Buying a home? Lawsuit says company takes advantage of home buyers

by: Kristin Leigh Updated:

A federal lawsuit claims a Texas-based company is preying on low-income, minority families who dream of becoming homeowners. 

Attracted by low down payments and the promise of a suburban dream, families sign land contracts with Harbour Portfolio. The lawsuit claims the company targets African-American people with a method of seller financing that’s designed to fail.

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A FOX13 investigation found 47 properties in the City of Memphis that are owned by the Texas-based company, in addition to the hundreds of homes it owns across the U.S.

“Will I ever finish paying for this house? Nah,” Fahmeeda Veal, a Harbour Portfolio client, said. “I doubt it. I won’t be through paying for it until 2044. I’m not going to even live that long.”

Veal used her retirement money for the down payment on her home in Jacksonville, Florida. She and her sons used additional savings on $22,000 in repairs. 

Veal said she thought she signed a mortgage. She believed she owned the home, until one day she found an eviction notice on her door. 

“The young lady said take the sign up, here’s the code, basically the house is yours,” Veal said. “I was so excited, I just signed all of this stuff.”

What veal actually signed was a “contract for deed,” also known as a “land contract.” The style of financing is legal and largely unregulated in most states, including in Tennessee. 

Veal said she pays a 10-percent interest rate for her home, which is more than double the average mortgage rate. 

Residents across the U.S. tell similar stories. They’re not able to keep up with bills, due to high interest rates and costly repairs. Eventually they face eviction, or they’re forced to consider abandoning the home to the detriment of their credit.

Mark Finger moved into his Charlotte, North Carolina home about five years ago. He spent nearly $4,000 to repair the home.

“I got it for my kids, something I could leave them after I’m gone,” Finger said. 

He later learned his name wasn’t on the deed. 

“My wife calls it a money pit,” Finger said. “Every time you turn around you got to fix something.”

FOX13 worked with its Cox Media Group partners in seven states to interview people who live in Harbour Portfolio’s homes. Most of them don’t know until it’s too late that the home they’re repairing isn’t theirs. 

“I’m trying to get help on it, but then again, I’m wanting to give up on it,” Finger said.

The federal lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Georgia by Demarkus Horne, one of the company’s residents in Atlanta. Sarah Mancini is the attorney who represents him.

“It is a product that convinces people they are a homeowner and requires them to take on all of the obligations of homeownership, when they have none of the rights and none of the protections of homeowners,” Mancini said. 

Mancini warned others to avoid Harbour Portfolio. 

“The people who have been harmed, disproportionately, by this practice are borrowers of color,” Mancini said. “To anyone who has not signed on the dotted line I definitely advise them not to do it.”

Cox Media Group partners repeatedly called Harbour Portfolio president Chad Vose for comment, unsuccessfully. 

Reporters from stations in Atlanta, Georgia and Tulsa, Oklahoma, travelled to Dallas, Texas to track down Harbour Portfolio’s CEO at his multimillion-dollar home. Vose was home, but did not come to the door when reporters knocked.

The CEO later ran from the reporters who tried to question him in a parking garage. 

They were finally able to catch up with him in an elevator. 

“A lot of people have a lot of questions about the company,” Dave Huddleston, a Cox Media Group reporter in Atlanta, said to Vose in the elevator. “We're just looking for answers. We tried to reach you. We've tried to call you. We've tried to email.”

‘I have nothing to say,” Vose told reporters, adding that he had not received phone calls or emails.

While he refuses to answer questions, residents living in his homes are running out of options. 

“I came home and there was this big yellow paper on my front door that said you have 10 days before you will be evicted,” Veal said, describing the one time she missed a payment.

With high interest rates, unaffordable repairs, and a contract critics say is designed to fail, for many, the dream of homeownership has ended in heartbreak.

“It really looks like I’ve not paid anything looking at the statement,” Finger said. “Everything’s going toward interest.”

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