You’ve probably seen him on billboards: “Ug,” the HomeVestors of America mascot, dressed in a caveman-esque robe with a long beard and a big smile. In most ads, he’s holding a bag of cash. “We buy ugly houses,” he promises (usually it’s the only copy on the ads), followed by a phone number with the last five digits: BUYER.
HomeVestors claims to be America’s “Number One Cash Buyer,” helping homeowners sell their property quickly, unlike some traditional real estate transactions that can be a lengthy process. Additionally, one of HomeVestor’s selling points is that the company buys homes “as is,” meaning no repairs are required before the sale.
There are countless reasons someone might want to get rid of a property quickly for cash, from avoiding a pending foreclosure to inheriting a home in poor condition. And based on some reviews on the Better business office‘s (BBB) website, the company’s services have helped some people.
“I had no idea how to clean up the house and prepare it for sale while I was already dealing with the emotions and amount of paperwork required in this situation,” says a five-out-of-five -Star rating for HomeVestors on the BBB website.
However, out of the 24 reviews on the site, 21 are rated with one star. “Greedy,” says one review. “They won’t let you leave LESS than a star,” reads another.
A current investigation by ProPublica found that some HomeVestors franchisees targeted people in vulnerable situations and made a sale out of desperation. After interviewing dozens of people for more than a year of investigation, the outlet found several instances of marketing tactics and sales techniques that resulted in traumatic experiences for sellers.
The CEO of We Buy Ugly Houses told the franchisees that they plan to drown out our investigations by buying digital ads and SEO content. He instructed them not to click the link to the story when they see it online. https://t.co/S1AbaefWpH
— ProPublica (@propublica) May 15, 2023
In an excerpt from the training manual obtained by ProPublica, HomeVestors cites “pain” as a sales strategy: “People in pain are looking for someone with a solution!”
The manual instructs franchisees to find “the pain” and “emotional reason” behind a person’s need to sell. Examples include divorce, job loss, and a child who “needs surgery.”
Related: An 81-year-old is suing over an alleged scheme that resulted in her losing her three-decade home
In incidence The investigation revealed that in 2019, 72-year-old Maria Jimenez had a fund hoarding problem due to her poor health. The home she bought with her late husband in Camarillo, California, in 1981 had caught the attention of law enforcement officials who filed allegations. She called the number on a HomeVestors ad, got hold of Patriot Holdings’ Cory Evans, and said she needed help.
When Evans got to her house the next morning, he gave her two options: sell with him or have the city take her home. The tactic “scared” Jimenez, but it worked – she immediately signed a contract.
However, when a social worker came the next day, she allayed Jimenez’s fears, telling her that the city would not take her home and also informing her about programs that help older people clean their property.
When Jimenez tried to call off the sale, Evans retaliated by suing her for breach of contract. The stress was so great that she suffered a minor stroke, ProPublica noted.
Local investigators took an interest in the lawsuit and returned charges against him for attempted grand theft of property and attempted elder theft after finding another elderly victim who was forced to sell to Evans. He pleaded guilty to both counts of attempted grand larceny and was serving his sentence on probation.
And yet, a year after Evans pleaded guilty, he and his two brothers (all three ran Patriot Holdings) were recognized by HomeVestors for “highest sales volume,” ProPublica noted.
The investigation found a series of incidents similar to Jimenez’s: a man in Florida believed he was signing a home equity loan (it turned out to be a contract to sell his $100,000 home for $37,500), a Arizona woman couldn’t cancel a sale (she had to live in her car).
“You always lied to her. That’s what we learned,” Katie Southard, a former HomeVestors franchisee in North Carolina, told ProPublica.
in one opinion In response to the investigation, HomeVestors said Evans has since been removed from Patriot Holdings and “disciplinary action” — including termination — has been taken against Evans and other franchises mentioned in the ProPublica report.
“While we regret every transaction where we don’t meet our high standards, we must place these instances in the larger context of the nearly 150,000 seller experiences we’ve provided in our nearly 30-year history,” the company wrote in the statement.