Cash for homes: Who’s calling and is it a scam?

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Laws passed. Do not call lists created. Our phones still ring constantly. Many times with scams and offers for things we don’t need, much less want. But there’s a new caller on the line that does pique some people’s interest - at least at first. But FOX13 is asking if it’s an offer you should always refuse.

Cheryl Owens told FOX13 the operator on the other end of the call is a live person and not a recording. The offer comes quickly in the conversation.

“I get these calls as potential spam, and then I’ll answer, and there’s someone on the other end asking do you want to sell your property or whatever. And I’m like no!”, said Owens.

The first call isn’t the problem. It’s the calls that don’t stop.

“And at some point, it feels like you’re really being harassed, because they called over and over and over again. And then when you don’t answer the phone, they leave voicemails,” said Owens. “And then after that, they resort to texting.”

FOX13 found out the calls are legal and there’s nothing she or you can do to stop it. We took our concerns to the Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance.

Assitant commissioner Toby Compton told FOX13, “I’ve gotten those myself. There’s nothing technically illegal about these particular phone calls. They’re annoying."

Compton said his office has received several complaints. In almost all cases, individual investors or real estate investment firms identify desirable neighborhoods. They then legally access or purchase information about your home from public records in your state or other resources like the multiple listing service used by realtors. They track your phone number down from those records and cold call you, hoping you might be in financial hard times or willing to sell quickly for any reason. The problem for you? The quick cash offer they make is always below market price, and sometimes by as much as 25 percent. That could cost you $50,000 on a $200,000 home. And in the end, all they really want to do is flip the house for a profit. They make money. You don’t.

Compton has a warning for anyone who decides to take the call and consider the offer.

“Ask lots of questions. If they want to have a conversation about selling their house, they are absolutely free to do so. But we were just warned that there are unscrupulous people out there that want to take advantage and be aware of that,” said Compton.

Cheryl Owens put her number on the do not call list years ago, but she’s had little luck blocking them. She’s even tried to call them to ask to be removed from their lists. A frustrated Cheryl told FOX13′s Darrell Greene, “But they don’t answer the phone when you call back.”

That’s the problem we ran into when we tried to call five different numbers to find out more. Only one company answered.

“I try to reach out to people who are in bad situations. Divorce, pre-foreclosure, back taxes. Someone who really needs help,” said James Jones, the CEO of Memphis-based National Home Buyers.

Jones said his company does use lists to cold call people hoping to find buyers. But Jones promises his company has its own ‘do not call’ list and his operators do take no for an answer. He said he shares Cheryl’s anger towards the other companies who call and call and call.

“So many people do ‘do not call’ lists. I don’t try to mess with those people. They don’t want to be bothered, leave 'em alone,” said Jones.

FOX13 talked to one woman who did not want to go on camera but had a positive experience with a company that cold-called her about her property. She admitted she became very antsy, wondering if she was about to be scammed out of a rental property she was willing to sell. In the end, she got her money on time and as promised.

But while these investors don’t always have wrongdoing on their minds, they rarely have your best financial interests in mind. The Tennessee Department of Commerce recommends you never give out personal information over the phone. If you do decide to entertain an offer, always find out exactly who you are dealing with. Go here to look for any red flags. In the end, if you are seriously considering selling your home, a licensed realtor is always going to be your safest bet.

Meanwhile, Owens said she has no plans to sell, but she does have just one wish.

“Leave me alone! I’m not interested! Please leave me alone!" she laughed. "Please!”