The Harrisburg office of Attorney General Josh Shapiro recently announced a lawsuit against Amanda Zachman, founder of MV Realty, and the company itself. A.G. Shapiro slammed the company for misleading Pennsylvania homeowners with a so-called Homeowner Benefit Program and recording liens on homes without notice.
MV Realty charges an upfront payment in return for getting exclusive listing rights on homes for 40 years — in a deal which Pennsylvania’s highest legal officer has declared a scam.
“Unfair and Deceptive”
MV Realty targets people through telemarketing, assuring homeowners they needn’t pay anything back to the company — unless they decide to list their homes on the market. Here’s the rub. MV Realty’s exclusive listing rights bind the homeowner for 40 years. Imagine being locked into an agreement for 40 years. The entire time, you may call only one specific transaction brokerage — MV Realty — to sell your home.
While MV Realty can locate potential buyers for the sellers, the homeowners who sign these agreements give up their prerogative to list their homes on the Multiple Listing Service. MV Realty does not negotiate in the best interest of the homeowner. Why not? Because MV Realty plays a broker role only.
☛ A transaction brokerage isn’t a real estate agent. Be sure to understand how Your Real Estate Agent’s Fiduciary Duties strengthen your position whenever you may need to list your home.
The Pennsylvania lawsuit alleges that the full contract is “wildly different” from what’s promised over the phone. Homeowners are unlikely to guess that the agreement they’re signing enables the company to place a mortgage lien on homes as an enforcement mechanism.
One Pittsburgh-area homeowner who signed an MV Realty contract recounted: “I was unaware a mortgage was placed on my property until a news reporter showed up at my house the following morning.”
The homeowner also claimed MV Realty didn’t describe the contractual term as lasting 40 years.
Similar stories have emerged from hundreds of Pennsylvanians, painting a picture of systematic exploitation of older and financially stressed people, by offering them cash incentives.
The lawsuit asks the court to:
- Void out the mortgages MV Realty placed on Pennsylvania homes.
- Order MV Realty Pay to pay back losses to exploited homeowners.
- Order MV Realty to stop touting its so-called Homeowner Benefit Agreement in Pennsylvania.
- Order civil penalties of $1,000 for each time MV Realty violated the PA Consumer Protection Law ($3,000 per instance, if the exploited person is aged 60+).
The lawsuit calls MV Realty’s terms “unfair and deceptive” and contrary to Pennsylvania’s Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law. Yet this case has much wider significance. MV Realty is active in states other than the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. “According to company statements,” states the lawsuit, “under Zachman’s leadership, the Homeowner Benefit Program scam has grown substantially from 7,778 homeowners nationwide under contract in 2021 to 32,000 participating homeowner victims as of August 2022.”
☛ Note: If you are a Pennsylvania homeowner mistreated by MV Realty, the Attorney General’s office urges you to submit an online complaint with the Bureau of Consumer Protection. The Bureau’s phone number is 1-800-441-2555. You can also write to email@example.com.
Eyebrows Raised in Michigan and Elsewhere
MV Realty unnerved local professionals when it started marketing its Homeowner Benefit Program to northern Michigan homeowners, offering measly upfront payments: from $300 to $5,000. Those who accept these funds get stuck with a 40-year, binding contract. If the owner wants to tap into the home’s equity, and a title search is carried out, the binding right-to-list agreement on the home will show up — potentially shutting off a homeowner’s financing options.
Granted, home sellers sign exclusive listing contracts with real estate agencies all the time. These are binding promises to let one specific agency market a home. But real estate companies generally don’t call people on the phone, offering to pay lump sums to homeowners in order to impose claims against their hard-earned home equity. And the typical listing agreement only ties a seller’s hands for three or six months, or a year.
And if MV Realty’s customers should need to sell their homes at any point over those four decades, they can only work with an MV Realty broker. They even agree that MV Realty can use their photos in marketing materials. And when the home sells, MV Realty will, of course, take its commission.
There’s a big power gap between the company and its customers. And because MV Realty deals directly with homeowners, these targeted homeowners are getting no professional guidance to help them scrutinize the agreements.
Homeowners in several states have filed legal actions attempting to get out of these agreements. But MV Realty is in a stronger position to spend money going after homeowners than the other way around. Homeowners who try to break free of MV Realty are fined. And they’d better pay — or else a lien for unpaid fees will also be slapped on the title. Meanwhile, if the homeowner runs into further financial stress and loses the home to foreclosure, MV Realty will try to take 3% of the property value.
MV Realty’s Home State of Florida Is Also Taking Action
On Nov. 29, 2022, the office of Ashley Moody, Attorney General of Florida, took legal action against the Florida-based brokerage and its key leaders for “deceptive, unfair and unconscionable business practices.” Florida says that MV Realty makes its customers pay “3% of the value of the home to MV Realty, regardless of whether the company ever provides any real estate listing services.”
Florida specifically alleges, among other things:
- MV Realty records a lien on the home spanning 40 years.
- If the homeowner dies, faces foreclosure, or simply wants to cancel the contract, MV Realty claims 3% of the home’s value.
- The company has a habit of “abusive and deceptive” phone calls. The company calls “millions of people on the National Do-Not-Call Registry” and floods people’s phones with robocalls.
The Florida A.G. has asked the court to void MV Realty’s abusive contracts, bar the company from continuing its unfair practices, direct the company to repay exploited customers, and issue civil penalties for the company’s unlawful conduct.
If a Deal Seems Too Good to Be True…
MV Realty exploited an astounding number of people before having to face consequences. The takeaway from this story? There are selfish people out there, sometimes organized into companies, on the prowl for homeowner equity.
For a company to deceives homeowners and siphon their home equity is — as Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody said — “disgraceful.”
We all need to recognize this style of predatory behavior, and warn others, especially our elders.
Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. MV Realty (December Term 2022; Case ID: 221201288).
Office of Attorney General Josh Shapiro: AG Shapiro Sues Real Estate Brokerage Firm MV Realty Over Misleading Homeowner Benefit Program (Dec. 14, 2022).
Attorney General Ashley Moody News Release: Attorney General Moody Takes Legal Action Against MV Realty for Swindling Florida Homeowners (Nov. 29, 2022).
Mardi Link for the Record-Eagle.com: 40-Year Right-to-List Contracts Concern Pros in Real Estate Deeds (Traverse City, Michigan; Jun. 12, 2022).
Deeds.com: Selling Your Home? A Few Things to Know About Listing Agreements (Jun. 18, 2021).
Deeds.com: “Cash for Listing”: Getting Paid to Commit to a Future Real Estate Broker (Jul. 8, 2022).
And as linked. Image credits: Mikhail Nilov via Pexels; and the Seal of Pennsylvania.svg via Henrik (Wikipedia NikNaks Gallery), CC by SA 3.0 Unported, 2.5 Generic, 2.0 Generic and 1.0 Generic (unmodified).