“I don’t want anything to do with those people,” Eleanor Gardner said when Action 9 spoke to her two years ago.
That interview was the beginning of a multi-state investigation by WFTV and other Cox Media Group stations.
Gardner felt trapped after signing a contract she didn’t understand that gave MV Realty a 40-year exclusive right to sell her home in exchange for $1,000 upfront.
Carla Turman said she applied for a payday loan online then got a call from someone telling her she qualified to get $1,300 right away.
“And they can have my cash in my account within a couple of days,” Turman said.
Turman and Gardner are two of over 30,000 homeowners that signed up for the Homeowner Benefit Program offered by MV Realty located in Delray Beach. Consumers Action 9 talked to said they had no idea the program was a 40-year listing agreement that was enforced by liens, forcing them to use MV Realty if they sold their homes, and that cancelling could cost them 3% of the home’s value.
“I felt like I was taking advantage of people. It’s horrible. I didn’t want to make calls anymore,” said an ex-telemarketer that wanted to remain anonymous.
This whistleblower claims she made telemarketing calls for MV Realty. She said she regrets luring unsuspecting homeowners by spoofing, tricking consumers into thinking she was calling from a local number.
“Pretty bad, yeah, I knew right there it was deceptive from the start and it’s just something that we were told to do,” she said.
Just recently, the FCC ordered phone service providers to block MV Realty calls and said regulators “took decisive actions to shut down an apparent homeowner-focused robocall scam campaign.”
Attorneys general in Florida, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts have all filed lawsuits against MV Realty. Attorney general Ashley Moody’s complaint called MV Realty’s program a “complex and deceptive scheme that attempts to skirt existing Florida law with the goal of swindling consumers,” and Moody seeks to stop the company from continuing this type of business.
Cox Media Group’s investigative team in Jacksonville went to MV Realty’s office in south Florida. Company owner, Amanda Zachman, had previously denied requests for an interview.
No one came to the door and the police were then called on the crew.
A company spokesperson showed up but did not have much to say.
“There’s pending conversations with the attorney general so we’re not commenting at all on camera,” the spokesperson said.
In a written response MV Realty said they have more than 35,000 satisfied customers, innovative business models like theirs sometimes come under scrutiny but they have not engaged in unfair or deceptive practices. A spokesperson added that MV Realty is committed to working with regulators and attorneys general, and facts will show that MV Realty’s business transactions are in compliance with state and federal laws.
Action 9 checked official records and couldn’t find any new contracts signed here in central Florida since the national investigations aired a few months ago.
MV Realty has previously told Action 9 that both Gardner and Turman met with realtors who fully disclosed the 40-year contract before they signed, and no misleading sales tactics were used.
MV Realty response:
“MV Realty has helped more than 35,000 satisfied homeowners nationwide through our Homeowner Benefit Agreement (HBA) by providing up to $5,000 that can be used to pay for mortgages, utility bills or a child’s school supplies. We are proud that our teams in states are built with local, licensed real estate agents who have developed client relationships with households across 33 states.
“New and innovative business models, like the HBA, can transform established industries and can sometimes draw questions from critics or outright hostility from those whose existing business model is threatened. However, to suggest that MV Realty has engaged in unfair or deceptive practices is simply false.
“MV Realty is committed to working with policymakers, regulators, and attorneys general where needed to discuss these questions and demonstrate our commitment to transparency and oversight in the work to help homeowners buy and sell homes. We are confident that after a full airing of the facts, these discussions will reinforce how MV Realty’s business transactions are legal and ethical and that our team operates in full compliance with state and federal laws .”
- Since August 2020, MV Realty has given millions of dollars in upfront, direct payments to HBA homeowners around the country that they can use to save, spend or invest as they choose.
- No homeowner is under any obligation to ever sell their home. If a homeowner chooses not to sell their home, MV receives nothing and the homeowner keeps the up-front payment that was made to them. In addition, MV cannot set the price for a home – this is solely up to the homeowner.
- The HBA agreement simply gives MV the exclusive right to act as a homeowner’s listing agent if, and when, they choose to sell their home. MV Realty works for the same industry commission rate as most other real estate firm. In other words, MV Realty does exactly the same job as any other residential real estate agent — but ends up charging less in most instances because the homeowner is paid a fee up-front.
- While an HBA’s term is 40 years, MV’s opportunity to represent the seller is for only 6 months. This is the standard term of a residential real estate listing agreement. If MV is unable to sell a home within this window (6 months) the owner can sell their home on the same or better terms with a different agent, or by themselves, in which case they do not owe anything to MV.
- Documentation that represents the agreement between a homeowner and MV Realty is not a lien. Rather, this documentation serves as a public notice of the homeowners’ commitment to give MV the opportunity to represent them in the sale of their home. This is to protect MV in the event a homeowner forgets about, overlooks or chooses to circumvent the HBA and attempts to sell their home without allowing MV the opportunity to be their agent. A better analogy would be to the recording of an easement, which are routine and ubiquitous.
- MV Realty has a strong and ongoing commitment to consumer disclosures and is constantly adding to them. Our current disclosures include, but are not limited to, clear and unambiguous language of the contract itself in a large font that includes the description of the 40-year term and the termination fees — all in 12-point, bolded text.
- As the Homeowner Benefit Program has evolved, MV has added to its disclosures and altered its practices to be even more consumer friendly. For example, MV recently introduced a recorded phone call requirement with each homeowner wherein they verbally acknowledge the key terms of the HBA before a transaction closes. MV has consistently enhanced consumer-friendly features of our contracts, our leave-behind documents, and on our website.
- Many of the disclosures set forth in the agreement between MV Realty and homeowners are emphasized in a single-page “leave-behind” document signed by the customer and a public notary. These disclosures are also prominently outlined on the company website.
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