BROCKTON, Mass. — Naomi was feeling desperate in the spring of 2021. The 50-year-old mother of two was out of work and falling behind on her bills.
Then she got a call from MV Realty.
“Somebody just called me because I was looking at properties in Florida. They asked if I was moving and I said, ‘Not right now,’” said Naomi, who asked that we not use her last name.
MV Realty made her an offer that she thought sounded like a great deal: the company would give her $1,300 up front if she agreed to use MV Realty to list and sell her home whenever she decided to move. Property records show she signed an agreement with the Florida-based company May 18, 2021.
“The way they explained it to us it was clear. If you want to sell your house, you use them. If you don’t want to sell, you give the money back,” Naomi said.
What she didn’t understand was that the contract allowed MV Realty to place a 40-year lien on her property. She now owes the company a three percent commission on the sale of her home until the year 2061, even if she uses another realtor. The contract is binding, even if she and her husband were to pass away and leave the house to their children.
“I didn’t read all of [the contract],” she said.
MV REALTY’S “HOMEOWNER BENEFIT PROGRAM”
MV Realty describes itself as a real estate brokerage in Delray Beach business that operates in 33 states, according to its website. The company advertises its Homeowner Benefit Program as an “innovative approach” that “offers a great way to receive quick cash without taking out a loan, paying interest, or having monthly payments.”
“If you’re a homeowner, we can offer you a cash incentive of up to $5,000—a percentage of the estimated value of your home—in exchange for a 40-year agreement to use MV Realty as your listing agent—if and when you decide to sell your home,” the website says.
Massachusetts property records show dozens of homeowners have signed agreements with MV Realty since 2021. However, a joint-investigation by Boston 25 and its Cox Media Group sister-stations discovered attorneys general in Florida, Georgia and North Carolina have opened investigations into the company’s business practices.
Sec. of the Commonwealth Bill Galvin, who oversees most land records in Massachusetts, said his office is “very interested” in finding out if MV Realty is “engaging in predatory practices.”
“I have significant concerns about what they’re doing,” Galvin said.
The Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office told Boston 25 they’re aware of MV Realty’s business practices, but couldn’t comment further.
WHISTLEBLOWER: “LEGAL BUT NOT ETHICAL”
KIRO, Boston 25′s sister station in Seattle, sat down with a former-MV Realty telemarketer who said she was deeply troubled by what the company was doing.
“I started to have concerns pretty soon after I was hired,” said the woman, who did not want to be identified. “They were basically locking homeowners into a 40-year contract for an exclusive listing agreement. If homeowners decided they were going to go with another realtor or if they wanted out of the contract, they were going to end up having to pay three percent of the value of their home to MV Reality.
The former employee said many of the homeowners she contacted were elderly, people who had recently inquired about refinancing or obtaining a home loan. The company uses spoofing software to disguise the area code of its calls, a point MV Realty doesn’t dispute.
“We were to be aggressive in our approach, and it was all about getting them transferred to an agent so that the agent could get them to say yes,” she said. “I believe that [homeowners] just thought that this is free money…they don’t read the fine print and realize that this is a 40-year contract.”
The worker said she was eventually fired from MV Realty after a dispute over time off.
“I felt like I was taking advantage of people. It’s horrible. I didn’t want to make calls anymore. I didn’t want to push these people into something that I knew was just wrong,” she said. “It’s legal, but it’s not ethical.”
MV REALTY RESPONDS
MV Realty Communications and Public Relations Director Diana London defended the company in an email to WSB, Boston 25′s sister station in Atlanta.
“We do enforce our agreements when homeowners violate their contracts. But we make sure that homeowners clearly understand the terms of the agreement before signing,” London wrote. “We also give the homeowners the option to rescind the agreement within three days of signing for any reason whatsoever.”
In addition to the 12-page contract, London said homeowners are given a one-page document with an overview of “the important parts of the contract they have already signed.” According to London, the company does not “cold call” potential clients, but rather reaches out to homeowners who have “opted-in to receive information from us.”
She denies the company targets homeowners who are low-income or behind on bills.
“This is not true and totally unfounded,” London wrote. “We only reach out to people who have opted in to hear from us, regardless of their income or financial status,” she wrote.
The company turned down a request for an on-camera interview citing, “the complexity of this issue, and our concern that short sound bites may not provide the clarity the issue deserves.”
CONSULT AN ATTORNEY BEFORE SIGNING
Needham real estate attorney Marc Canner said he would tell a client not to sign an agreement with MV Realty.
“Their business model is to give a relatively small amount of money, several hundred dollars, to a homeowner. In return, they place a lien on that homeowner’s property,” Canner said.
Canner reviewed the company’s contract and flagged paragraph seven, where a homeowner would agree to give up their ability to join a class action lawsuit against the company.
“If a homeowner has an issue with the MV Realty contract, the underlying agreement requires they go to binding arbitration and not get into a class action lawsuit. That means they’re not going to be able to seek relief in state courts,” he said.
Canner recommends homeowners consult an attorney before signing anything that involves their home.
“Homeowners may not understand the gravity of the situation. They’re receiving a few hundred dollars and they could [owe] several thousand dollars down the road,” he said.
Naomi admits the offer of $1,300 clouded her judgement. She regrets not taking more time to understand what she was getting into.
“I feel bad that sometimes you do something you’re not fully aware of and then people take advantage of it,” Naomi said. “It wasn’t the pressure. It was the advantage of getting the money.”
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