A chance to speak out

Xolile Bhengu

Xolile Bhengu

Meet the man behind the media release that sent panic waves through the local property sector, and was promptly dismissed as an alarmist ploy to increase sales.

Until two weeks ago, 33-year-old Maurice Levin's life was working like a well oiled machine. He worked as the spokesman and public relations officer for Sothebys International Realty company - until he publicised an internal memorandum that was sent by the owner of the agency, veteran Lew Geffen, to his franchise holders.

In the memo Geffen predicted a 40percent drop in local luxury house prices by the end of this year and advised franchisees to convince sellers to drop their asking prices by 25percent, to secure the sale of their homes.

Levin said Geffen terminated his contract on the grounds that he did not authorise the release of the memorandum to the media. Up until that fateful day Levin did not need authorisation to publicise internal memos.

He said he was not aware of Geffen's fury until he hung up on him when he was trying to enquire why he had not honoured a scheduled radio interview to back up his statement.

"It is a sad day when an until-now respected property veteran with 40 years of experience is wholly comfortable telling his staff that he predicts the residential property market will plummet 40percent in the next year, but not the media community serving the ordinary man in the street," Levin said.

Levin was head-hunted by Geffen in March this year while he worked for the Alliance Group, an auctioneering company.

"I was honoured to be approached by the man who has more than 40 years experience in the property industry, and holds one of the most trusted opinions on the sector," he said.

He jumped at the chance of being part of the prestigious Sothebys brand.

"In my three months as PR (public relations) and communications manager for Sothebys International Realty South Africa, I have used material from Mr Geffen's internal memoranda to craft releases on behalf of the company.

So what does Levin hope to gain from going public? Just to clear the air, he said.

"Even though I was Mr Geffen's spokesperson and PR consultant, I did not agree with everything he said, but it was my job to communicate the material to the public, not pass judgment on what he was saying.

"I personally did not agree with the 40percent drop in the top end of the residential market as predicted by Lew.

"I think this downturn is a natural correction in the property market, and as dire as it may seem combined with interest rate hikes, fuel and food prices increases, I do believe house prices will recover in the next three years."

Attempts to get comment from Geffen were unsuccessful.