A Vancouver real estate marketing company is apologizing for having two employees pose as prospective home buyers in televised newscasts on a supposed spike in sales around the Lunar New Year.
The two young women – presented as house-hunting sisters whose parents would be in town from China for the New Year to help them purchase a condo – are in fact an administrative assistant and a sales assistant with MAC Marketing Solutions, president Cameron McNeill confirmed to The Globe and Mail.
"All I can say is that I deeply apologize for having misled the media for being there," said Mr. McNeill, who said he was out of town over the Family Day long weekend, when the news segments aired on local stations including CTV and CBC. "We were busy and I don't know if the girls were put up to it, or just put on the spot, or if it happened spontaneously. Regardless, it was wrong and I take full responsibility, on my own shoulders."
The news segments were on the supposed spike in sales activity in the weeks around Lunar New Year – a pattern Mr. McNeill insists is "100 per cent true." In one news segment, the women tour a suite in downtown Vancouver's Maddox condo development – which is being marketed by MAC. One woman tells the camera they cannot afford to buy on their own and must rely on assistance from their parents.
"We definitely like it here, but we have to talk to our parents," she says. "Maybe tomorrow we will bring them here. … If we like this place, we have to tell them and they make the decision. Usually, Chinese people like to buy during this time."
In reality, the women are not even related.
The misrepresentation was first spotted by the local online community and then dissected on local blogs and message boards. Some noticed a Google search of one of the women's names turned up her Facebook and LinkedIn pages – both since deleted – which stated she worked at MAC.
Mr. McNeill said there have been discussions about the incident within the company, but it is not yet known who is behind it. When asked if the ploy may lead to terminations at the company, he said it would depend on the depth of responsibility.
"If it was blatant and on the hands of one person, then I think there might be some severe repercussions, but it's hard for me to answer that without knowing all the details surrounding it," he said.
This is the latest in a number of questionable marketing tactics to be exposed within Metro Vancouver's real estate community. During a media blitz announcing the Groupon-style sale of units at a Surrey condo development last year, one woman identified to a television news crew as an eager local investor was in fact a sales manager for Key Marketing, the company behind the scheme.
That same company has also taken groups of Chinese buyers on helicopter tours of Metro Vancouver properties, and at least one of those trips was believed to be misleading. Garth Turner, a business journalist and former politician, reported the Chinese buyers on a Feburary, 2011, trip – on which several media outlets were invited – were in fact local real-estate agents and brokers and the trip was meant to promote a new condo development.
Cam Good, president of The Key, which includes Key Marketing, was a partner at MAC Marketing Solutions from 2004 to 2009, according to his LinkedIn page.
According to 2011 data by the Landcor Data Corporation, 75 per cent of those who purchased Metro Vancouver condos as investment properties are from Metro Vancouver. About 3 per cent are from the U.S. and 2 per cent are from other countries.
The Real Estate Council of B.C will beinvestigating the matter.