Honey on Toast – A Special Investigation

Martin Honey

In the world of real estate Martin Honey?s always been considered safe as houses. Now the walls are closing in on the high-flying Auckland agent. In the first part of a special Whaleoil investigation, we explain why.

by Stephen Cook

THE HIGH COURT has delivered a major shot in the arm to one of the protagonists in a long-running Auckland real estate dispute with a ruling this week which threatens to turn the entire case on its head.

After six gruelling years, consumer rights advocate Dermot Nottingham, his brother Phillip along with Robert McKinney finally have something to celebrate after a court ruling clearing the way for a re-examination of crucial evidence in their six-year slugfest with real estate agent Martin Honey. Rounds one and two may have gone the way of Honey, but McKinney and the Nottingham brothers have claimed the high ground in the decisive third after successfully appealing the findings of the Real Estate Agents Disciplinary Tribunal.

The ruling opens the door for more legal action against Honey by the three men who with costs are believed to out-of-pocket to the tune of at least half a million dollars.

They also have set their sights on a group of National MPs who supported Honey throughout the six-year ordeal.

The Nottingham’s and McKinney took the matter to the High Court challenging the tribunal?s refusal to lay misconduct charges against Honey for ?duplicitous business practices? dating back to 2009 which they say ended up costing them hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The appellants also claimed Honey laid a ?false retaliatory complaint? with the Authority back in 2011 alleging Dermot Nottingham attempted to intimidate he and his wife with ?militant style thug threats?.

After twice being knocked back by the organisation governing real estate agents, the three men decided to file an appeal in the High Court, claiming ?corrupt, dishonest and immoral? practices on the part of the tribunal.

In a 40-page judgement in favour of the appellants, Justice Susan Thomas took serious issue with the tribunal?s handling of the case. ??

Specifically the tribunal were criticised for failing to understand the importance of testimony from one witness and not considering ?fresh evidence? from another.

In terms of the fresh evidence, Justice Thomas maintained that testimony was critical as it ?categorically contradicted? the evidence of Martin Honey ?whose credibility was central… to evidence of misconduct?.


Phillip Nottingham (top) & Dermot Nottingham

The High Court ruling effectively paves the way for a review of the appellant?s complaint and whether Honey should face ?misconduct? charges for operating a Re-Max website after moving to competing company, Ray White.

From here, the court has the power to refer the matter back to the tribunal to consider the new evidence. On the court?s say-so, the tribunal can also direct the complaint assessment committee to lay misconduct charges against Honey – charges which could effectively end his career. Whatever the decision, it won?t be good news for the high-flying estate agent with the multimillion-dollar property portfolio who, in the wake of this fresh evidence, is facing allegations he either lied to or misled the tribunal.

It seems that ultimately Martin Honey?s fate could rest on the evidence of a former employee, who maintains she was under strict orders from her boss to list properties on both the Re-Max and Ray White websites.

?I was employed by Martin Honey when the company was a Re-Max franchise and a few days after I started I was informed that it was being changed to a Ray White franchise,? Lee-Ann Earlam stated in her evidence.

?When I started it was explained to me that Martin operated two websites – a personal website along with the Ray White website. I was instructed to load the property pictures and details for both websites.?

Earlam said she was specifically instructed by Martin Honey do to this.

And the work didn?t stop there.

?I would receive calls off the Re-Max website and take prospective clients information and hand that information on to Mr Honey. Mr Honey would then ring the clients back and arrange appointments and obtain listings that he would sell.

?Once the property was sold I would, according to Mr Honey?s instructions, load the sold property onto the Re-max and Ray White websites….?

The dispute between Honey, who through Pure Realty Ltd was the former owner of the Re-Max franchise in Royal Oak, and Dermot Nottingham’s company Property Bank Realtor Limited flared up back in 2009 after Nottingham bought a Re-Max franchise previously operated by Honey. Nottingham claimed Honey continued to operate a website with Re-Max branding from February 13, 2009 through to April 18, 2010,?a period of well over a year.

As a consequence he says he lost hundreds of thousands of dollars in commissions because potential buyers were diverted from Honey?s Re-Max website to Ray White.

Martin Honey has always maintained his innocence.

Robert McKinney

Robert McKinney

He claims at no stage was he running a Re-Max website while working for Ray White.

And up until now he?s been backed up by the Authority, who say there?s been no proof Nottingham has lost any money. They?ve also argued that Honey took “considerable steps, at a considerable expense” to rebrand his agency and website. They say he rebranded his office, removal truck, car, stationery and business cards and sent more than 1000 letters advising clients of the change. That aside, Honey is likely to have a hard time explaining Earlam?s evidence which contradicts almost every statement he?s made to date about what he was supposedly aware of and not aware of.

Dermot Nottingham said he was delighted by the ruling. ?The chickens have finally come home to roost – and about time too.

?The new evidence is critical and impossible to ignore in the context of what has gone on here.? There?s also likely to be questions about why Earlam?s evidence was not considered by the tribunal when it first considered the matter despite the fact her statement was filed before the closing date for submissions.

The High Court seized upon that in its findings, saying the failure to take Earlam?s evidence into account was ?an error? and crucial in the context of the entire case.

Justice Thomas also noted the ?apparent misunderstanding? of the significance of evidence provided by the woman who first alerted Honey to the issue of the Re-Max website.

The woman said she told Honey about the website issue in July 2009, nine months before he claimed he was first made aware of the problem.