The Conviction of John Talia

Neil Jenman - Don't Sign AnythingOPINION
by Neil Jenman
Consumer Advocate

A former Ray White franchise agent, John Michael Talia, has been convicted of obtaining property by deception.

Last Thursday (August 14, 2008), after the guilty verdict was read out in the Victorian County Court, John Talia was remanded in custody. Locked up.

Well done prosecutors. It’s about time that agents who rob the naïve and the elderly were properly punished – and the proper punishment for agents such as John Talia is a criminal conviction and a stint behind bars.

John Talia’s crime was a simple and common real estate crime. He bought the home of an elderly man for less than its real value.

The elderly man’s home was worth $300,000, but Talia, in his role as a real estate agent for Ray White in Doncaster (operating under the network slogan of “The Right Advice”) made sure that the man received the wrong advice.

Talia arranged for the elderly man to be tricked into thinking his home was worth between $135,000 and $155,000. Talia then offered him $145,000.

You can almost see it now, John Talia pretending to be the friendly, fair-minded agent and offering to “meet half-way” (between the two false figures of $135,000 and $155,000) and then, being the big-hearted fella and agreeing to pay an extra $5,000.

John Talia paid $150,000 for a home that was worth $300,000. The way that he did it makes John Talia a crook.

For years, I have been saying that agents who do what Talia did are thieves. They should be arrested, charged, tried in a court, convicted and then locked up.

But, no, to the best of my knowledge, John Talia is the first agent in the history of real estate in Australia to be locked up for doing what many agents have been doing for decades – buying the homes of owners (often the most elderly and ill) for less than the real value of the homes. In other words, stealing homes.

I believe, every year, crooked agents “steal” the homes of hundreds of elderly home-owners.

Sure, some cases aren’t as blatant or severe as the case of John Talia (some, though, are worse). Some agents buy cheap homes in company names or in the name of a mate or a relative.

Taking advantage of sellers who don’t know what their homes are really worth is one of the easiest crimes to commit in real estate. At best, it’s “insider-trading”, at worst, it’s stealing. There is never any moral excuse no matter how many times it’s laughed off or excused as “business being business”. Theft is theft.

Crooked agents have known for years that the chances of getting caught are almost nil (to my knowledge, no government authority checks the sales records looking for ‘sus’ sales – i.e. houses sold by people with names like Ruth or Dorothy or Harold or Alfred and bought by people with modern sounding names and then re-sold almost immediately for a whopping profit).

Agents know that, even if they are caught, they can usually bluff their way out of any major scandal (I have never heard of a real estate network enacting severe punishment when one of its agents is caught stealing).

The real estate industry generally protects its own, no matter what they do. And so crooked agents have continued to prey on poor unsuspecting owners.

But, thanks to those who prosecuted John Talia, a lot of dodgy agents will be quietly quivering right now. They’d have to know that, “there but for the slackness of our real estate laws, go I”.

It’s time to go after all agents who do (and have done) what John Talia did.

It’s time that John Talia had some company in custody.

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