You’ve probably seen him on billboards: “Ug,” HomeVestors of America mascot, donned in caveman-esque drab with a long beard and wide smile. In most advertisements, he’s holding a bag of cash. “We Buy Ugly Houses,” he promises (it’s usually the only copy on the ads), followed by a phone number with the final five digits: B-U-Y-E-R.
Claiming to be America’s “number one cash buyer,” HomeVestors helps homeowners sell their property quickly, unlike some traditional real estate transactions that can be a lengthy process. Also, one of HomeVestors’ selling points is that it buys houses “as is,” meaning no repairs are needed before the sale.
There’s a myraid of reasons why someone might want to get rid of a property quickly in exchange for cash, from stopping a looming foreclosure to inheriting a home in poor condition. And based on some reviews on the Better Business Bureau’s (BBB) website, the company’s services have helped some people.
“I had no idea how I would clean up the house and prepare it for sale while already dealing with the emotions and loads of paperwork necessary in that situation,” reads a five-out-of-five star review for HomeVestors on BBB’s site.
However, of the 24 reviews on the site, 21 are one-stars. “Greedy,” reads one review. “They don’t let you leave LESS than one star,” reads another.
A recent investigation by ProPublica found that some HomeVestors franchisees were targeting individuals in vulnerable situations and preyed upon desperation to make a sale. After interviewing dozens of people for an investigation that spanned more than a year, the outlet found several cases of marketing tactics and selling techniques that led to traumatic experiences for sellers.
The “We Buy Ugly Houses” company CEO told franchisees they plan to drown out our investigation through digital ad buys and SEO content. He instructed them not to click on the link to the story if they see it online. https://t.co/S1AbaefWpH
— ProPublica (@propublica) May 15, 2023
In an excerpt from the training manual obtained by ProPublica, HomeVestors cites “pain” as a sales strategy: “People in pain look for someone with a solution!”
The manual instructs franchisees to “find the pain” and “emotional reason” behind an individual’s need to sell. Among the examples are divorce, job loss, and a child “in need of an operation.”
Related: An 81-Year-Old Is Suing Over an Alleged Scheme That Caused Her To Lose Her Home of 3 Decades
In one case unearthed by the investigation, 72-year-old Maria Jimenez had a problem with hoarding amid poor health in 2019. The home she purchased in 1981 with her late husband in Camarillo, California had caught the attention of code enforcement officers who gave issuing citations. She called the number on a HomeVestors ad, reached Cory Evans of Patriot Holdings, and said she needed help.
When Evans arrived at her home the following morning, he gave her two options: sell with him, or the city will take her home. The tactic “scared,” Jimenez, but it worked—she signed a contract on the spot.
However, when a social worker came the following day, she assuaged Jimenez’s fears and told her that the city would not take her home, and also educated her on programs that help the elderly with cleaning their property.
When Jimenez tried to cancel the sale, Evans retaliated by suing her for breach of contract. The stress was so intense, she suffered a mild stroke, ProPublica noted.
Local investigators took interest in the lawsuit and, after finding another elderly victim who was coerced into selling to Evans, filed charges against him for attempted grand theft of property and attempted elderly theft. He pleaded guilty to both counts of attempted grand theft and served his sentence on probation.
And yet, one year after Evans pleaded guilty, he and his two brothers (all three of which ran Patriot Holdings), were awarded by HomeVestors for “top sales volume,” ProPublica noted.
The investigation found a series of incidents similar to Jimenez: a man in Florida believed he was signing a home equity loan (it turned out to be a contract to sell his $100,000 home for $37,500), a woman in Arizona was unable to cancel a sale (she was forced to live in her car).
“You were always lying to them. That’s what we were trained,” Katie Southard, a former HomeVestors franchisee in North Carolina, told ProPublica.
In a statement in response to the investigation, HomeVestors said Evans has since been removed from Patriot Holdings, and “disciplinary action” — including termination — has been taken on Evans and other franchises mentioned in the ProPublica report.
“While we regret any transaction in which we fall short of our high standards, we must view these instances within the larger context of the nearly 150,000 seller experiences we have provided during our nearly 30-year history,” the company wrote in the statement.