Open for business image via Shutterstock.
Real estate showing service eShowings has reportedly reopened at least one of its two call centers, according a notice posted by its biggest client, the North Carolina-based Wilmington Regional Association of Realtors.
EShowings shut down on Dec. 9, just days after founder and former CEO Charles Smith headed to prison to serve a 2 1/2-year sentence for pocketing his employees’ payroll taxes instead of handing them over to the government.
The move left an estimated 14,000 clients — including WRAR’s nearly 1,700 members — in the lurch, and the firm’s 85 or so employees out of work.
The firm previously had two call centers, one in Newark, Del., and the other in Wilmington, N.C. Some former eShowings employees say the Newark office is still closed. But in a statement posted today on WRAR’s website, the association said the company has reopened for business and is operating its local Wilmington call center to provide service to WRAR.
Jody Wainio, WRAR’s president-elect and MLS president, said the association is “glad that their business is restored” but that WRAR will continue to build a contingency plan to protect members.
“Please understand that there are contractual agreements that your association is a part of, but not able to share, as they are truly confidential and could open doors to a lawsuit against the association, as well as its board of directors,” Wainio said.
“We do not take this breach lightly, and, along with our legal counsel, we continue to monitor and plan for the future to ensure the success of our members.”
Wainio did not return requests for comment.
Wilmington’s largest brokerage, Coldwell Banker Sea Coast Advantage, formed its own call center to deal with showing inquiries in the wake of eShowings’ closure, which affected about 220 of the firm’s 380 agents.
David Benford, the brokerage’s vice president and director of operations, said he was not sure if any of the firm’s agents had called eShowings since its reopening, but that it would keep its own call center open for the time being.
“If three, four, or five days go by and everybody’s happy, we’ll shut ours down. But 12 hours after the fact we don’t have the confidence to shut ours down,” he said.
The brokerage had no complaints about the eShowings service before the company’s closure. ” We’d like to see it work,” Benford said.
“We just want to make sure that whatever our board is doing with eShowings right now is something we can count on,” he added.
For WRAR, its contract with eShowings is the association’s No. 1 concern, according to Benford.
“Unfortunately, that might mean taking a back seat to servicing our sellers, but I know that’s a high priority as well,” he said.
He’s not sure how long the association’s contract with eShowings is supposed to last. In a Facebook page set up for employees to air their grievances against the company, some former eShowings employees have said the contract runs out at the end of the month.
Coldwell Banker Sea Coast Advantage has three people in its call center, two of them former eShowings employees. They have said they are not going back, Benford said.
On Facebook, other former eShowings employees have also indicated they will not return to the company and are still waiting to receive back pay for the last two weeks they worked for eShowings before it shut down.
Darryl Dickerson, eShowings’ former accounting director, said the company’s Delaware employees had not heard anything directly from the company about its reopening. He contacted the company’s landlord in Delaware and was told the company had made up its late rental payments and that Catherine Lanouette Smith, Charles Smith’s wife, had given them a “personal guarantee” that future bills would be paid.
“I don’t know what’s going on,” Dickerson said.
Catherine Smith did not answer multiple phone calls requesting comment.
According to Dickerson, some North Carolina workers had been asked back and told they would get their back wages so long as they returned to work and set up a Wells Fargo bank account. At least two former employees seem to have taken that offer.
“I don’t know how people can go back to a company that’s done this to their employees and expect them to treat them any different,” Dickerson said.
“If she was able to pay vendors, why can’t she pay employees? Why do we have to come back to work and make her profitable before we get paid what is already owed to us?” he added.
He declined to say whether he himself would go back to the company because he and other employees have a class-action lawsuit against the company in the works.
He declined to elaborate other than to say it would be filed soon and would seek to recover employees’ back wages and damages.
Smith reportedly gave Tomy Kot, eShowings’ general manager, the order to shut down the company in the first place. Some employees say Smith now denies this, however, and accuses Kot of shutting down the company without authorization.
Kot denied the allegation.
“No, I definitely did not shut down the company without authorization. Why would I put myself and the other employees out of a job?” he said.
He said he would not go back to the company, even if asked.
“Obviously, they’re trying to use me as a scapegoat. If that were the case, why didn’t they reopen the next day? Why didn’t they call the employees to come back the next day? Why has it been over a week? Why isn’t the Delaware office open? How come real estate agents aren’t getting the service that they demand and deserve from the company that is still not open?” Kot said.
“It’s kind of ridiculous that they’re trying to claim that they’re reopening but no one has any answers about them trying to reopen in Delaware whatsoever,” he added.
He said he asked Smith whether he and other employees would be receiving their wages and got no response.
If asked, he said he would have no problem being party to a civil suit against the company.
“Yeah, I absolutely would join in on that. We all enjoyed working there, but (it) went too far in what the company did to all the employees,” he said.