I-Team: MV Realty, accused of “swindling” homeowners, apparently hasn’t filed any new contracts

DAYTON — There are new developments in the News Center 7 I-Team’s months-long and ongoing investigation into MV Realty.

The I-Team dug through public county auditor records and has not found any new deals MV Realty has filed with customers since we first exposed their business practices in our original report on the company in November.

In addition, the troubled real estate company is now facing increasing pressure from several states and multiple federal regulatory agencies following a series of reports from WHIO-TV and our Cox Media Group (CMG) sister stations.

News Center 7 teamed up with our CMG sister stations and has been working on this investigation into MV Realty’s business practices for months. The company does business in 33 states, including Ohio. As a part of this nationwide investigation, we’ve talked to homeowners in city after city who said they had no idea what they were signing up for with MV Realty.

The company has repeatedly refused to answer the I-Team’s questions on camera. So, as a part of our months-long search for answers, we went to their company headquarters in Delray Beach, Florida. We stopped by unannounced to try and talk to the company’s founder, Amanda Zachman. But when our three-person reporter, photographer, and executive producer team showed up, no one inside MV’s main office came to the door when we rang the video doorbell and knocked on the door.

Instead, employees inside the office called police. Two Delray Beach officers showed up, and after speaking to us, one of them went inside to talk to MV employees. Just a few minutes later, that officer reemerged from the business and relayed a message to our crew on the front porch. “I don’t know anything beyond what they’re telling me,” the officer said. “But they’re requesting that you leave the property.”

So, we moved to the public sidewalk and waited. Eventually, a woman who only identified herself as “a spokesperson for MV with their PR (public relations)” approached us there. When we said, “We’d like to talk to Ms. Zachman, if possible,” the spokesperson replied, “OK at this point there’s pending conversations with attorney generals [sic] so we’re not giving any comments at all on camera. I’m happy to give you -- to email you a statement.”

As of right now, the Florida, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania Attorneys General have sued MV Realty over what they call “unfair” and “deceptive” business practices. In addition, the Georgia and North Carolina AG’s Offices have confirmed to the I-Team that they have open investigations into the company. So far, Ohio has not sued MV Realty or joined any other state AG’s lawsuit. But Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost has told News Center 7 his office is “aware” of MV Realty’s business practices and is “reviewing” allegations against the company.

Congress is concerned too. The U.S. Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs, which is chaired by Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown, sent a letter to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) asking the regulatory agencies to investigate whether MV Realty is violating federal consumer protection laws.

“I got a call from them, and they were trying to list houses in the area,” said Debbie Chasteen from Carlisle as she recalled the phone call she got from MV Realty in June 2022. “And I said, ‘well, I have no intention of selling,’” Chasteen recalls. “(And they said), ‘but we’ll pay you money if you let us list your house.’ So I thought, ‘well if they’re going to pay me to list my house with them, then that’s what I’ll do.”

But Chasteen added she then remembers telling the man on the other end of the phone, “‘This sounds like a scam.’ And he said, ‘oh no, ma’am, it’s not a scam.’”

Chasteen became an MV Realty customer when she signed a contract with the company later that same day last summer. A notary showed up on her front porch to finalize the deal. She says she got a check for $485 in return. But Chasteen says she only fully realized what she had signed up for with MV when she saw the I-Team’s original report on the company on Channel 7 in November 2022.

The I-Team’s lead investigative reporter, John Bedell, asked Chasteen, “How’d they (MV Realty) find you?” Chasteen’s reply: “That’s what I’d like to know! They just called me.”

In a statement sent to the I-Team, MV Realty claimed they do not cold call customers, that they only reach out to customers who have opted-in to receive information from them. But the I-Team’s investigation found evidence showing that’s not the case. And so did federal regulators with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

The FCC released a public notice ordering phone carriers to block MV Realty calls, alleging MV placed “substantial amounts of apparently unlawful telephone solicitation calls to phone numbers on the National Do Not Call Registry.”

Internal MV Realty training materials the I-Team got a hold of show how the company did it.

On one slide, MV Realty’s document says, “At some point, these homeowners went online and filled out a form requesting some form of financial assistance,” and “MV purchased these leads from various sources.”

News Center 7 is hiding the identity of a former MV Realty employee who says her job was to cold call homeowners. “I worked for MV Realty based out of Florida,” she told us. “I felt like I was taking advantage of people. It’s horrible. I didn’t want to make calls anymore. It was a cold call to these people, and they were unsuspecting,” the whistleblower told us.

In addition, an internal MV Realty training video the I-Team obtained mentions “PhoneBurner.” That’s the exact company the FCC says in its new public order that MV Realty used to robocall.

“If MV (Realty) calls you, reaches out to you in any way, shape, or form, hang up on ‘em,” Chasteen said.

Here’s what MV Realty does: they pay homeowners quick cash, in some cases as little as a few hundred dollars, and in return those customers must sell their home with an MV agent or pay a penalty of 3% of their home’s value. Even if a customer dies, their heirs have 10 days to transfer the deal, or they may have to pay a penalty equal to 3% of the value of the home.

And the company files liens on customer properties for 40 years to ensure their decades-long exclusive right to sell the home. We’ve talked to homeowners in cities across America who said they did not understand the contracts they were signing with MV Realty.

Again, Florida-based MV Realty has refused the I-Team’s repeated requests for an on-camera interview for months.

In an email sent to the I-Team last week, an MV Realty spokesperson said, “MV Realty is in active litigation and can not [sic] make specific comments as I am sure you understand. MV Realty remains dedicated to working closely with regulators and attorneys generals [sic] to address any concerns.”

That spokesperson included the following statement on behalf of the company:

“MV Realty has helped more than 35,000 satisfied homeowners nationwide through our Homeowner Benefit Agreement (HBA) by providing up to $5,000 that can be used to pay for mortgages, utility bills or a child’s school supplies. We are proud that our teams in states are built with local, licensed real estate agents who have developed client relationships with households across 33 states.

“New and innovative business models, like the HBA, can transform established industries and can sometimes draw questions from critics or outright hostility from those whose existing business model is threatened. However, to suggest that MV Realty has engaged in unfair or deceptive practices is simply false.

“MV Realty is committed to working with policymakers, regulators, and attorneys general where needed to discuss these questions and demonstrate our commitment to transparency and oversight in the work to help homeowners buy and sell homes. We are confident that after a full airing of the facts, these discussions will reinforce how MV Realty’s business transactions are legal and ethical and that our team operates in full compliance with state and federal laws.”