Source: NYT

In Fred Bernstein’s excellent article Looking for Eye-Catching Profits From ”Ugly Houses” [NYT] he explains how this concept works.

HomeVestors, a company that specializes in buying houses from people who want or need to sell them quickly. In the 30 states where it operates, HomeVestors is known for the bright yellow billboards that announce: “We buy ugly houses.” The billboards feature a toll-free number that brings calls to the HomeVestors headquarters in Dallas. From there, the leads are passed on to the franchisees.

Franchisees pay an initial fee of $46,000 and agree to pay monthly fees as well as fees for every purchase. They also pay into an advertising fund to support the billboards. Over all, a new franchisee is expected to commit about $200,000 to the business, according to Mr. Hayes.

They buy property at a steep discount, then fix them up and sell them, leaseback to the previous owners, etc. They target the low end of the market. Its a very specific niche and its 250 franchisees bought and sold about 6,000 houses in 2005.

The founder said:

The trick is to buy homes for 60 to 65 percent of what they would be worth in good condition.

That seems to be quite a leap of faith. It makes me uncomfortable just thinking that my franchise success would be determined by getting that type of discount on every purchase.

This niche would appear to be a high risk franchise investment if the market declines in a given market. The founder made reference that there is not much of a bubble in $80,000 houses. Of course there is. Houses in that price range see smaller swings in prices but can be ultra-mortgage rate sensitive. The entry or low end of the market can be the first sector to stop activity if mortgage rates jump.

If an investor buys a house as prices drop, they are stuck with the property and since the franchisees have financed at 9% through HomeVestors, it can get expensive. However, franchisees claim they are doing well.

When we start seeing this sort of activity, I get nervous. I suspect many of the franchisees are not savy real estate investors or they would not be paying a franchise fee at all and, most importantly, many have not seen a weakening real estate market before as an investor.

Lets hope their pockets are deeper than the former owners of their properties or its going to get ugly.

2 Responses to “Ugly Is As Ugly Does: HomeVestors Franchises Property Flippers”

  1. Jack Lewis says:

    I see you read Fred Bernstein’s Feb. article in the NY Times about the HomeVestors office in Philadelphia. I contacted him and he came to Canton, OH and featured me in an article about the real estate market in Canton titled “The Real Estate Boom Passed Over This City” on June 25, 2006. I am one of many former HomeVestors franchisees who was forced to drop out after spending several hundred thousand dollars and not being able to make a profit. I know one who whent through over a million dollars in four years and had to quit. HomeVestors refused to offer advice on how to handle the market in Akron, Canton, Cleveland and Detroit where you can not find qualified buyers to buy your houses. They will not admit their systerm does not work in all areas of the country. ?There have been 14 offices in Ohio, 7 are left and by what I have heard they may only be 2-3 left by the first of the year. They have ruined lives and they always blame it on us not following their system. I have a whole story to tell about them.

    Jack Lewis

  2. John Holman says:

    I’m another HomeVestors franchisee and I’ve had a very positive experience in the market and with HomeVestors. HomeVestors is a very high-integrity organization; the franchisor delivers on their promises to franchisees and the franchisees are honest and deliver on their promises to our clients. Unfortunately, there are, in all franchise systems, some franchisees who should not be there. No franchise system can prevent franchisees from making stupid mistakes. And not all people are cut out to run their own businesses. The world is full of people who will blame their own shortcomings on others…