A husband-and-wife broker team who specialize in short sales and bank-owned properties can continue to operate their business while they appeal a 10-year suspension of their licenses by Washington regulators.
An Aug. 5 final order by the Washington state Department of License revoking the licenses of Michael Hellickson, his wife Tara Hellickson, and their Pierce County-based brokerage, Hellickson.com Inc., won’t take effect for 35 days, allowing the Hellicksons to seek a stay of the order while they appeal it in court.
Regulators claim the couple committed multiple, serious violations of licensing law, including listing homes at artificially reduced prices below what the owner was willing to accept in order to generate multiple lowball offers.
An attorney for the Hellicksons, Douglas Tingvall, said the Hellicksons will file suit in Pierce County Superior Court seeking a stay of the order pending judicial review.
He called the order "unprecedented," saying the Department of Licensing has never revoked a real estate broker’s license "for anything other than theft of trust funds or criminal felony convictions."
"We remain confident that the courts will recognize the injustice and reinstate the Hellicksons’ licenses," Tingvall said in an e-mail message. Tingvall has alleged that the investigation of the Hellicksons’ business practices launched by the Department of Licensing in 2009 was a "witch hunt" in retaliation for the Hellicksons’ refusal to provide access to their records without a warrant or determination of probable cause.
The Department of Licensing suspended the Hellicksons licenses without a hearing in September after receiving more than two dozen complaints about their business practices. A superior court judge reinstated all the Hellicksons’ licenses in October, pending the outcome of a hearing by Administrative Law Judge Terry A. Schuh.
In a May 11 initial order, Schuh affirmed six of the 10 alleged violations the Department of Licensing claimed the Hellicksons had committed — including misrepresenting that they would buy homes listed with them that did not sell within 30 days, and that Michael Hellickson engaged in false advertising when he claimed to be the No. 1 agent in Washington, Oregon and Hawaii. Tingvall then filed a petition for review.
In an Aug. 5 final order, the Department of Licensing affirmed the 10-year license revocations ordered by Schuh. The order affirmed eight of the 10 license violations allegedly committed by the Hellicksons — two more than Schuh’s initial order — and six by their brokerage, the Hellickson Team.
The Hellicksons engaged in a "pattern and practice" of encouraging homeowners to stop making payments on their mortgages, listing homes at prices that were not authorized by the homeowners, and failing to provide copies of executed listing agreements to homeowners at the time of execution, Department of Licensing Director Alan Haight said in his final order.
Haight ruled that the Hellicksons were "negligent" and "dilatory" in their communications with homeowners, "resulting in unreasonable risk of harm and prejudice." Haight also found that the Hellicksons, without being asked to do so, drafted addenda to purchase and sale agreements claiming that the sellers had requested that buyers prequalify with with one of two or three specific lenders.
He set aside allegations the Hellicksons told some homeowners they were required to vacate their homes before they were legally required to do so. He also set aside allegations that the Hellicksons misrepresented the contents of listing agreements — sometimes by having the homeowner fill out a blank addendum and later filling in false authorizations for automatic price reductions on the home — saying those allegations violations duplicated others that he affirmed.