Spitzer Announces $1.5 Million Settlement With Company That Deceived First-time Home Buyers
Attorney General Spitzer today announced a $1.5 million settlement with a New York City real estate firm that defrauded first-time home buyers into purchasing properties that were advertised as 'totally renovated' when in fact they were often badly in need of repairs.
The settlement with First Home Brokerage Corporation of Queens, provides that some 2,500 consumers in the Bronx, Brooklyn, Staten Island, Queens, Long Island and Westchester will be eligible for restitution and/or repairs, and requires the company to fundamentally change the way it does business.
It's estimated that individual home owners will be eligible for thousands of dollars in restitution and repairs. Any disputes about the quality or amount of repairs will be settled by an independent arbitration service.
Spitzer noted that the amount of the settlement could increase beyond $1.5 million, depending on the number of those victimized by First Home, the extent of the repairs required to have the company make good on its warranties and promises, and the amount of expenses incurred by consumers.
First Home is alleged to have bought foreclosed homes, often in dilapidated condition, made minimal cosmetic renovations, and then using a Federal Housing Administration (FHA) program and high-pressure, deceptive sales tactics, lured inexperienced, first-time home buyers into purchasing the properties at substantial markups, sometimes exceeding 100%. On average, the one-to-four family homes sold for $175,000-$200,000.
"This company, using false promises and outright untruths turned dreams of home ownership into nightmares for hundreds of New Yorkers," Spitzer said.
"First Home used extensive advertising, claiming its homes were 'totally renovated' and in 'move in condition.' In fact, those who bought from First Home found themselves stuck with properties that had leaky roofs, broken boilers, termite damage, faulty electrical systems, and serious structural problems- this was a real life version of the movie 'The Money Pit.' With this settlement, First Home has agreed that it will make repairs, or pay for them, and by doing so, live up to its promise that the homes are in fact totally renovated."
The Attorney General's investigation revealed that First Home deceived consumers about the properties' condition by falsely telling them that the houses would be inspected and approved by the FHA before closing. Consumers later discovered that First Home had made only cosmetic repairs to the properties, often covering up serious problems, and had induced inspectors to falsify inspection reports in order to qualify the homes for FHA mortgages.
Spitzer's office also found that while First Home promised to warranty repairs to the homes for a period of up to one year after closing the company frequently delayed making repairs until after the warranty period ran out, and then refused to make repairs altogether.
In many cases, the condition of the home prevented the consumer from collecting any income on rental units. As a result, many consumers have been forced to live in substandard conditions, or enter into default, foreclosure or bankruptcy.
As part of the settlement, First Home must now-
- Provide an unconditional seven-day right to cancel a sale contract;
- Provide buyers with an information sheet in English and Spanish, informing them of their rights, including their right to obtain independent legal counsel, choose their own mortgage lender, and obtain an independent home inspection;
- Include in the sale contract warranties on the roof, heating, electrical and plumbing systems;
- Repair all known structural defects in a home prior to closing.
First Home has sold approximately 2,500 homes in the New York City area since 1994. The company must send a claim form to any customer who purchased a home after January 1, 1998. Any consumer who purchased a home prior to that date can request a claim form by calling the Attorney General's office at (212) 416-8300.
The Attorney General commended the Citywide Foreclosure Prevention Task Force and its member organizations for their assistance in the investigation, and their education and advocacy efforts on behalf of home buyers.
In an effort to stop predatory lending and real estate practices throughout the state and to help first-time home buyers make better decisions, Spitzer's office released a fact sheet with consumer tips.
Taking part in the news conference with the Attorney General were consumers who bought homes from First Home- Sharon Morgan of Staten Island, Nicola Savage of Queens, and Walidah Abdul-Kareem of Harlem.
First Home and its related companies -- First Home Properties Corporation, First Home Brokerage LLC, and First Home Properties LLC - admit no wrongdoing as part of the settlement.
(Note: First Home's lawyer is Scott Mollen- (212)-592-1505 or (516) 220-8644)
The case was handled by Assistant Attorneys General Amy J. Mayer and Shirley Stark of the Consumer Frauds and Protection Bureau.