12 Investigates: House flipping seminars

Published: Feb. 7, 2013 at 4:28 AM EST|Updated: Feb. 17, 2013 at 4:28 AM EST
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RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - The real estate market is slowly but surely coming back... and so are the myriad of real estate get-rich schemes.

Cable TV has made house flipping seem fun and easy - but any contractor will tell you it's a lot of work. And if you think you can get rich doing it after a weekend seminar, think again.

Than Merrill is one of the charismatic hosts of the A&E hit show 'Flip This House,' and Merrill has turned that cable program into a real estate empire.

A former reserve player in the NFL, Merrill is now an officer in two real estate companies: CT Homes and Fortune Builders. He uses his TV notoriety to promote a highly successful series of house flipping seminars all over the country.

With our hidden camera, we sat in on a Than Merrill free house flipping seminar at an Innsbrook hotel - the problem was, no Than Merrill. Instead, somebody named Danny Allen... trying to sell the crowd on another, three-day seminar - for just under $200. Some of the advice we heard ranged from the questionable - to the absurd.

Some of the tips: properties could be purchased and rehabilitated with little or no money down. You should seek out properties of people going through a nasty divorce - or those who've just lost spouse or parent - their grief or frustration might result in you getting a great deal. And don't be afraid to borrow against your retirement account

Captured on hidden video, Danny tells the crowd that "possibly," for a select few in the room, Than Merrill's company might even be willing partner up - and finance a few deals with an exceptional Richmond student.

"More importantly, in the master's program - you have access to us to do deals, we provide the money to do deals," said Danny.

But not everybody buys into Than's flipping theories. When he scheduled 11 seminars in the Cleveland area, the Better Business Bureau put out a warning about what it called the companies "predatory business practices."

Cleveland City Councilman Tony Brancatelli went even further, saying, "the seminars are misleading its participants. It's a pyramid scheme."

I confronted the host right after the seminar.

Curt - "The Better Business Bureau in NE Ohio put out a warning about predatory practices, and they mentioned your company by name..so..."

Danny - "Yeah - there are two parts to our company - Fortune Builders and CT Builders. We're bound to have some complaints."

Danny Allen says the company has addressed all problems and says his business practices are on the up and up. A good number of the people who attended this free seminar must agree, because as many as a third signed up for the paid seminar.

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