It’s 10 years since retired Tūrangi doctor Ian Millward took Zane Cozens to the Real Estate Authority – but it’s still raw. “It certainly was a big deal in in my life, and I’m a very laid-back sort of person.”

Cozens, who is now on the cusp of election to Parliament as an Act MP, has confirmed to Newsroom that four formal complaints were laid against him over how he handled the sale of homes.

Millward, and another elderly client named Jock Penrose, both told the authority that Cozens had “bullied” them.

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Cozens apologised for a confidentiality breach by his firm but was not found to have placed undue pressure on Millward and his wife. He was, however, censured for putting undue pressure on a third customer, the late Selina Watson.

It’s just one saga in the colourful story of 56-year-old Cozens – a well-known and polarising businessman and politician in Tūrangi-Taupō. People spoken to by Newsroom love him, or loathe him.

As for Cozens, he’s not saying much now. Newsroom has offered him a chance to respond to the criticisms of Millward and his own younger brother, Tayte Cozens, but he’s not replied to calls or messages since Newsroom first reported the Real Estate Authority censure, which occurred when Cozens was working for Bayleys Taupō.

“You’ll see from a brand standpoint that we don’t appear in front of the Real Estate Authority very frequently… We pride ourselves, and every brand will pride themselves, on not having people being bringing the brand into any form of disrepute.”
– Chris Gwin, Bayleys Real Estate

So, why report the story of a candidate down at 19th place on the Act Party list? That’s because, according to this week’s political poll from Roy Morgan, that No 19 placement would be easily enough to elect the former Taupō councillor to Parliament. Other polls show him just missing out.

He’s on the cusp. Ian Millward, for one, says he won’t be voting for a party that has Cozens on its list. He cites examples of other politicians who’d done things in their past that were “not conducive to being an MP”, like National’s Sam Uffindell who admitted bullying at school. “There is a precedent for people to consider what every potential MP has done in the past, and to make their own decision as to whether they are trustworthy.”

His former wife Christine Heappey, who worked two years as Cozen’s personal assistant before the dispute over the sale of their home, disagrees. She will be voting for Act, because he’s on the list – and despite the real estate complaint, she trusts him.

“I like Zane,” she says. “I think he’ll do really well as an MP. He’s a very loyal person. We all make mistakes in life, and we don’t all get on with everybody in life.”

And as for Act? “I think he’s with an amazing party.”

Few things could better illustrate the extent to which Cozens divides opinions.

‘Nothing between the ears’

Zane Cozens, the third of four children, grew up in Bulls – though his parents moved a lot so, really, nowhere was home. That’s according to his estranged brother, Tayte Cozens.

“We lived in 18 homes between 1972 and 1995,” his younger brother recalls. “Bulls, Marton, Palmerston North, Ashhurst, Matamata and Feilding.”

After leaving school, Cozens enlisted in the army and headed off to Waiouru. He served in the regular army as a cook, including in Singapore, before leaving to take a job as an assistant manager at a Pizza Hut.

He first sprang to prominence in 1991, on our TV screens. As a 23-year-old contestant in the primetime TV2 show Blind Date, in which female contestants compared him to Jason Donovan.

Cozens seemingly relished the role of provocateur bad boy, if media reports are any indication. Those who are queasy about reality TV may wish to skip over the next few paragraphs.

Marie Elizabeth and Zane Cozens were paired up on Blind Date for a romantic trip to Malaysia, but ended up “just good friends”. Photo: Annelies van der Poel/NZ Listener

He was paired up with 21-year-old Marie Elizabeth, but it didn’t go well.

TV2 invited the NZ Listener’s feature writer Bruce Ansley along for the trip. In his article, he described a double date at their hotel, the Holiday Inn in Kuala Lumpur, at which Cozens complained they were talking about everything except sex. “She doesn’t know how to do it,” he exclaimed, pointing at one of the women.

In the end, nothing happened. “She’s a really nice girl, but I know we’re not suited,” he told Ansley. “I don’t even think we’re going to be friends after this. I dread having to tell her that.

“People say, ‘You must have heaps of women’, but it’s not that easy. No one takes me seriously. I do a bit of modelling and I see beautiful women all around me. They’re either up themselves or they’ve got nothing between the ears.”

Cozens moved to the UK, where he met Englishman John Mack. The two are now married.

After living in the UK for a year or so, Cozens returned home to open first one, then another fish’n’chip shop, with money borrowed from his parents. The two shops were in Tūrangi and Taupō – the start of a lifelong love affair with that part of the country. But in the early 2000s one of the stores burnt down, due to a cooking fire. He sold both shops a couple of years later, his brother says.

‘Undue pressure’

It was then that Cozens found his professional passion: real estate. Over the subsequent 19 years, he says he sold about 2500 properties. According to one statement he posted online, he was Bayley’s No 1 salesperson nationwide in 2008/09.

“In these most difficult and challenging times, particularly in the real estate market, Zane Cozens continues to out-perform most salespeople around the country. Zane’s results over the past 12 months are testament to his professionalism, energy, enthusiasm and passion for his clients and knowledge of the local market place.”

But it was also in real estate that his forthright demeanour provoked complaints.

Millward complained that he’d been pressured into selling his Tūrangi home for $50,000 less than he believed they should have got. The Real Estate Agents’ Disciplinary Tribunal didn’t accept that met the threshold of undue pressure. 

“We believe that he truly feels that the licensee placed him under over-intense pressure, even amounting to bullying, to sell at $685,000 when he did not wish to,” the tribunal said in its ruling.

“It needs to be recognised that he is a well-educated and, clearly, most intelligent and sensible person; and he elected at material times to sell at that figure. We can understand that the sale process may have been too intense and fast for the vendors at the time and that they feel their agent was working rather for the benefit of the purchasers than for them the vendors.

“Having said that, we record that the licensee completely denies all allegations against him except that his staff member erred in honestly answering a question to one of the tenants to say that the property had been sold when the vendors’ instructions were that only they were to so advise the tenants.” 

Cozens says there were four complaints against him; three were not upheld. He claims he was “vindicated”, though the Real Estate Tribunal decision in the Millward case shows he apologised for his staff disclosing confidential information about the sale.

The case of Selina Watson was more open and shut. He was censured, ordered to refund his elderly client her $862 in legal fees, and sent on a course to retrain.

The authority’s finding was upheld, on appeal, by the Real Estate Agents’ Disciplinary Tribunal. In a ruling delivered by the chair, Judge Paul Barber, it said: “The committee determined that the licensee had placed undue pressure on the complainant to declare the contract unconditional prior to the auction.”

Cozens disclosed all this when he sought nomination for the Act Party, though leader David Seymour says it didn’t seem necessary to disclose it publicly.

Seymour read the appeal judgment this week, after being approached by Newsroom. “I’m really satisfied that it wasn’t malicious, and that he’s fundamentally a good person,” he says. “And as I understand, at the end of the day, the person still purchased the property and they remained a friend of theirs for the rest of their lives.”

Cozens says the authority and the tribunal felt he should be liable for the extra lawyer charges. “So there’s nothing nefarious, and the party is fully knowledgeable,” he adds. “It was to do with timeframes for auctions.”

How serious is censure?

Real Estate Authority chief executive Belinda Moffat declines to comment on specific cases.

She says that a finding of unsatisfactory conduct is made where the complaints assessment committee or tribunal conclude the standards of conduct expected of a real estate agent have not been met.

The committee may then make a penalty order. Its options include censure or reprimand; requiring the agent to apologise; requiring the agent to complete further training or education; ordering fees to be reduced, cancelled or refunded. It can also impose a fine of up to $10,000 for an individual or $20,000 for a company.

The disciplinary tribunal can impose more serious penalties, including cancelling or suspending the agent’s licence. (Cozens’ breach was not deemed this severe).

The Real Estate Authority website shows Cozens’ censure was one of 42 handed out in 2013.

“Every case depends on its facts and the decision on penalty will take into account a range of matters,” Moffat says.

According to Chris Gwin, the national director of franchise services for Bayleys Real Estate, censures against estate agents at the company’s franchises are concerning.

“They’re always concerning, because nobody wants to be censured,” he says.

“I want to be reasonably careful about what I say. The issue for us is that we do spend a lot of time on learning, development, training, verified training, all of those things to make sure that people are upholding the laws. If the Real Estate Authority has censured him, then they must have been 100 percent confident that he did something he shouldn’t have done. But I don’t know the detail of that.

“We don’t want any of our people before either the Real Estate Authority or the Real Estate Tribunal,” he adds. “We do our level best to make sure that they’re educated and well informed, and uphold the level of standard that is required. You’ll see from a brand standpoint that we don’t appear in front of the Real Estate Authority very frequently,”

Gwin does not agree that censures are commonplace. “I don’t think we’d see them as a peril of the trade,” he says. “We pride ourselves, and every brand will pride themselves, on not having people bringing the brand into any form of disrepute.”

Local politics

In 2013, the same year that the tribunal upheld his censure, Cozens ventured into politics for the first time. He won election to Taupō District Council, representing the Tūrangi-Tongariro ward.

He listed his achievements as securing an economic review for Tūrangi and conducting a study of similar-size communities Gore and Twizel to see which successes could be replicated locally. He was involved with Tūrangi Christmas in the Park, which later won a national award, and also worked with Go Tongariro and Enterprise Great Lake Taupō on the Tūrangi Business Mentoring Workshops, a business-mentoring scheme which was well received and attended.

But it didn’t last. He quit in 2017, mid-term, disgruntled about the decision-making process involving a new council building for Taupo following the discovery of asbestos in the existing building. He told local media that the process highlighted disparities between Taupō and Tūrangi and he felt he could no longer make a difference within the council.

Two years later in 2019, he put up his hand again – this time to run for mayor of Taupō.

“There’s been district-wide issues in the last six months where people feel that their voice isn’t involved,” he told the Rotorua Daily Post. “I want to re-engage the community with its council and help the communities drive positive change for the district. We need to focus on our priorities.”

He was unsuccessful – but now, he’s seeking election to Parliament.

‘Seeking fame’

Cozens has had one more quasi-legal defeat – of sorts – since being censured 10 years ago by the Real Estate Authority. 

Earlier this year, he laid a Media Council complaint against broadcaster and online publisher Newshub. He objected to an online story headlined, “Men with sports cars overcompensating for something, study confirms in fallout of Tate-Thunberg feud”.

It covered environmental activist Greta Thunberg’s suggestion that social media influencer Andrew Tate’s love of flash cars might be a form of overcompensation for the size of his penis. The story reported that there may be some truth to this, quoting a study that suggested a correlation between owning an ostentatious car and having a smaller-than-average penis.

Cozens complained that in a world where people refrained from making cheap comments about women’s bodies, Newshub had seen fit to print a story that attacked men. Although Newshub might think it was light summer reading, he said, it was sexist trash that belittled people for the sake of generating click-throughs.

The Media Council admitted to some sympathy with Cozens’ view that this was a trashy piece, but said the story was based on academic research and there was no inaccuracy proven. “The Media Council does not believe the threshold of discrimination against men as set out in Principle 7 was reached.”

It’s somewhat ironic, says his estranged brother, that a former model who appeared on Blind Date would now criticise a broadcaster for “sexist trash”.

It’s clear there’s no love lost between the two brothers – Tayte Cozens says they’ve barely seen each other since they were in their 20s.

“Zane is an attention seeker, wanting the limelight,” Tayte Cozens asserts. “That explains his need to get into politics to get famous.”

Newsroom Pro managing editor Jonathan Milne covers business, politics and the economy.

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