ATLANTA — A real estate company is offering metro homeowners a check for a few hundred dollars, but it comes with a four-decade commitment.
Homeowners who signed on the dotted line told Channel 2 consumer investigator Justin Gray they were misled about the terms of a deal that could cost homeowners tens of thousands of dollars.
“Would you ever sign a 40-year contract?” Gray asked 75-year-old Julia Henry. “No,” she said. “I would never do that.”
Henry was looking for a grant to fix plumbing in her Columbus, Georgia, home. In an affidavit, Henry said she left school in the sixth grade and can’t read very well, so her family taught her how to use a voice text function on her cellphone. After “asking Google” for grant help, she found herself on the phone with a company she said offered to give her about $500 to help with her house.
When a woman came to her home late February 2021 and asked Henry to sign paperwork to get $425, she said it didn’t seem unusual because she’d received grants in the past.
“She said, ‘sign right there, sign right there’ and I just kept signing,” Henry said.
Henry said she later learned she signed a contract called a Homeowner Benefit Agreement with Florida-based MV Realty to give them exclusive rights to list her home for the next 40 years
In court records, Henry said she never read the contract and was never given a copy of the paperwork. Henry was later sued by MV Realty for violating her contract after putting her home on the market with another real estate company.
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By email, MV Realty told Channel 2 Action News they believe Henry’s claim she can’t read is “dubious at best.” MV Realty dropped its lawsuit and canceled the lien on her home after her attorney fought back in court.
Disabled Navy veteran Ira Dorin said he got a call out of the blue from a telemarketer during dinner.
“I got a phone call from a gentleman that said this is from MV Realty,” Dorin told Gray. “[He said] we’re running a promotion in your neighborhood.”
Dorin also received upfront cash from MV Realty for signing a Homeowner Benefit Agreement but said he didn’t understand the terms. Dorin learned he was being sued by MV Realty when a Channel 2 Action News producer called to ask about the lawsuit. He learned there was a lien on his Cobb County home days before he was scheduled to close the sale.
“If you’d realize what you were signing, would you have signed a 40-year listing agreement?” Gray asked.
“No, I would have not,” Dorin said. “The gentleman said if I chose to opt out, I would just go ahead and give him the $817 and we’ll be on my merry way.”
Instead Dorin paid MV Realty more than $9,000 for violating his contract.
According to the Georgia Superior Court Clerk there, are 3,321 MV Realty Homeowner Benefit Agreements in 104 Georgia counties. About 2,000 of those were here in metro Atlanta.
Atlanta Legal Aid attorney Dina Franch told Gray she uses a magnifying glass to read MV Realty’s contracts because the print is so small.
“It’s really unconscionable and it’s a very lopsided contract by a sophisticated company against unsophisticated homeowners,” Franch said.
Atlanta Legal Aid started researching MV Realty after being contacted by Julia Henry.
With help from a Georgia State University researcher and law students, they mapped homes with MV contracts and found 71% are in majority Black neighborhoods.
MV Realty refused our request for an on-camera interview but in response to written questions told Channel 2 Action News, “The company has gone to great lengths to disclose and re-disclose these key provisions of the agreement, so there is no confusion among our customers.”
“Does it seem like the business model is intentional confusion here?” Gray asked Franch.
“Definitely in my client’s case,” Franch said.
Former employee raises concerns
MV Realty also maintains they only call homeowners who reach out to them. They stated, “We do not cold call. We only reach out to prospects who have opted-in to receive information from us.”
But a former MV Realty employee, who asked not to be identified, said their job was to cold-call homeowners. That whistleblower said, “It was a cold call to these people, and they were unsuspecting.”
That employee said they left MV Realty because they were concerned about the company’s ethics. “I felt like I was taking advantage of people. It’s horrible,” they said. “I didn’t want to make calls anymore.”
MV Realty’s own internal training materials obtained by Channel 2 Action News support that employee’s claims.
A slideshow presentation for new hires states, “At some point, these homeowners went online and filled out a form requesting some form of financial assistance – loans, refinance, mortgage, etc. MV purchased these leads from various sources.”
The training materials even contain different scripts for telemarketers to use, depending on the source of the lead.
Legal questions about the contract
Attorney Dina Franch questions whether the Homeowner Benefit Program is even legal in the first place.
When MV Realty took Henry to court for allegedly violating her contract, Franch argued the company violated Federal Trade Commission laws. She also argued in Henry’s case that Georgia law allows real estate brokers to lien commercial properties over listing agreements but does not specify whether that’s allowed in residential sales.
“So, in your mind, there’s some question is whether this is even legal under Georgia law?” Gray asked.
“There is some question in my mind, yes,” Franch said.
Sarah Mancini with the National Consumer Law Center said MV Realty’s program could be considered a loan, secured by a lien on the home.
“It raises a huge number of concerns about the legality,” Mancini said. “And if this is a loan transaction, which there are a lot of facts that suggest this is really a loan, if that’s the case, they violated the Truth in Lending Act.”
MV Realty’s website was updated in recent weeks to include clear disclosures about the Homeowner Benefit Program at the top of the page. The site now states the Homeowner Benefit Agreement is “not a loan,” and they do not lien property but “file a memorandum… to serve public notice of the homeowner’s obligations…”
Channel 2 Action News teamed up with seven other Cox Media Group sister stations and spoke to homeowners across the country who signed MV Realty contracts and said they didn’t understand the terms of the agreement until it was too late to back out.
Attorneys general in North Carolina and Florida are investigating MV Realty.
Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr’s office said by email they don’t comment on open investigations, so they are also looking into the company.
By email, MV Realty said, “MV Realty does a thorough legal analysis in every state we do business. Our agreement is compliant with all state laws, including those regarding real estate contracts.”
Henry told Gray her warning to homeowners who get a call from MV Realty: “I ask everybody y’all know MV Realty? Well don’t get tied up with them. Those are some bad folks.”
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