or 0419 034 447

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