Acting to sell home brings $5000 fine

A Gore man was still protesting his innocence yesterday as Judge Philip Moran sentenced him for illegally trading as a real estate agent.

Ewen McLeod (65) helped a Gore couple sell their house last year for a fee of $500, regardless of whether the house sold. He placed newspaper advertisements, held an open home and dealt with potential buyers.

McLeod argued his activities amounted to no more than general advice to assist the vendors, something permitted under the Real Estate Agents Act, but Judge Moran found him guilty after a defended hearing in Gore in July.

During sentencing in the Invercargill District Court, McLeod told the judge he still believed he was ''completely innocent'' and had done nothing more than help out friends.

''What I was paid didn't even cover lunch, let alone buy petrol and cover other expenses.''

Judge Moran told McLeod he was ''a slow learner'' by continuing to insist he did nothing wrong.

''The moment you dealt with purchasers, you were acting as an agent.''

''Excuse me. Can I excuse you?'' McLeod, who represented himself, said, reaching into a bundle of papers.

''Shsh,'' the judge replied.

''I have already convicted you. If you disagree with my decision, take it upstairs [to appeal].''

McLeod is the second person or company in New Zealand successfully prosecuted by the Real Estate Agents Authority (REAA).

Judge Moran said real estate agents were required to be licensed to protect consumers and illegal trading was viewed seriously. The maximum fine for a company was $100,000, and for an individual $40,000.

McLeod had a six-page criminal history which included a term of imprisonment for obtaining money by deception, the judge said. His fraud convictions meant he would not have got a real estate agent's licence.

''Yours was a calculated attempt to circumvent the Act and there was a commercial element to it in that you were charging a fee. On the credit side, you caused no actual harm.''

He said McLeod had been asked to provide evidence of his financial position before sentencing but had not done so.

In answer to the judge's questions, McLeod said he owned a car and few other assets and had less than $5000 in the bank.

When asked if he had any dependants, McLeod replied: ''No, but the girlfriend's costing a lot.''

Judge Moran said he would have liked to have fined McLeod $18,000 to reflect the seriousness of his offending but realised he could not afford to pay a fine of that order. Instead, he fined McLeod $5000.