A few weeks ago, Brandon Kirsch was having breakfast with his girlfriend one morning on Cleveland's Near West Side. After that, she played a volleyball game and Brandon decided to walk home.
What should have been a leisurely eight-block stroll was marred, he said, by the sight of multiple signs displaying variations of "We Buy Houses for Cash" — most printed on bright yellow or white corrugated cardboard and posted on utility poles. and protective fences.
"I said, 'Well, you know what? I'll solve it,'" Kirsch recalled. these things down."
Kirsch said he was offended by both the signs' messages and their waste: pieces of trash, he says, physically and visually pollute his neighborhood.
"I use the term 'digging' from our neighborhood," he said. "They're reducing diversity, reducing the supply of available accommodation. They're destroying the place."
Brandon Kirsch tears down the "We Buy Homes" sign at the 90 Freeway exit in Cleveland. [Justin Glanville / flow of ideas]
The 36-year-old data analyst has since gone on weekend data-gathering expeditions, collecting the dozens of signs he keeps in his garage until he can think of something productive to do with them. investment in real estate).
Sometimes he is not the first to express his feelings. At the Interstate 90 exit, Kirsch found a sign with a sticker that said "SCAM" where the phone number used to be. He went a step further and tore up the board.
A sign everywhere
The signs are not a new phenomenon, nor are they unique to Cleveland. They've been popping up in cities across the country for years—the way real estate investors look for businesshomeowners who lack the financial means or desire to undertake major home maintenance projects.
But they have become a common sight, especially in the era of COVID-19house prices are skyrocketing, supply is getting smallerand investors are becoming increasingly aggressive in generating new potential clients.
Brandon Kirsch stands next to the records he keeps in the garage of his Cleveland mansion. [Justin Glanville / flow of ideas]
Most "We Buy Houses" signs are illegal - not because of what they say, but because of where they are posted. Poles, the places where you see them most often, are owned by cities or utility companies. This also applies to lawns with trees and crash barriers. All are banned from private advertisers, including political candidates posting campaign signs during election season or people advertising concealed weapons classes.
But violators are rarely fined or prosecuted, meaning efforts to crack down on the signs are primarily focused on neighborhoods and the local community. For example,Philadelphia offers social groups 50 cents per plateto take them off and deliver them to the city.
Some investors defend the use of boards as an acceptable business practice that may benefit some.
"A lot of times it's a situation where someone might foreclose on their home, [or] have a tax problem on their home," says Andrew Dunn ofCapital Growth Group, a Cleveland-based real estate investment firm that uses signs to search for homes. "We can offer that person a solution. We can buy their home for cash in a reasonable amount of time."
Dunn and his business partner, Tyler Powell, also make cold calls and knock on doors looking for people to sell to. Only a small part of those efforts bore fruit, he said. For example, out of about 100 signs the company posted, five people called, and only one of those calls resulted in a sale.
Andrew Dunn of Cleveland-based Capital Growth Group believes some homeowners benefit from a quick cash sale. [Justin Glanville / flow of ideas]
Dunn said he understands why people object to such tactics and knows that some investors are less scrupulous in how they market their services to vulnerable people.
But he doesn't believe these practices are inherently unethical.
"We try to be very honest with people: We're not for everybody," Dunn said. "If you have a home that has been recently renovated and you want to get full market value, we're probably not for you."
But housing advocates say homeowners facing financial hardship have many options other than cashing in on their homes and losing what could be a multigenerational asset.
"It's therea whole city initiative called the Initiative for Healthy Homes, and every neighborhood has a touch point,” said Lynn Rodemann, housing specialist for Slavic Village Development, a nonprofit neighborhood group. certain that their life situation has stabilized."
(The initiative is managed throughdistrict service departmentfrom the Cleveland Department of Community Development.)
Rodemann said the damage is not only affecting people selling their homes, but neighbors as well.
Housing advocates say that even in troubled neighborhoods, most homeowners are best served within the traditional real estate system. [Justin Glanville / flow of ideas]
When houses sell for low amounts, it lowers property values on all streets in the neighborhood. When people who live on those streets apply for home equity loans to pay for a new roof, for example, banks may say no because their house isn't worth enough — "so you literally can't even afford a roof over your head," Rodeman said.
There is also potential damage when investor-owned homes are flipped and sold to new and unwary buyers, Rodemann said. Some can be sloppily remodeled, leaving new owners with a constant stream of repair projects.
"Do your due diligence"
And then there's what happened to Shalonda Dixson.
In 2011, Dixson bought a house that was bought and renovated by a foreign investor who used illegal boards not only to buy houses, but also to sell them.
"It was a big old sign that said, 'Become a home owner for $500 down and $500 a month,'" Dixson recalled.
Dixson was a tenant at the time who dreamed of becoming a homeowner and called the number listed.
She bought a house and began paying $500 a month to the LLC that acted as her mortgage lender. She said she was told those payments included property taxes, and that by 2020 she had learned she actually owed $12,000 in back taxes. The LLC never paid them.
Shalonda Dixson of Cleveland's Slavic Village was able to keep her home despite an unexpected tax bill. [Shalonda Dixon]
Dixson thought she was going to lose her home to tax foreclosure until she turned to Slavic Village Development for help. The organization worked with the district to give Dixson a payment plan that would allow her to stay.
She said she wants her story to be a cautionary tale for those caught up in the dream of home ownership.
"First of all, go find out - it's public who owns the house," Dixson said. "Then before you give them any money, do your due diligence, make sure all the paperwork is correct. Even if you can't afford a lawyer, go toLegal help."
Rodemann said a big part of her job is convincing people to consider options other than crowdfunding when selling or buying homes.
"It's no secret that there are systemic issues that prevent many people from participating in traditional banking," Rodemann said. "But for most people, the traditional real estate model where you go to a broker and work with a bank is probably the best option. You'd make more money that way, even in disinvested neighborhoods, than reselling through these 'we buy'. home cheap plates."