A disgraced real estate agent has admitted consulting a traditional Hindu “jyotishee” to help sell a client’s home – using astrology to predict auspicious times to market the property and sign contracts.
But the Asian guru’s apparent good fortune has backfired on the agent, who has been found guilty of serious misconduct and stripped of his license for six months.
A just-released Real Estate Agents Disciplinary Tribunal decision says Auckland-based David Hilliam was an agent with Zest for Realty Ltd, trading as RE/MAX Zest.
“Mr Hilliam follows certain Asian religious beliefs and practices and incorporates aspects of these, in particular numerology, into his real estate work.”
The complainants, Christa Herbst and Clinton Holmes, agreed to contract Hilliam to sell their 2.5ha Waiuku property in 2016.
“Mr Hilliam discussed with them how he would incorporate numerological practices into the sale, including contacting his jyotishee for information as to auspicious days and times to carry out certain steps in the marketing and sale process.”
Jyotishee is a traditional form of Hindu astrology for tracking and predicting movements of astronomical bodies to keep time, maintain calendar and predict auspicious times for Vedic rituals.
When the couple, who are now separated, raised concerns about using numerological practices, Hilliam assured them it would help sell the property.
After consulting his jyotishee, Hilliam emailed the couple an agency agreement in August 2016.
He gave specific instructions that they should sign the agreement between 11am and 1.35pm on August 25 and sell the property on November 22 between 9.50am and 2.30pm.
“It’s very important to sign during this period,” he wrote.
“It starts the energy flow for great things at sale time. Thank you for being open-minded to numerology. YOU WILL BE REWARDED.”
Hilliam did not recommend the couple take legal advice before signing the agreement, or provide a market appraisal or commission estimate.
In October that year, Hilliam recommended showing the property to developers on his database before bringing in Pourus Dumasia.
“[Hilliam] did not disclose to the complainants that he had a pre-existing relationship with Mr Dumasia, in that they both attended the same jyotishee.”
Hilliam also failed to tell them he had previously acted as a real estate agent for Dumasia and been “financially involved” in his other property developments, injecting hundreds of thousands of dollars towards the projects.
Hilliam drafted a sale agreement with Dumasia’s company, Franklin Wiz Ltd, conditional on Dumasia obtaining consent to subdivide the Waiuku property. It was signed on November 21, 2016. The purchase price was $850,000.
The property was never exposed to other agents or advertised on the open market, the decision says.
Despite the contract going unconditional in February 2017, it would be more than a year later that the couple received any money upon settlement due to delays in Dumasia applying for consent.
Hilliam later agreed the sale agreement had been “structured to suit [Mr Dumasia]”.
The decision also reveals that Hilliam loaned Dumasia $40,000 to fund his resource consent application. In return, a written agreement gave Hilliam the right to purchase one of the yet-to-be subdivided lots.
He also wound up marketing the subdivided properties after signing a listing agreement with Dumasia, before the initial deal had even settled.
Again, Hilliam failed to disclose any of this to his clients or get their consent to obtain an interest in the property.
Dumasia eventually paid the $30,000 deposit using money loaned to him by Hilliam, who deducted his commission from the same money.
The couple lodged a complaint with the Real Estate Authority (REA) in December 2017, after telling Hilliam “his role was to work for the vendor, not the purchaser”.
In her letter of complaint, Herbst said she had endured huge stress and legal bills trying to resolve the saga and suggested compensation should be in order.
REA prosecutor M Mortimer said Hilliam had breached the Real Estate Agents Act by marketing the property without a listing agreement and failing to provide a market analysis or estimates.
He also failed to recommend the vendors seek legal advice and did not disclose his long-standing business relationship with the purchaser, or his own commercial interests in the property.
Furthermore, Hilliam had structured the sale agreement to suit the purchaser, rather than his commission-paying clients, and signed an agreement to buy a subdivided lot while acting for the vendors without their knowledge or consent.
Suspension and a significant fine were necessary to reflect Hilliam’s extensive breaches of his professional obligations, Mortimer said.
Through his lawyer Tim Rea, “Mr Hilliam accepted that there were fundamental failings in the real estate services he provided to the complainants, amounting to serious negligence”.
The tribunal ruled the most damning breaches involved Hilliam’s failure to disclose his business relationship and commercial interest.
It was also concerned at Hilliam’s “unsubstantiated representations” about his jyotishee, and the claimed positive consequences of following numerological practices in marketing property, which amounted to a professional conduct issue.
Rea said that while his client was entitled to his numerology beliefs, “he must be cautious about any representations he may make regarding its effectiveness”.
In a statement to the tribunal, Hilliam attributed his conduct “largely to dyslexia”, saying he had difficulty understanding and retaining information about legislation relevant to the real estate industry.
He was now receiving weekly therapy sessions at his own cost and undertaking “one-on-one learning sessions” with an experienced real estate trainer.
The tribunal found Hilliam’s failure to disclose his close business relationship with the purchaser was a clear conflict of interest and serious departure from acceptable industry standards.
He was found guilty of misconduct and unsatisfactory conduct, censured and fined $4000. He was also ordered to provide a written apology to the complainants and pay them $10,000 compensation.