Real estate's influence on newspapers

Should you believe everything you read in the property section of your newspaper? CHOICE investigates.
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02.Vested interests

The papers are full of real estate success stories. But who exactly is behind those oft-quoted “first home buyers”?

A recent story published in The Courier Mail referred to flood-damaged properties hitting the market. Property editor Michelle Hele wrote about a potential buyer, James Freudigmann who was "undeterred by flood damage".

What Hele didn’t disclose is that Freudigmann is the Queensland director of property advisory company Capital 360, a company specialising in property advisory, and according to its website Freudigmann uses his "extensive knowledge [of property]" to "exceed his clients' expectations." 

When CHOICE contacted Hele for comment, she told us that "this story was about potential buyers of a flooded property and Mr Freudigmann's stated intention to live in it, not whatever his business may be."

A similar article, “Deluged Brisbane houses cheapest of the capitals”, published in The Australian in April 2011, stated: “For Brisbane potential home buyer Laura Kavanagh, the low prices have provided a great opportunity. Ms Kavanagh and other buyers said that the doubts over future levels of interest rates were not really a big factor in their decision to enter the market. ‘I don't think they will go up, but even if they did it's still a good time to get into the market,’ she said.” 

The fact that Kavanagh is an agent with Place Real Estate, one of the largest agencies operating in Brisbane, is not disclosed.

Andrew Fraser, the article's author, blamed this on a tight deadline. “The story is based on a report which stated that Adelaide prices were going up while Brisbane prices were going down. I was asked at 4pm to urgently find a house buyer for the story so I contacted a real estate agent. The person they found me worked at the agency but was also a house buyer.”

“I would have put in that she was real estate agent but I didn’t think it was important because she was in there as a buyer. And the story was not about her... the reference to her is in the final three paragraphs.”

Lack of disclosure

CH1011_RealEstate_board_WEBThe practice of not disclosing vested interests in these 'everyday' men and women is widespread. The MacroBusiness blog, which provides alternative views on investments, has uncovered the practice at a number of other newspapers including:

  • The Courier (Ballarat)
  • The Australian
  • The Daily Telegraph (Sydney)
  • The Courier Mail (Brisbane)
  • Adelaide Now (website of the Adelaide Advertiser)

“The consumer knows when they’re reading any commercial section of the publication – be it health, cars or real estate – that it’s advertorial,” says Smith. “You put hard news in the front of the paper. It’s preposterous to think that commercial sections would be unbiased! If you were to [have an unbiased section], no real estate agent would submit any editorial.”

“People believe what they read in the papers,” says Ryder. “If you repeat the lie often enough people will accept it as the truth. Often people aren’t even aware of where their attitudes come from – they just absorb media attitudes because they’re there every day, and they’ll repeat misconceptions as fact.”

Playing favourites

The debut of a new haircut is not normally newsworthy. Unless of course you’re a celebrity like Jennifer Aniston, Natalie Portman, Brad Pitt or Anthony Toop. “Anthony who?” you may ask.

“Move over David Hasselhoff, South Australia has its own bike-riding, blow-waved bloke setting tongues wagging,” proclaims newspaper Adelaide Now on 26 June 2011. “After six months' hiatus from his clean-cut, executive life as boss of Toop & Toop Real Estate, Anthony Toop has returned to town with a head of flowing hair, rendering him almost unrecognisable.”

And this is by no means a one off. So why is it that a new haircut or a real estate agent's birthday is news in a capital city newspaper? You need only look to the back pages to find out, says Angelo Karantonis, a property expert, and associate professor of the School of the Built Environment at the University of Technology Sydney.

“Take note of the names of the agents and agencies they’re referring to. Then have a look at the ads at the back – the ones who advertise a lot are the ones who get the write-ups. If Joe Bloggs Real Estate advertises a quarter of a page once in a blue moon, he won’t get editorial.”

One former real estate agent says: “It used to frustrate me... They had a preference for those who advertised more over the different papers.”

The impact of these seemingly harmless profiles is powerful. After all, who would you ask to sell your house? “It would instinctively be someone you’ve seen in the paper all the time, because he seems like an active person. You wouldn’t go to Joe Bloggs – what hope does he have? Success breeds success,” says Karantonis.


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