This company pays fast money to list your home. The problem? A 40-year contract | Company
Several months into the pandemic, Roy Brightwell received an email that he said could help him get back on his feet.
The 70-year-old Tarpon Springs, Florida resident had spent nearly three years battling foreclosure. Then, in March, COVID-19 hit and he was fired from his job as an insurance salesman.
At the time, “it was difficult to find money even for food,” he said.
So when a company called MV Realty offered to pay him $879 on the spot, it seemed like a godsend. All he had to do was agree to list his house with them if he decided to sell. Brightwell signed the contract without a second thought.
Two years later, her home was foreclosed and MV Realty might be able to collect around $9,000 from the sale, leaving her with nothing.
Brightwell is one of countless landlords who have gotten into legal trouble with MV Realty after breaking a contract with the company. The Delray Beach, Florida real estate brokerage is using quick money to trick homeowners into signing restrictive agreements that prevent them from transferring title to their own home without using MV Realty as an agent or paying high fees.
MV Realty is being investigated by the Florida Attorney General’s office, but so far no action has been taken.
The company says it lays out all the terms before owners sign and most customers don’t complain. MV Realty’s “homeowner benefits program” pays customers up to $5,000 for the exclusive rights to list their homes, said company spokeswoman Rachel Antman.
“MV Realty is investing in future business,” the company’s website states. “That way you get money up front and MV Realty has the ability to represent you in the future if you decide to sell. It’s a win-win!”
But critics say landlords often don’t realize the fine print locks them into a binding 40-year deal.
“The magnitude of this problem is so great,” said Matthew Weidner, a St. Petersburg attorney representing a client sued by MV Realty. “This is a situation where we really need regulators to step in and do something because this is going to stifle court cases and impact people for decades to come.”
Even if the owner dies, the contract passes on to whoever inherits the property. If a homeowner lists their home with another agent or even if they are forced to sell at a foreclosure auction, MV Realty can place a lien on the home and collect 3% of the property value .
MV Realty has sued at least 40 landlords in Pinellas, Hillsborough, and Pasco counties since 2018. In most cases, landlords end up paying the lien.
“It’s a very dense contract and the devil is in the details,” Weidner said.
“I did not find anything explicitly illegal in (the contract),” he added. “It’s not okay. It feels like people are being taken advantage of. But they signed the contract.”
Brightwell and his late partner, Michaela, moved into their four-bedroom home on Biarritz Circle in 2000. Born in England, Brightwell had traveled all over the world and expected Tarpon Springs to be his last stop. Now that he’s lost his home, he’s not sure he can afford to stay.
Brightwell breached his contract with MV Realty in December when he listed his home for sale with another brokerage. This prompted MV Realty to take legal action and place a lien on the house.
Antman with MV Realty said they again offered Brightwell the chance to list with them, but he declined.
Until then, Brightwell said he had forgotten everything about the contract he signed. He only listed his house as a last resort to avoid foreclosure. Although he was able to find a cash buyer, the deal ultimately fell apart when the buyer found out about the lien from MV Realty.
Brightwell expected to get money from the foreclosure sale. But Citi Mortgage, the Brightwell Homeowners Association and MV Realty have all filed motions asking the judge to pay them the remaining $12,662.56. The judge has not made a decision yet.
“They left me without a dime,” Brightwell said.
Kylie Mason, a spokeswoman for the Florida attorney general’s office, said her office had received 16 complaints about the company since 2020. She said there was an active consumer protection investigation, but declined. to provide details. The Tampa Bay Times reviewed the complaints and found them to be similar to those raised by Brightwell.
A man knocked on the door of Largo resident Katherine Ziems in October 2019 and offered her $550 to enroll in the homeowner benefits program. Looking back, “I should have known it was too good to be true,” she said.
When she went to sell her house in February, she said she vaguely remembered signing the deal with MV Realty, but couldn’t find the paperwork, so she just ignored it. Then, after putting the house on the market with another real estate agent, she was sued by MV Realty.
Antman said MV Realty called Ziems to remind him of the deal, but Ziems disputed it. Rather than try to fight what seemed like a losing battle, she decided to pay $5,000 from the sale to satisfy the lien.
Another client, Debra Harrell, said she tried to sell her home with MV Realty and still got in trouble with the company.
In June 2020, she enrolled in the Landlord Benefits Program and received $802 for the right to list a rental property she owned in Tarpon Springs. She contacted MV Realty in the fall and they assigned her an agent.
Harrell said the officer made no effort to help him. Eventually, Harrell found a cash buyer. She asked her listing agent to arrange a viewing, but said the agent never followed through.
Eager to close the deal, Harrell said she found another agent who agreed to represent the buyer and draft the contract. Although Harrell said the sales documents included MV Realty as the listing agent, the company sued for breach of the owner’s agreement.
In the end, the deal was dismissed and MV Realty walked away with a 3% commission.
Harrell said the experience made her wonder if MV Realty’s priority was selling homes or profiting from broken contracts.
“Nobody reads the fine print and they know it,” she said. “It’s a really shady way to do business.”
Nearly 30,000 owners have signed up for the owner benefits program since its launch in 2018, according to Antman. To date, MV Realty has sold 700 homes under the program.
“The vast majority of (homeowner benefits program) homeowners” who sell their homes through MV Realty are satisfied with their service, Antman said, “as evidenced by MV’s high ratings on Zillow and the Better Business Bureau.” .
Antman said MV takes every complaint seriously and works with relevant entities such as state attorneys general to resolve them.
To avoid complaints, she said MV Realty was clarifying the terms of the homeowner benefits program and giving them three days to cancel the deal. She added that most landlords who violate the agreement simply forget they signed it. In this case, MV Realty contacts the owner to remind them of the listing agreement.
Wes Shaw, a spokesman for the National Association of Realtors, said the organization could not comment on members’ business models, but added that it “believes consumers should be fully informed before making any an agreement, especially an agreement as important as the selection of a professional to represent in the process of selling the house.”
He urged owners who believe they have been harmed by a business to file a report with their state attorney general’s office or other appropriate agency.
Brightwell was initially given a month to move, but was able to have the deadline extended to August 26. Until the last minute, he was always scrambling to pack his things and find a place to go. After his electricity was cut off, he knew his time was up.
“I’ve lived here for twenty-two and a half years,” he says. “Just having to hand over the keys this afternoon is not going to be pleasant.