Preying on property owners in financial distress is a growth industry — but even these predators are being preyed upon by yet meaner fish. IA investigator Dave Donovan unearths another seedy cesspit.
“Did you know…” is one of Sydney solicitor Dominique Grubisa’s favourite catchphrases, as she lectures aspiring investors on “distressed estates” in her Real Estate Rescue course and many other seminars.
So, did you know that Ms Grubisa, backed by celebrity and high-profile presenters, makes millions of dollars every year selling her seminars and courses to aspiring real estate entrepreneurs?
These courses are all about capitalising on people in financial distress, to pick up properties at rock bottom prices. Most people probably don’t know very much about this vulture industry, yet it thrives.
Also in the dark are the thousands who sign up to Ms Grubisa’s courses, unaware the advice they receive is inaccurate in many respects, putting them at risk of engaging in deceptive and/or fraudulent conduct. They are also uninformed about her allegedly questionable business practices and dubious associates. Some only discover this after they face expensive litigation in the Supreme Court.
The AFP, ASIC, the ACCC, and the NSW Law Society know all about these allegations, though each seems content to pass the buck, sit on their hands or simply decline to investigate. And so Grubisa sails on, making millions of dollars a year from unwary aspiring property tycoons, almost entirely unchallenged by the authorities or the mainstream media.
The commercial media, in fact, as she advertises prominently on her website, are seemingly ardent supporters of the Grubisa business model. Indeed, assisting in selling her products are A-list television celebrities, such as Jamie Durie and Shaynna Blaze.
Also featuring at Grubisa’s seminars are speakers from the world’s biggest property research company, CoreLogic. CoreLogic have been made aware of the questionable nature of Grubisa’s business. The thing is, they don't seem to really care. Not while the scheme is making them loads of money, anyway.
In promoting her Real Estate Rescue (RER) course on Facebook and on her website, Grubisa spruiks her program as being able to secure properties at 10 per cent to 40 per cent below market value.
To do this, she advocates making contact with “emotionally stressed” property owners.
On page 7 of the RER course notes, Grubisa states:
‘Homeowners who are in financial difficulties are emotionally stressed people. They suffer from fear about what is going to happen to them and they invariably get in a state of denial or become defensive or aggressive … so when you deal with distressed owners it helps you to be “understanding” of their predicament.’
Once the initial contact is made, however, Grubisa advises her students to show no mercy (RER notes, page 126):
‘Stay clear of discussing how much this is affecting their family, recent sicknesses, healthcare bills and the like. Your job is to move forward with your plan, not engage in family counselling.’
Of course, while odious to many, there is nothing illegal about a lawyer advising people to engage in these sorts of sharp ‒ even brutal ‒ business practices. What is most problematic in the case of Grubisa is that her legal advice appears to encourage deceptive and/or allegedly fraudulent conduct. Her business practices also seem highly questionable.
WHO IS DOMINIQUE GRUBISA?
Dominique Grubisa claims to be Australia's “leading wealth educator”. Through her DG Institute, Ms Grubisa has for some years promoted strategies to potentially secure properties in distressed estates at well below market price. However, she has a host of dissatisfied former students.
But who is Dominique Grubisa, really? Piecing together information from a large number of sources, mostly her own testimony, readily available online, the picture that appears of the former junior barrister is of a flamboyant and driven extrovert. Yet, one who nurses a certain bitterness towards elements of the establishment, who she feels have failed to recognise her talent and brilliance, and have crushed her dreams.
Law was not Grubisa’s initial career choice. Before gaining her qualification, she auditioned for NIDA but failed to make the cut. Another hopeful, who Grubisa described as an “unkempt, hippy-looking, skinny girl”, did manage to make it through the same round of auditions. Her name was Cate Blanchett.
Unable to pursue her A-dream and inspired by the characters in L.A. Law, who she saw on TV swanning around in cute little suits, Grubisa followed her father and mother into the law profession. More about her colourful parents shortly.
After some time as a solicitor, Grubisa decided her higher calling was to appear at the bar – apparently to strike back at those who were “mean" to her. After some success as a property investor, with the dramatic rise in house prices in the early 2000s, Ms Grubisa and her husband lost virtually everything in the aftermath of the GFC, around 2008.
Not one to be kept down for long, the mother-of-three set out to regain her wealth — and grow it exponentially. Having suffered financial distress herself, it may have seemed a logical step for Ms Grubisa to use her legal knowledge and recent experience to rebuild her fortune. And thus the DG Institute was born, along with one of her major cash cows, Real Estate Rescue. Fast forward to 2020 and Ms Grubisa is making tens of millions of dollars a year lecturing aspiring property tycoons in what she describes as “debt law” and “how to protect your assets”.
THE GRUBISA METHOD
Students who sign up to the Real Estate Rescue course are taught how to target “motivated sellers” — meaning those facing repossession, deceased estates or involved in Family Court proceedings. They are taught how to seek out such people through court lists. Her students are advised to train their eye to pick up desperate sellers and to take full advantage of their plight. She tells her students not to “bow and scrape with these people”, and that they can expect aggression, as many do not enjoy being targeted in this way.
Many of the thousands who have enrolled in the Real Estate Rescue course – currently priced at $5,000 if paid in full upfront, or $6,600 if paid in six monthly instalments ‒ decline to pursue the strategies suggested. Many others take at face value what they have been told by a qualified legal professional and have implemented her strategies. Some of these unwary souls have subsequently found themselves embroiled in expensive Supreme Court litigation.
A significant feature of the Grubisa sales technique is to tell her students that if a bank steps in and sells a property as "mortgagee in possession", it will keep everything, even if there is substantial equity in the asset. In other words, she tells her students that, after repossession, banks don’t give owners change — that it’s winner takes all.
Queensland solicitor Chris Baker has spent an estimated 2,700 hours working pro bono to assist alleged victims of Dominique Grubisa. In doing so, he has been targeted by private investigators purporting to be disgruntled students, in order for Ms Grubisa to obtain a list of potential claims and claimants.
Mr Baker explained to IA why the previous piece of legal advice is erroneous:
Telling people that if a bank steps in it will keep all the change if there is substantial equity in a property is concerning. In one case study in the real estate manual, students are told that, in the instance of a property worth $300,000 with a debt of $120,000, the bank would pocket everything, including the substantial equity in the property. This is false.
In fact, a mortgagee has an obligation to use reasonable endeavours to sell a property for market value or, if this is not possible, then for the best price reasonably attainable. If the bank runs up unreasonable costs, then the owner has recourse via AFCA.
He says this is just one of the numerous dubious pieces of legal advice Grubisa provides her students.
Another strategy is described as the “short sale”, which involves trying to convince a bank to accept less than the amount owing on the mortgage. She then encourages her students to offer the owner a sweetener on the side, which she stresses must not be disclosed to the bank. Students are encouraged to coach the owner in what they should and should not say. The owner must not mention that there is any money on the side or any history with the student. One might think legal regulators would have misgivings about deceptive conduct being encouraged by an officer of the court?
Those who sign up to the DG Institute’s 12-month Elite Mentoring Program ($50,000, or $60,000 if paid monthly), have the hard work of tracking down the personal details of “motivated sellers” done for them. Twice a week, these elite mentees are sent lists of names and addresses, including Google Maps links to the homes of people in distress. These lists contain the names and addresses of people appearing before the Family Court. Nothing in the Court list identifies proceedings as a divorce or property settlement — anyone in the Family Court is fair game for Dominque Grubisa.
Her actions in distributing this personal information are not only unethical, but are potentially in breach of s121(2) of the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth). Because of this, they have been referred by the Family Court to the Australian Federal Police and the NSW Law Society.
A spokesperson for the Family Court and the Federal Circuit Court of Australia made the following statement to IA with respect to this matter:
‘Going through the process of divorce and other family law proceedings is a particularly stressful period for all separating couples and it would be of serious concern if any court material, such as Court lists, were to be used inappropriately and for commercial gain.’
The spokesperson also referred us to the following statement about the Court list page, which appears on both Court websites:
The Court lists are published and disseminated in accordance with Court Rules and Section 121 of the Family Law Act 1975.
Under the Family Law Act, serious penalties can apply if s121 is breached. It is unlawful, in certain circumstances, to publish or disseminate the identity of parties and witnesses involved in family law proceedings and information relating to an account of those proceedings.
The NSW Law Society declined to comment, issuing the following statement:
‘Under the requirements of the Legal Profession Uniform Law, the Law Society of NSW is not able to provide comment on individual solicitors.’
The DG Institute offers a range of other products and services, about which there will be more to follow.
THE GRUBISA TEAM
Along the way, Dominque Grubisa has allegedly engaged her parents to provide legal advice to her students and clients.
Which is a serious issue. Because her parents, Christopher Fitzsimons and Maria Angela Fitzsimons, were both struck off as lawyers for serious misconduct. Her father, in 2012 and her mother, in 2013. Her father, indeed, went to prison for his crimes.
Providing professional legal advice after being struck off is a serious offence. Even more so in this case, as it appears to have been done secretly, with both parents using email addresses and a post office box not connected to Ms Grubisa’s law firm or business. Indeed, in providing legal advice and drafting documents these days, Mr Fitzsimons allegedly goes by the alias of Chris Jackson.
MORE TO COME
More about the colourful cast of characters with whom Dominique Grubisa has surrounded herself, including her parents, in Part Two.
Note: Independent Australia contacted Dominique Grubisa about the issues raised in this story, but at time of publication, had not yet received a response. IA also contacted the Law Council regarding this story, but they declined to comment.
If you know more about this story, please email your info to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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