Delia Garza encourages City Council to take on predatory home flippers


City Council will consider asking lobbyists to push for laws to guard against predatory practices.

Garza says she recently received a bright yellow mailing that resembled a code violation notice.

Sometimes they’re letters. Sometimes they’re cards or postcards. Sometimes they’re designed to look personal, with lettering like handwriting. Other times they’re designed to look official or threatening.

The one constant in the mailings Roy Woody has grown accustomed to receiving every couple of weeks is their push for him to sell the 2,000-square-foot house he’s owned since 2008 near the intersection of McKinney Falls Parkway and Burleson Road.

Woody tosses the letters straight into the trash. His family isn’t interested in leaving its home, he says, but he wonders about the letters’ effects on others, particularly those messages framed in a more official way.

“Someone could just sell on the first offer if they don’t really know the value,” he said. “I could see it being a very predatory deal.”

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That’s certainly Austin City Council Member Delia Garza’s concern. The representative of District 2 in Southeast Austin, Garza led efforts on a council resolution approved last month to create an educational campaign regarding home sales. The council is expected to amend that resolution this week to include a measure asking city lobbyists to advocate at the Texas Legislature in favor of legislation prohibiting predatory practices.

“It’s based on, frankly, anecdotal information … but this is an empowerment campaign for families that are being preyed upon to sell their homes,” Garza told fellow council members during a workshop April 24. “They’re given very low-ball offers and then pressured (to sell), and then they sell to an investor that puts minimal cosmetic improvements into it and sells it for extremely high.”

Garza herself recently received a bright yellow mailing that said in blaring letters at the top “THIRD NOTICE.”

“Honestly, when I read it, I thought, ‘Did I get a ticket?’ ” Garza said.

The notice was vague and, perhaps most tellingly, included a line asking recipients to “keep this matter private.” When Garza called the number listed, it sent her to an automated system and then texted her, asking her for the address of the property she wished to sell. (The Austin-based company that produced the mailing, Texas Fair Offers, did not immediately return a phone call Monday.)

The resolution asks the city staff to work with local nonprofits and the Austin Board of Realtors to create a campaign to educate families about home buying and selling, engage in outreach in areas of the city “where vulnerable populations are at risk for being targeted by house flippers” and potentially direct homeowners to a list of legitimate real estate agents.

The council approved that measure April 26. The language to be added this week, about pushing for legislative protections, was inadvertently left out of the original resolution, Garza’s staff said. The city’s housing staff is expected to report back on what an outreach program would entail by the end of June, allowing council members to consider funding it as part of the 2018-19 budget.

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Amy Everhart, public affairs director for the Austin Board of Realtors, said real estate agents professionally licensed as Realtors must abide by a code of ethics that keeps them from tricking people into buying and selling property. She urged anyone considering selling a home to get a second opinion about what it might be worth.

“There are probably misconceptions that even calling a Realtor will cost you money, but that’s not how it works,” Everhart said. “A Realtor isn’t making money until a transaction actually takes place. They’re kind of offering you free advice until you decide.”

Judy Julian, who bought her home near South First Street and William Cannon Drive for just $47,000 in 1983, said her property taxes have doubled in the past three years — and the notices pushing her to sell have begun to come frequently.

“If someone wasn’t market savvy and got an offer for $100,000, they might think, ‘Wow, that’s a $60,000 profit,’ but where would you go?” she said. “You can’t buy a house in Austin for that. They’re taking advantage of people who might not be aware. They always stress cash, no closing costs.”

Julian said she doesn’t know if anyone near her has accepted an offer, but she said the postage used to send mailings to her is wasted.

“We laugh about it and throw them in the recycle bin,” she said. “We’re not going anywhere.”

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