North Carolina regulators are investigating alleged predatory and deceptive practices by Florida-based MV Realty, which operates in 33 states and has more than 500 licensed agents.

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A brokerage that offers cash-strapped homeowners money in exchange for a 40-year contract to list their home is under investigation from state regulators.

Florida-based MV Realty, which operates in 33 states and has more than 500 licensed agents, has been offering “homeowner benefit agreements” since 2018. Under these agreements, the brokerage pays homeowners between $300 and $5,000 (depending on the value of the home) in cash up front for signing a deal in which they agree that if they decide to sell their home anytime in the next 40 years, they will list the home with MV Realty as a transaction broker.

The agreements, which more than 30,000 homeowners have signed across the country, have attracted attention because some consider them deceptive and predatory, which MV Realty denies.

Screenshot from home page of MV Realty’s website

“I can confirm that our office is investigating MV Realty,” Nazneen Ahmed, press secretary for North Carolina’s Department of Justice and Attorney General’s office, told Inman via email. “Because this investigation is ongoing, I’m unable to comment further.”

The North Carolina Real Estate Commission is also investigating MV Realty.

“The NCREC has received 6-7 consumer complaints about MV Realty’s Homeowner Benefit Program,” Janet B. Thoren, the commission’s legal counsel, told Inman via email.

“It is my understanding that a number of other state Attorneys General are looking at this program, including our own. Our investigation has been going on for a few months now, and it is not over.”

The commission is questioning whether or not MV Realty’s agreements constitute predatory lending, Thoren told ABC 11 last week.

“I think [customers] don’t fully understand the terms of the contract, and what that means, and at the time most of these people are desperate, and they are in need of some cash,” she told the news outlet.

Regarding memorandums that MV Realty files on the deeds of properties, she added, “It’s been treated being by a lien by the closing attorneys, as well as by the title insurance companies, and so that lien has to be satisfied before the property can be sold.”

The Florida Attorney General’s office is also investigating MV Realty after receiving 16 complaints about the brokerage since 2020, according to the Tampa Bay Times. In addition, the Massachusetts Attorney General’s office is reviewing complaints about the brokerage, according to CBS News.

Ahmed told Inman the North Carolina Attorney General’s office had received three complaints regarding MV Realty. In one, an attorney writing on behalf of their client, Felicia Shurae Booker, noted that MV Realty had filed 52 memorandums in Alamance County, North Carolina, alone.

“It seems doubtful that an informed property owner would sign a real estate listing agreement that could be effective for 40 years,” the attorney, Gary K. Berman of Merman & Associates, wrote in the complaint.

In another, complainant Florence Adams notes that MV Realty’s 40-year term “is longer than a conventional mortgage” and “locks a consumer into a commission fee ‘floor’ at the current market rate of the home. They offer you a pittance for the exclusive rights to any real estate commission – they say they will help sell your home and they do nothing to help you except make you feel degrading (sic).”

Adams asked for “[a]n investigation of the deceptive practices and fraud being conducted against seniors and low income families.”

According to MV Realty’s homeowner benefit agreements, if a buyer broker is involved in the transaction, the total commission must add up to at least 6 percent of the total sales price with MV Realty receiving at least 3 percent of the sales price or 3 percent of the property’s value at the time the agreement is signed, whichever is greater.

If there is no buyer broker involved, MV Realty receives a minimum 6 percent of the total sales price or 3 percent of the property’s value at the time the agreement is signed, whichever is greater.

If the homeowner decides to list the home with another brokerage, the homeowner owes MV Realty 3 percent of the property’s value at the time the agreement is signed, which can add up to thousands of dollars.

The agreement binds any future heirs of a property and if a homeowner defaults, the agreement specifies that MV Realty will impose a lien on the property for the amounts owed. The agreement includes an arbitration clause and precludes the homeowner from participating in any class action litigation against MV Realty.

The agreement also specifies that MV Realty would list the home as a transaction broker. A transaction broker is a neutral facilitator for a sale rather than a fiduciary looking out for the best interests of the buyer or seller. The Consumer Federation of America (CFA) has argued that such brokers, who owe sellers no duty of loyalty and aren’t obligated to look out for their best interests, should receive less compensation than fiduciaries.

“What they’re receiving in terms of consideration is so small compared to the rights that they’re giving up. The inequities are just so great,” Rebekah Lusk, a Maryland attorney who practices real estate law, told The Baltimore Banner, a local news nonprofit, about MV Realty’s contracts. “It’s an absolutely predatory agreement.”

According to The Baltimore Banner, the average payment received by Baltimore homeowners in the 35 full agreements available in public land records was $662.26 and the vast majority of affected homes are located in predominantly black neighborhoods on the east and west sides of the city.

Joseph E. Farren, spokesperson for the Maryland Real Estate Commission, which is part of the state’s Department of Labor, told Inman that MV Realty’s business model doesn’t appear to be unlawful, but could be harmful to consumers and is therefore on the regulator’s radar.

“While to date the commission has received no complaints related to this emerging business model, which does not appear to conflict with existing law, it does present significant potential harm to consumers,” Farren told Inman via email.

“Particularly in those instances where heirs would sell a property and are unaware of the agreement until the property is closing, and then cannot comply with it, resulting in significant additional costs.

“The Maryland Real Estate Commission is not only tracking this issue, but actively seeking solutions. The Commission has discussed it during its meetings, and together with staff, is researching potential solutions.”

MV Realty spokesperson Diana London told Inman that the brokerage makes the terms of its agreement clear to homeowners.

“There is nothing improper or predatory about [offering] a homeowner money today for the right to be their agent in the future,” London said.

“The Homeowner Benefit Agreement fully discloses all key terms in clear English, as well as featuring them on numerous documents provided to the customer. They are also in plain English on our website.”

MV Realty also provides a single-page “leave-behind” document signed by the customer in the presence of a notary that spells out the homeowner’s obligations, according to London.

In regards to homeowners featured in an article by The Baltimore Banner, London said their complaints had been debunked with documentation and text messages MV Realty provided to the news outlet.

“It is clear the discrepancies some of the homeowners stated really have nothing to do with disclosures or fine print or not knowing what they signed,” London said.

“It is clear they had every intention of taking the money and willfully breaching their contracts without giving MV Realty any opportunity to sell the home.”

She added that MV Realty has “thousands of satisfied customers” compared to a “small number of complaints.”

“We beg you to ask those who have criticized; they got the money in exchange for something, what is it that they suggest they did to uphold their end of the agreement?” London said.

“They stated they did not understand, but what did they think they got money for, and what single step have they taken to honor whatever they say they thought the agreement was for, they certainly understood it was an opportunity for us to be their agent, show us one step they’ve taken to give MV Realty the opportunity to be their agent?”

London also stressed that, while the agreement term is for 40 years, the deal gives MV Realty the exclusive right to represent the seller for six months. If MV Realty is unsuccessful in selling the home during that time, the seller has a certain number of days — 60 days for listing and 60 days for closing —  to sell the home independently on the exact same terms and at a sales price equal to or greater than the final list price when MV Realty attempted to sell the home.

If the seller is able to do so, they don’t owe MV Realty anything. If the seller is unable to do so, they must go back to MV Realty to list.

According to London, MV Realty has sold more than 700 homes for its homeowner benefit agreement clients. She also noted that other companies offer similar types of agreements, including HomeOptions.

“[MV Realty’s] executives developed the program as a means of building long-term relationships with homeowners,” London said, noting that Amanda Zachman is MV Realty’s founder and executive director. “Another goal was to help agents generate business in a highly competitive industry.”

According to legal records, MV Realty, also known as MV Realty PBC LLC, has filed hundreds of lawsuits against homeowners nationwide seeking to enforce its agreements. The company said it did not have “available” an exact or estimated figure for the number of lawsuits it has filed against homeowners.

“MV Realty has filed a small number of lawsuits – representing only a small percentage of our more than 30,000 customers,” London said.

“We only file these lawsuits when a client actively breaches the agreement. They are typically resolved when clients decide to honor their agreements and list their homes with MV Realty.”

Here is one such lawsuit filed Oct. 21 with a copy of an MV Realty homeowner benefit agreement included.

Prominent real estate broker Joe Rand, chief creative officer at Howard Hanna Rand Realty and a licensed attorney, suggested MV Realty’s practice is immoral and a potential violation of Article 1 of the Realtor Code of Ethics.

“I actually had this idea about 15 years ago, thought about it for maybe 10 minutes, and decided I didn’t want to go to hell,” Rand tweeted in late October.

“Tricking a homeowner into signing a lien worth 3% of their property value in exchange for a few hundred bucks upfront is not protecting ‘the interests of their client,'” Rand added in a subsequent tweet.

“And if the broker is singling out poor people of color, we probably have some [fair housing] issues, too.”

London told Inman all of MV Realty’s agents and brokers are Realtors.

“MV Realty is in full compliance with the Realtor Code of Ethics,” London said. “Furthermore, our agents complete a rigorous training program that focuses on the HBA and how to explain the terms of the agreement in clear, precise language.”

The National Association of Realtors confirmed that MV Realty is a member of the trade group. NAR declined to comment on a member’s specific business model but urged consumers to protect and inform themselves before signing any contract.

“NAR believes that consumers should be fully informed before entering into any agreement, especially one as important as selecting a professional to represent them in the home selling process,” NAR spokesperson Wes Shaw told Inman via email.

“We encourage all consumers to ensure they’re aware of every aspect of a listing agreement, particularly any relevant obligations or potential risks. And we urge any consumers who believe they have been defrauded or wronged by a commercial entity to report such instances to their state’s attorney general’s office and any other relevant legal authority.”

According to London, MV Realty’s marketing focuses on homeowners but does not target homeowners in neighborhoods with racial minorities and/or lower home values for these agreements.

“We do not target any specific demographic group,” London said. “We reach out only to individuals who have submitted inquiries requesting information either to the company directly [through homeownerbenefit.com], or through third-party websites, which are then directed to MV (from whom the consumers consent to receive information).

“Regarding home values, we do not sign agreements with owners of homes with values less than $150,000. Most of our customers’ homes average well over $300,000 in value.”

According to The Baltimore Banner, Maryland State Delegate Marlon Amprey is drafting a bill to be introduced in early 2023 to protect homeowners from “predatory” realty and lending practices, including MV Realty’s homeowner benefit agreements, that Amprey said “are siphoning generational wealth from homeowners — especially Black homeowners.”

Because these companies are “really taking out our middle-class opportunities at wealth and taking out opportunities to build generational wealth, the state has to be involved in making sure that wealth access is available to people,” Amprey told the news outlet.

The Banner also noted that the American Land Title Association (ALTA), plans to release a model bill restricting such agreements that states will be able to base their own legislation on.

“Consumers may not fully understand the implications and, the act of recording these agreements in property records can create a long-term barrier to the sale or refinancing of real estate,” ALTA spokesperson Megan Hernandez told the news outlet. “Efforts to enforce agreements executed without the consent or knowledge of a future homeowner are unfair and deceptive.”

Baltimore City Councilwoman Odette Ramos also told The Banner she would propose that the council hold a hearing to discuss possible action in regards to the agreements and to raise awareness of them.

“It’s new in Baltimore and I want more people to be aware of what this is and really to get in the habit of not signing stuff that you don’t understand,” Ramos said.

MV Realty’s London told Inman that that neither Amprey, Ramos or ALTA had requested information from the brokerage.

“Regarding any complaints, the company works diligently to respond to any inquiries from any organization or office,” London told Inman. “At this time, there has been no request for information from any of the organizations or offices you have mentioned.”

The North Carolina Attorney General’s office and the North Carolina Real Estate Commission have reached out to MV Realty as part of their investigations, but they have not discussed regulations, according to London.

“MV Realty has no problem with regulation discussions,” London said. “None have taken place. MV has always been open and transparent about its business practices.”

MV Realty has never been disciplined by any regulatory body over the use of its agreements, according to London.

“Our intent is to reinvent the way residential real estate operates by providing these cash incentives,” she said.

“We want homeowners to enter into agreements with us with full knowledge of the terms and conditions of our agreements, and we are open to working with legislators to ensure that programs like ours are clear to understand and fully compliant with all applicable laws and regulations.”

MV Realty is not currently working with any legislators, she added.

What do you think of MV Realty’s homeowner benefit agreements? Let us know in the comments below.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to clarify that, if MV Realty is unsuccessful in selling a home after six months, MV Realty’s homeowner benefit agreements allow the seller 60 days for listing and 60 days for closing to sell the home independently on the exact same terms and at a sales price equal to or greater than the final list price when MV Realty attempted to sell the home.

Email Andrea V. Brambila.

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