We talk about methamphetamine risk mitigation, the impact on New Zealand’s real estate stock and the consequences for kiwi families of this unregulated industry – Debra Young Chameleon Investigations.
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The Ryan Marketing Show
Debra Young – Chameleon Investigations – EPISODE 6
Voice over: Ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one, fire.
Ryan Jennings: This is The Ryan Marketing Show, and you’re listening to episode six of one hundred. And today I’ve got with me Debra Young from Chameleon Investigations. How are you, Debra?
Debra Young: I’m great, thank you, Ryan.
RJ: So, one of the reasons I wanted to talk to you is you’ve kind of got a very different role to some of the other business leaders I’ve been talking to in that your business is kind of done in the shadows and done behind closed doors. Do you want to discuss a little bit more about actually what you do and how your services support clients both in the field and undercover?
DY: Sure. I guess some of the business is [? 0:01:09.2], so assisting clients with child custody issues, breach of contract, which stand to try a bit [? 0:01:16.0], but some of the work I do that [? 0:01:20.1] is more along the lines of in the methamphetamine industry, so nobody really wants to talk about it, and nobody wants to deal with it, so that’s the part that’s difficult.
RJ: And so, for the listeners out there, what is the methamphetamine trade? What does that allude to?
DY: So, in New Zealand, we generally– we’ve been– the people involved in the industry, now it’s [? 0:01:51.4] me, refer to methamphetamine as P, P meaning pure. Now New Zealand is the only country in the world that refers to it as P, and unfortunately it’s because New Zealand has been pretty good at making it – the old [? 0:02:03.4], so there’s a supply and manufacture, two parts in industry, and the part that’s really affecting the New Zealand– or two parts that are affecting New Zealand as a society is one: the methamphetamine residue that’s left in houses after manufacturing or smoking, and two: on the community as a whole in terms of loss of income, because people – not all, but some people – are on methamphetamine and not working, and slowly their life gets out of control. And the second part of that is the effect on the house that will be a future effect – probably not that well-known in the moment, in terms of the people that survive the methamphetamine use, what’s the long-term outcome in terms of kidney and liver function, and a lot of them have heart issues as well.
RJ: So, the people you’re referring to there aren’t the ones that voluntarily take these P drugs, but these are the people caught up as a secondary effect of some New Zealanders who create and manufacture this product, creating in environments that aren’t designed for chemical production. Is that correct?
DY: Exactly, yep. But the long and the short of it is, I’m talking about people’s houses, how they’re either occupied or P [? 0:03:30.7], but that’s the two things. The other side of the coin, of course, is that you can manufacture anywhere. So, I’ve sampled– when I first sample [? 0:03:40.8] -that’s what you do is sample, because they may have [? 0:03:43.3] sampling. Houses, cars, boats, caravans, commercial units, [will? 0:03:52.9] property, farm sheds, you name it – people can manufacture in it.
RJ: So, New Zealand has a pretty big love affair with their homes and purchasing their first home, and so on, so I guess your target market, in marketing terms, is anyone who either owns a home or potentially is going to rent a home.
DY: You’re correct. And actually, I’ve just had a little thought. You were talking to me before about the fact that [horticulture? 0:04:24.8] something that people don’t really much know about. I’ll actually have people hand my business card back to me, which I find quite interesting, but they sort of say, “Oh no, I would never need that.” And I say to them, “Well, do you live in a house? Are you planning to buy a house? Do you visit houses? Do you stay in houses when you go on holiday? Do you stay in hotels? Motels?” And they kind of look at you absolutely dumbfounded. People just live in their little bubbles and they really have no idea how far reaching this is to the extent that 45% of houses that [? 0:04:54.3], and were not targeting homes, although [? 0:04:58.3] that we think are contaminated, it’s mainly for pre-[? 0:05:02.3]. So, there’s a couple of industries that really need to get on board with us. And in terms of marketing, very difficult to get a foot in the door, because they don’t want to know, and that’s mainly the real estate industry.
RJ: Right, so those that could potentially have the best positive impact on it are those who are trading and buying and selling houses for a living.
DY: Correct, yeah. And don’t get me wrong, some of them really are getting on board, but it tends to be the individual property managers that work for themselves – the independents – rather than the large franchise company. You know what I mean?
RJ: Do you think that’s because for something like this, it could hold up the sale process, so it’s not in the best interest of a real estate agent, but it would be for a property manager?
DY: I think so, but if you look at– or no, I was talking about independent– oh yes, no, you’re right. Yes, property managers – that’s what I just said. I think that it’s no different really to finding out there’s a plumbing issue or an insulation problem, or the property has no code of compliance. It’s a little speed hump in the road, but doesn’t mean the sale is not going to go ahead, but there is a few things that need to be done in order to facilitate the sale. And the liability is always on the vendor, the real estate agents work for the vendor, [? 0:06:28.1] the insurers.
RJ: Okay, so this is kind of like where the market was at for earthquake strengthening prior to the Christchurch earthquake and then post, that prior was never an issue and never considered, but post, it’s become almost part [in part? 0:06:46.2] of not just purchasing a house, but any commercial property. Do you think something like that needs to happen in this industry as well to protect homebuyers and renters?
DY: Absolutely. There’s no regulation in the industry whatsoever. Just anyone can do decontamination; you could start up a decontamination company tomorrow, not even with a clue what you’re doing. Anyone can start up a [? 0:07:07.7] company – there’s lots of different methods with client claim, but there’s really only one accurate and sensitive method of sampling in that if you even live close to the amount of the sample, and there’s companies that are using alternative methods of not lab-based, coming up with negative meth results, when the actual reality it’s a positive meth result, and they just have not detected the meth that’s in the house. And not talking about small amounts, I’m talking about large amounts like eight to nine grams, which is high.
RJ: Okay, so we’ve talked then about those types of services, which uncover what’s not easy to see with the eye. What about the other side of the equation for those that don’t want you to uncover this – those that are living and working in the shadows? Is this an ongoing arms race, or do you bump into those people? How does what you do versus what syndicated crime do, how does that overlap?
DY: I’m not sure if you saw the paper on the weekend, probably not, it was the Waikato Times, but the entire front page was covered with the issue of the methamphetamine gaining all this, and the fact that they can come sort of [? 0:08:22.3] taking over nationally and gems of methamphetamine production and supply, and the other [gangs? 0:08:27.6] are not happy about it, so this is not going to go away and people have got to get their kids around it. I don’t have anything to do with– I’m quite removed from that part of the criminal fraternity, however it’s interesting that when someone is using methamphetamine and they are a professional [? 0:08:46.8] – they’re a real estate agent, they’ve been police officers, they’ve been medical people, schoolteachers, you name it – any occupation under the sun – when they use it, they stick themselves right away from the fact that somewhere down the line, a gang is involved, and the fact that a manufacturing process and supply, and what value. And they may not have bought it through a [? 0:09:12.4] gang; they may have bought it from someone wearing a suit at the pub, but nonetheless, there’s probably been [? 0:09:18.0] tactics, blackmail, violence, and threats involved in the manufacturing process in terms of people being made to manufacture when they don’t want to, but they’re in debt and they end up doing it, so it’s a very fine line. And I had a conversation on Facebook recently with a relative of someone who’s in prison for using methamphetamine who was a professional person – a barista – and the family member was saying, “Well, I think that’s a really low blow to put my relative’s story up on your business Facebook page, when his career had nothing to do with the gang and he hasn’t hurt anybody.” And I just found that slightly astounding, and I had to deal with them in a really sensitive manner, because it’s their relative and they’re upset about that and they’ve gone through a lot, however, what about the house that that person lived in? What about his car, his workplace? He had to smoke somewhere. And what about the flip side of the coin, that somebody manufactured the methamphetamine that he used? It was a difficult conversation, and that’s really what you’re dealing with, and to bang on, how do you market something that nobody really wants to know about? It’s not until someone has experience with it and had a house where [? 0:10:25.6] has manufactured, or bought a house where the previous owner has manufactured, that they then need to understand what’s going on.
RJ: So, do you think in this case that what we’re actually dealing with isn’t the difficulty to grow awareness of this is a problem, it’s actually that the other side, the criminal syndicates, that are producing this have such a great, at least in economic terms, a business strategy about growing their market of selling methamphetamine in New Zealand and there’s just no government regulatory or business approach that’s matching what they’re doing? Is that more where the market’s at at the moment?
DY: Correct. You’re bang on. I can’t really elaborate on that; you’re absolutely right. They’re way ahead of the game and that article in the Waikato Times [? 0:11:15.2] saying just that, that they have an acquired business plan, they run it just like a business, and it’s a very successful business. And then they roll the supply and demand over here, and that’s why it’s successful, and huge, huge profit margins.
RJ: Do you think there’s a blueprint for this internationally, either of how New Zealand should respond, or is there more a blueprint on the gang side of how this plays out to their advantage?
DY: I think they might’ve missed the boat in terms of looking overseas, and in the heat of the game, that was seven or eight years ago that that should’ve happened, and I just– what do you do when they police try to do the best they can do with the funding they’ve got, but they really don’t have enough funding to get on top of a slightly entire police force 24/7, just with more methamphetamine to even make a dent in it. It’s very, very difficult.
RJ: Do you think it requires a political intervention rather than a crime or agency-level intervention?
DY: Sorry, did you say political?
RJ: Yeah, like a change in how the response to this is either funded or what the approach is?
DY: I wish I did know the answer. That’s probably part of it, but– yeah, that’s probably another conversation for another time. It’s a massive issue and all I can do is chip away at the level that I can do once [? 0:12:40.4]. It really is a huge problem, and we really feel – we in the industry – feel that it’s going to be bigger than the leaky home disaster, and you know how big that was. The leaky home thing didn’t spread; it was this house, this house, this house, but the issue wasn’t against [? 0:12:58.9] – these people are mobile, so there may be 42-43,000 users in New Zealand, well, that’s probably conservative, but those people are mobile, so they go all over New Zealand. And by nature of what they do, they’re [? 0:13:11.6], so they know it’s [? 0:13:15.1] houses; they’ve been in them and what they’re contaminated. And it’s not just manufacture; smoking also contaminates homes and can cause significant problems and issues for children. That’s quite horrific.
RJ: Do you think it’ll take something like that that’s in a particular home or family, or do you think it’ll be more like leaky homes where the isolated cases then turned into a snowball where it had to be investigated; that this was an industry-wide issue that needed solving?
DY: Well, I know that there’s been some unusual childhood cancers I think [? 0:13:48.6] in homes where children have moved into properties that have been contaminated. Now, we’re trying to make the link between the methamphetamine and the cancer, but the cancers are very unusual. For example, tongue and mouth cancer in a wee child, that is a very unusual cancer, and so my understanding is that they are doing some studies around that to find out whether that has a direct link or just an unusual anomaly, so that’ll be interesting to watch. But they’re also doing studies on the effects of children born to mothers who were addicted to methamphetamine during pregnancy, and conservatively I’ve been told by my [? 0:14:26.4] that if one baby is born even a week in start of [? 0:14:29.5] methamphetamines, this issue is [? 0:14:32.4], and it’s right across the board; there’s no geographical boundary and no socioeconomic boundary. It’s all over New Zealand and it’s all types of people – some unemployed right through to [? 0:14:45.2]
RJ: So, how can a family go about protecting their kids or protecting the place they live or where they work? How do you go about mitigating this risk when you can’t see it with the eye?
DY: So, two things: firstly, never, ever buy a house without me sampling it with lead-based metals [inaudible 0:15:06.4] samples. That’s very simple – it’s a no-brainer. It’s just a couple hundred dollars; that’s not even price prohibitive. And then it’s up to the vendor – if there’s an issue identified, the vendor needs to fix it – that’s their liability. And then the second thing is that if you are a tenant, you should be asking before you rented the property, “Have you sampled this property and what were the results?” Because if it’s under a certain level, which is .5 micrograms under the residential chances that [? 0:15:35.6] health guidelines, [? 0:15:37.2] doesn’t have to disclose that to a tenant if it’s under .5, but if a tenant asks, they do have to disclose it. So, that’s really a little anomaly that really shouldn’t be there, in my opinion. If there’s meth in the house, I think I have a right to know as a tenant before I move in.
RJ: Okay, so if you’re–
DY: In terms of manufacture, there is a device that you can install, which detects the manufacture of methamphetamine, not use of methamphetamine, because it’s actually looking for the chemicals used to cook meth, not the actual end product of methamphetamine. That’s two things people can do. And I think getting back to something you said before, you can actually tell this to people and they’ll understand it, and then they’ll fall in love with the house and not test it, because they fell in love with it. And I’ve had that happen with a client who had a house sample that came back positive and they walked away from the deal. The next house, they didn’t sample it, because it was beautiful – it was exactly what they wanted, and I think they just didn’t really want to know.
RJ: So, it’s something that you have to test for, but it doesn’t have to be onerous; it can just be another condition of purchase if you’re a– if the purchaser– just as if it would be a LIM report, to making sure that everything else is fit and healthy in the house.
DY: Exactly. So, you put it on the sale and purchase agreement just so it can be negotiated offer. Auctions a little bit trickier; you need to test it before you go to auction, which is the cost that you have to incur, but faced with the consequences of buying a house that’s full of meth, I think that’s a valid cost. And then the flip side, if you’re buying by negotiated offer, you put all the sale and pitch agreement, “Subject to a satisfactory meth [? 0:17:17.4] lab analysis.” It’s very simple, and then once you’re getting down through that offer, then you get the meth test done, and it needs to be done before the house is [? 0:17:28.0] affliction. There’s no point in buying a house with code and compliance, nice information and lovely features if it’s full of methamphetamine.
RJ: And for renters, it’s the same thing: the owner’s, it’s on them just to ask the question and then ask for a satisfactory response.
DY: Correct. Ask, do you have any idea whether there’s been any meth issues in this house? And if they say, “Oh, yes, we’ve got one test here,” say, “Is that the only test you’ve ever done?” Because we’ve had situations where people have found out there’s meth in the house, they’ve done some sort of a cleanup themselves, which is usually not effective. I’ve had another test done using an unreliable testing they said, which come back no meth present, and then that’s the report they show the tenant. But you need to see all the reports, not just the latest report. And if you need someone to read the report, I’m happy to do that at no cost, because it’s something that I’m passionate about.
RJ: Is there any particular areas of New Zealand that are affected more than others, or is this across every city, north and south island?
DY: It’s mainly the north island, but that’s more because we’re not doing very many samples in south island, so I’ll talk mainly about the north. The highest areas overall, the houses we’ve sampled, 45 have been positive, and district by district, Northland is the highest followed closely by Waikato, and the Bay of Plenty is nipping at their heels – Kawerau is just going off at the moment, and some of the levels are quite high – and I can’t help thinking that Auckland is trying to buy out of the Auckland market, and I’m wondering [? 0:19:06.6] are heading to the north, and Waikato and the Bay think they– so, big warning flags to people to really be aware and test before they buy, no matter what pressure they feel in the property market.
RJ: Yeah, because it’s hard enough working out when to sell your house and when to buy somewhere else and move cities. The last thing you want is to win on the Auckland house market, but then inherit a very difficult situation in a house in Tauranga.
DY: Exactly. And I’ve got a little rental property, just a little one-bedroom, and I tested it to show my tenants who moved in, and I’ll test it again before they move out to make sure that it’s the same, which is no meth, and they’re [? 0:19:44.4] and pregnant, and they’re going to have a baby, that’s great that I know the house is safe for them, and they know it’s safe. So, tenants stay longer if they know that the house is meth-safe, and so there’s no real cost to me, because I added the testing onto the cost to the rent.
RJ: And it only works out at a couple bucks a week, I guess.
DY: Yeah, it’s negligible.
RJ: Well, that’s very interesting to understand a little bit more about marketing something that really no one wants to know about, but it’s a commercial and a life reality for it sounds like a lot of New Zealanders, and it looks like you’re doing some pretty good things to mitigate that risk against the hardworking kiwis out there that don’t know about this or are only just starting to realize the impact it could be having on our society.
DY: Well, I’m all ears if you come up with some great marketing ideas, Ryan.
RJ: I’ll put my thinking cap on.
DY: That’d be great. I’ll wait for your call.
RJ: Hey, thanks very much for your time, Debra.
DY: No trouble at all.
RJ: Take care.