Several months into the pandemic, Roy Brightwell received an email that he thought might help him get back on his feet.
The 70-year-old Tarpon Springs resident had spent nearly three years fighting off foreclosure. Then, in March, COVID-19 arrived, and he was laid off from his job as an insurance salesperson.
At the time, “it was hard to find the money even for food,” he said.
So when a company called MV Realty offered to pay him $879 on the spot, it seemed like a godsend. All he had to do was agree to list his home with them if he ever decided to sell. Brightwell signed the contract without a second thought.
Two years later, his home has been foreclosed on and MV Realty may be able to collect around $9,000 from the sale, leaving him nothing.
Brightwell is one of countless homeowners who have ended up in legal trouble with MV Realty after breaking a contract signed with the company. The Delray Beach real estate brokerage uses quick cash to entice homeowners into signing restrictive agreements that make it difficult for them to transfer the titles to their own homes without using MV Realty as their agent or forking over a hefty fee.
MV Realty is being investigated by the Florida Attorney General’s Office, but so far no action has been taken.
The company claims that it spells out all the conditions before homeowners sign and that most clients have no complaints. MV Realty’s “Homeowner Benefit Program” pays clients up to $5,000 for the exclusive rights to list their homes, said Rachel Antman, a spokesperson for the company.
“MV Realty is investing in future business,” the company’s website says. “This way, you receive cash upfront, and MV Realty gets the opportunity to represent you in the future if you decide to sell. It’s a win-win!”
But critics say homeowners often don’t realize that the fine print locks them into a 40-year binding agreement.
“The magnitude of this problem is so big,” said Matthew Weidner, a St. Petersburg attorney representing a client who’s being sued by MV Realty. “This is a situation where we really need regulators to step in and do something because it’s going to choke court dockets and impact people for decades to come.”
Even if the homeowner dies, the contract is passed on to whoever inherits the property. If a homeowner lists their house with a different agent or even if they’re forced to sell in a foreclosure auction, MV Realty can place a lien on …….