“Christina Cleveland was feeling overwhelmed by the process of buying her first home.”
So began a feature story in the Toronto Star two days ago, accompanied by a honking big picture of the fetching Christina assaulting a cucumber. Turns out the management consultant from the distant GTA burb of Milton learned a valuable lesson as she minced through the minefield of home ownership – mortgage brokers are good. You should use one.
“A friend suggested she go with a mortgage broker, who facilitated things,” the Star reporter wrote. “She did. ‘He has relationships with many banks and financial institutions, so he was able to provide me with a variety of options and rates,’ Cleveland says. ‘And the rate I got from the broker was better than what I was able to find on my own.’”
There may be a good reason for that.
The Star’s go-to guy for mortgage broker information, and presumably Christine’s lender, is Raj Babber. He is president of Toronto-based CLN Mortgages, a broker, former banker (Canada Trust, CIBC) and head of the Independent Mortgage Brokers Association of Ontario. In the article Babber pumps brokers as being independent, well-trained and more flexible than the banks.
“In trickier situations, where individuals might be self-employed or their credit might be flawed, brokers have access to private funds and specialized institutions that could meet the needs of that particular client,” he told staff reporter Ryan Starr.
What Raj did not tell Ryan (at least what didn’t make it into print), is that his wife, who is Director of Marketing at CLN Mortgages, has a sister. Michelle Cleveland-Babber’s sibling is, you guessed it, Christina Cleveland. In fact Michelle was so proud that the Toronto Star fell for their professional ménage a trois that she bragged about it for a few hours on her Facebook page.
If this reminds you of the Star story last week in which a condo tenant bitched about unfair rent hikes, and turned out to be a mortgage industry executive, then you have an additional insight on the state of Canadian journalism. That story featured Kerri-Lynn McAllister, a media marketing whiz specializing in social media, whose income depends on consumers chasing mortgages to buy (among other things) condos. Did she dupe the Star into portraying her as a hapless victim renter to underscore the benefits of owning? Or did the Star reporter (Susan Pigg) know this and suppress it?
Beats me. But KLM was some pissed with your scribe, and let the Twittersphere know all about it.
Of course now we have a story promoting mortgage brokers featuring the sister of an executive at a mortgage brokerage firm that her husband is president of, who is used as an expert source for the same story, and likely arranged her mortgage. That might have all been okay, if somewhat smelly, had any of it been disclosed. Then readers would have been fully aware of not only a serious conflict of interest, but a nepotistic bias in the comments being made.
I’ve nothing against mortgage brokers. Many do an outstanding job and love their clients. I have nothing against the Star. It’s the largest newspaper in Canada and has a rich and deep history of truth-telling. But this is an appalling breach of reader trust. And another nail in the media coffin.
“If your bank can’t offer you a competitive rate, you can consider following Christina Cleveland’s example, and take your mortgage business elsewhere,” the article concludes. “’People might think they’re loyal to one particular institution, and that’s great. But if they’re not going to give you the best rate on the biggest debt you’ll have, why would you continue to work with them?’ she asks.”
Perhaps because they’re honest.
Testimonial from CLN web site in which Christina Cleveland claims to have first met Raj Babber as a mortgage broker – even though he is the husband of her sister. This family relationship was not disclosed by the Toronto Star. The testimonial was removed by CLN after this blog post was published.
Update: On May 4th the Toronto Star added the following clarification to the article referenced above. Disclosure is a good thing.