Real estate advertising - classic snake oil tactics

by Alistair Helm in ,

I have to declare a bias here and be upfront. I am not a fan of property schemes; training courses that perpetuate the idea that property is the answer to a financially secure future, a way to make a million or any other scheme that whilst trying to sell a money making venture that is really just trying to ‘sell’ a property. Let’s face it property developers are not interested in your retirement or mine for that matter, nor are the agents who act for them. I say that not to demean them. It is just that the marketing tactics that they employ, to my way of thinking are not much better than those of a snake oil salesperson.

Sadly we all became far too aware of such schemes in the last decade as we saw the collapse of the high profile finance companies and I would have hoped that we could have learnt from that period and tried to approach these property developments in a more transparent and professional manner this time around as our major city seeks to expand upwards and create apartment living in every corner.

So with this inherent bias I was flabbergasted by an advert in the Weekend Herald last week. Leaping out from the small advert was a picture of Albert Einstein - one of the luminaries of modern times - what could he be doing involved in selling real estate I thought to myself?


The details as I was about to lean were buried in the advert - when you got to read it.

And here is where we come to the complaints I have for this advert. There are 3 major complaints and they are in some ways serious enough for a formal complaint to be made to the Real Estate Agents Authority and/or the Advertising Standards Authority.

  1. It is illegal to use an likeness of Albert Einstein without permission
  2. The advert is far too focused on hypothetical promotion of a money making scheme instead of being what it is - an advert for new apartment developments
  3. The audacity of the advertiser to try and squeeze all the regulatory small print into that tiny advert.

Albert Einstein is somewhat of an iconic individual of the 20th Century receiving as he did the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1921. He is best known for his mass-energy equivalence E=mc2. What then is his likeness doing on a real estate advert?

The advert purports that Einstein had a Rule of 72 - this is not factual and irrespective of that the Rule of 72 speaks to a shorthand way of assessing the time period required to double the value of a capital sum based on a simple interest rate. If you divide 72 by the interest rate (say 10%) then in this example you get a figure of 7.2 - which is the number of years required for a capital sum to double in value if the interest rate payable is 10% based on compound interest. The reality is that the statement in the advert that “in future years the property should be worth more, much more” is neither attributable to Einstein nor to the Rule of 72.

Lastly GreenLight, is the duly appointed exclusive licensing agent for the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, who hold the rights to all likenesses in any form of Albert Einstein and it is also authorized to vigorously pursue all unauthorised uses of Albert Einstein's creations, appellations, copyrights, right of publicity, photographs, trademarks and characterisations, and to prosecute and maintain trademark and copyright registrations on behalf of The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. So I would be very cautious about using any unauthorised images of anyone on any advert.

The advert is full of speculative assertions "A city residence can now be purchased with only $1,000 down and nothing to pay for 14 months" and similarly "After finance charges, you can have other people paying it off for you". Nowhere does it say which property and where and for how much and what type of property you might get. Nor as to the risks of buying an apartment and the potential issue of arranging finance or the problems of tenancy.

No it sells the snake oil of "make a few hundred dollars a week coming in as extra income in retirement" and of course the presumption of a "long term appreciating asset"

The advert needs to be seen in context - it measures just 150mm by 90mm 

And as for small print the advert manages to compress 230 words of legally required disclaimers into a space smaller than the headline - maginfying it as I have done below shows how bad this is:

In case you are interested this is what it says:

Disclaimer: Only available when purchasing an off the plan Urba or Queens Residences apartment and only apply where the Vendor accepts a Purchaser’s request for payment of the balance of the deposit (usually 10% of the purchase price) to be deferred until settlement, and the Purchaser enters into a Deferred Deposit Deed with the Vendor (if acceptance with clause 23 of the Agreement for Sale and Purchase) within 15 working days of signing the Agreement. At settlement the balance of the deposit together with the full purchase price must be paid. If the Vendor does not accept the Purchaser’s request for payment of the balance of the deposit to be deferred until settlement or, if the Purchaser elects to pay the balance of the despot by cash, the full deposit must be paid in cash in accordance with the terms of the Agreement. Capital and (not legible) values rise and fall according to market conditions, investing in property is a long term investment, not a get rich quick scheme for spectators. The information contained herein is not financial advice and should not be relied upon as such. Prior to signing any legal documents, such as contracts, you should seek independent advice. Every Precaution has been taken to establish the accuracy of the material herein at the time of printing, however no responsibility will be taken for any errors or omissions. 

In my view this advert does nothing for the professionalism of the real estate industry nor does it add any value to the properties that are endeavouring to be marketed or the agent acting as a sellers agent. It's shoddy and if I had the time I would like to take a complaint against the advertiser for the latter of the 3 issues at least - time will tell if they receive a complaint and financial penalty against the first issue!