Seniors’ Advocates Urge States to Ban Predatory ‘Cash for Listing’ Contracts

States are outlawing listing agreements that bind homeowners to specific companies to sell their homes in the future. In the last two years, 30 states have acted to prevent businesses from taking control of people’s property by recording brokers’ contracts against their deeds.

The agreements can result in restrictions, liens, or even stealth mortgages recorded against people’s titles. “I was unaware a mortgage was placed on my property, one Pittsburgh-area homeowner told the media, “until a news reporter showed up at my house the following morning.”

Who are the frequent marks? Older adults and financially stretched homeowners. They are especially likely to sign up, because of the cash incentives. So, the string of state consumer protection laws wins praise from the American Association of Retired People (AARP) as well as from the American Land Title Association (ALTA).

“Entrapping” Homeowners With NTRAPS? This Is Unfair.   

The title industry has the perfect name for these contracts: NTRAPS. That stands for non-title recorded agreements for personal services. Here’s what happens when NTRAPS are afoot:

  • A business wants exclusive rights to sell someone’s home (for a broker’s fee, of course).
  • The business offers money to homeowners to acquire these rights, no matter that the homeowner is not yet ready to sell. It’s not a lot of money. Those who accept it are usually not well-off.
  • In return for the payments, homeowners sign agreements they’re stuck with for decades. Whenever they may decide to sell the home, the business has the right to represent them in the deal.

These are very long contracts. If you’ve ever sold a home, you’ll probably remember being bound to a specific agent for a few months. But NTRAPS bind homeowners for as many as 40 years. Imagine having signed over a 40-year exclusive right with one broker to list your home whenever you might like to sell.

These burdensome contracts outlast many of the deed holders who sign them. But dying won’t get the deed holders out of this trap! The heirs to the deeds will find themselves stuck with these obnoxious agreements. Some contracts say the business will keep a brokerage fee of 3% of the home value in case of cancellation, or the deed holder’s death, or foreclosure.

Homeowners who try to break free face fines, followed by still more liens in the county records.

States Tell NTRAPS Sellers: See You in Court.

Back in 2022, when we covered these “cash for listing” agreements, Pennsylvania took significant action by suing MV Realty. The case highlighted that MV Realty had exploited tens of thousands of homeowners, convincing them to sign over exclusive listing rights. This practice often included recording liens on homes without adequately informing the deed holders.

Companies like MV Realty might target homeowners through telemarketing or online “lead generation” marketers. They use social media, and sometimes even door-to-door tactics, to pressure owners into signing long-term exclusive listing agreements. Once these agreements are signed, the companies monetize the liens placed on the homes. They do this by leveraging the liens to demand payment or a cut of the home’s sale price whenever the homeowner decides to sell. These liens can effectively act as a hidden mortgage or debt obligation, forcing homeowners to pay substantial fees to release the lien and complete the sale. Josh Shapiro, the Pennsylvania Attorney General, bluntly called the Homeowner Benefit Program a scam.

A homeowner who signs one of these contracts might think, “Well, the exclusive listing could be convenient. At least I won’t have to look for an agent if I ever want to sell, right?” However, they may not realize that these brokers are not committed to acting in the homeowner’s best interest.

Pennsylvania senators also confronted the business, noting: “Homeowners who often unknowingly breach their contract must pay the company a percentage of the ultimate home sale – a minimum of thousands of dollars.”

Pennsylvania sent a clear message to MV Realty: Leave our residents alone. The state sued for civil penalties of $1,000 for each violation of the Pennsylvania Consumer Protection Law, increasing to $3,000 for cases involving deed holders aged 60 or older.

“Homeowner Benefit Programs” Have Been Outed as Predatory Loans—Illegal Under Many States’ Laws.

State attorneys general in California, Ohio, North Carolina, and New Jersey, too, sued MV Realty for predatory business practices. They also did it in Michigan, where homeowners were targeted with the familiar Homeowner Benefit Program from MV Realty.

The so-called benefit? A skimpy cash offer — in some cases just a few hundred dollars. Once on the hook, the homeowner has lost the ability to list the home with the agent or service they’d choose.

There are other financial injuries in the mix, too. The homeowner would run into problems trying to borrow against the home’s equity. This is because lenders would hit a snag when finding these recorded agreements during title searches.

And although MV Realty’s contract really amounted to a loan of money well in advance for potential future services, deed holders didn’t understand that. MV Realty was using deceptive tactics to secure its contractual power.

In Massachusetts, a court agreed to nullify MV Realty’s mortgages on titles statewide. The company was also barred from recording future mortgages in county offices. In Florida, state law enforcers hauled MV Realty and its top people into court for “deceptive, unfair and unconscionable business practices.” Florida, too, wanted the contracts voided, the practice of deceptive cash for listing agreements disallowed, and civil penalties imposed.

Now, State After State Is Passing Laws to Get Rid of This Parasitical Business Model Once and For All.

States are pushing to void these contracts. They’re creating new laws to  keep brokerages from preying on naive, cash-strapped, and elderly deed holders.

According to ALTA, real estate companies will be banned from enforcing contracts for NTRAPS in:

  • Alabama
  • Arizona
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Connecticut
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • Hawaii
  • Idaho
  • Illinois
  • Iowa
  • Indiana
  • Kentucky
  • Louisiana
  • Maine
  • Maryland
  • Minnesota
  • Nebraska
  • Nevada
  • North and South Carolina
  • North Dakota
  • Ohio
  • Oklahoma
  • Oregon
  • Tennessee
  • Utah
  • Virginia and West Virginia
  • Washington State

But it’s not just the states’ attorneys general and lawmakers who’ve stepped up to confront the equity parasites…

The Deed Holders Have Spoken.

As homeowners, you have gone to court in multiple states to get out of these burdensome contracts. As deed holders, you have submitted complaints about the unwanted robocalls, the high-pressure marketing, the deceptive tactics, and the abusive character of real estate companies that profit from exploitive agreements.

And you’re being heard; so government actors have to respond.

You’ll be interested to know that in late 2023, MV Realty went into bankruptcy.

Supporting References

Commonwealth v. MV Realty, No. 2284CV02823-BLS2 (Mass Super. Ct.).

Cision – PR Newswire via ALTA, AARP Applaud the 30 State Legislatures That Have Passed Laws Protecting Homebuyers from Predatory Contracts (Jun. 18, 2024; announcing information from the American Land Title Association).

Venable LLP, via Consumer Financial Services Outlook 2024 (PDF).

Office of Attorney General Josh Shapiro: AG Shapiro Sues Real Estate Brokerage Firm MV Realty Over Misleading Homeowner Benefit Program (Dec. 14, 2022). Sues Broker for Recording Sneaky Liens on Homes (Jan. 6, 2023).

And as linked.

More on topics: Deed fraud perpetrated against seniors, reverse mortgage scams

Photo credits: Mikhail Nilov and Kindel Media, via Pexels/Canva.