BuyOwner.com / Deceptive sales tactics
It has been nearly 2 years now, and we are providing this comprehensive account of our experience with BuyOwner (www.buyowner.com) a real estate advertising service for purposes of consumer awareness.
We hope it will save others from our experience.
Summary of Our BuyOwner Experience:
> BuyOwner charged us $2649 on 7/8/2005 for their real-estate advertising service.
> In our opinion, they used extremely aggressive and arguably deceptive sales practices (dramatically overstating the service’s effectiveness)
> The Sales Person carefully avoided any mention of BuyOwner’s infamous “No Refund” policy.
> During the setup of our ad on the BuyOwner website, we began to notice the quality was below our expectation.
> We noticed that the 360 view, still picture quality, factual information, flyer generation amongst other things (read details below) were unsatisfactory.
> We had hundreds of views of our home, but we had 0 visitors to our home and only 1 call.
> During the 3+ weeks we used BuyOwner, we made numerous follow-up calls (logged below) and emails to voice our complaints about quality, but BuyOwner was non-responsive to our requests.
> When it became obvious BuyOwner was not going to respond, we attempted to cancel and negotiate a partial refund.
> BuyOwner quickly canceled our ad, but made no attempt to reimburse us even a portion of our paid monies.
> We were then forced to advertise ourselves (using a custom website, open houses, etc.)
> Within 3 weeks using our own advertising (custom website, custom flyers, custom signage, open houses ~ no Realtor was involved), we had over 40 visitors and 2 offers.
> We sold our home entirely ON OUR OWN, with NO assistance from BuyOwner, even though they kept our money and cancelled our ad.
We believe BuyOwner provided unsatisfactory service (again, see below for many details) not commensurate with what they charge.
We further feel we have had to invest significant money and effort to overcome BuyOwner’s deficiencies. We used the service for less than 3 weeks before initiating our dispute.
During our dispute, we made every reasonable attempt to negotiate a refund that would allow BuyOwner to be reimbursed for “sunken costs” (i.e. photography). Though we genuinely tried to resolve this in an equitable manner, BuyOwner’s Irving, TX office was non-responsive to our complaints (addressing none of them) and to our request for a negotiated settlement.
In numerous discussions, they insisted on retaining the full-payment and have threatened legal action should we proceed with this dispute. The best way I can characterize them is: they behaved like a company who knew they'd done something wrong.
Conclusion: You are better off advertising yourself than using BuyOwner.
Read below for further details.
A detailed list of deficiencies with BuyOwner’s service:
A Note Regarding BuyOwner’s Cancellation Policy
BuyOwner stipulates they have a strict “no refund” policy (please see this document in the included BuyOwner Materials).
In our case:
1. We were NOT made aware of this policy at ANYTIME prior to or during the sale (e.g. their sales person deliberately didn’t mention or point out the fine print).
2. We believe this could be a calculated sales tactic, designed to deliberately beguile and deceive homeowners into accepting and paying (up front) for BuyOwner services without any recourse should they be dissatisfied with said services.
Note: Unlike BuyOwner, most Realtors do not charge for non-performance (e.g. they do not collect their commission or charge for MLS advertising exposure.)
3. The refund policy was similarly unavailable on the BuyOwner website.
4. We only received said “policy” approximately 4 days following the posting date on our credit card when we received the “A Better Way to Sell Your Home” manual.
“Hundreds of Views” but NOT 1 interested buyer?
- Not ONE buyer whom has allegedly viewed home at www.buyowner.com has resulted in a qualified showing.
- ALL 50+ buyers who have physically been shown our home have been the result of word of mouth, realtors, our open houses, and custom marketing we invested in (www.creeksideway.com), custom flyers (due to BuyOwner flyer formatting issue), development of custom front-yard signage.
BuyOwner Flyer Quality
- The BuyOwner flyer (produced from their website) PDF lacks critical information about our property (like square footage) and it is not editable.
- The BuyOwner flyer does not format correctly (for example, we had a sentence running into our pictures). This formatting problem caused the flyer to appear unprofessional to prospective buyers. There is no ability to correct this and we were forced to create our own custom flyer.
- The 360 degree photos BuyOwner commissioned were unsatisfactory:
- The BuyOwner photographer seemed in a “big rush” to get in and out. Since photographic representation of a home is a critical aspect of selling the home, we feel this service was unsatisfactory.
- The resulting images were washed out and lacked clarity. We twice attempted twice to reschedule the 360 degree photo shoot to correct these problems. BuyOwner was non-responsive.
- Our images didn’t appear to match the functionality of other BuyOwner listings (e.g. some other BuyOwner.com listings appear to have better quality 360s than ours).
- Six still photographs were taken, but their quality was never confirmed with us prior to posting on our ad. Once posted to our ad, the BuyOwner pictures lacked sufficient detail.
- The BuyOwner.com website has generated only 1 call since July 7th, 2005, (call was on July 10th) or approximately 3 weeks of advertising at the time of this writing.
- The 1 person who called, did call through the 1-800 number, but was not pre-qualified (as promised during the BuyOwner sales pitch)
Ability to access the BuyOwner.com website [as a seller] required 2 calls to customer service (though during the BuyOwner sales pitch we were made to believe we would be contacted immediately following the sale).
- BuyOwner.com “visitor” statistics are misleading and potentially fraudulent:
- BuyOwner does not capture unique hits to your ad. In other words, their statistics record each “view” of your home regardless of if it's the same person viewing the page over and over. This artificially inflates the statistics and deceives the seller.
- BuyOwner’s statistics also include the seller’s viewing of their own page. In our case, this artificially inflated our “view” statistics by at least 20-25% and is likewise deceiving to the seller.
- No other detailed traffic statistics are provided for consumer; therefore it is impossible to discern if these statistics are “inflated” by BuyOwner or even genuine. (This would seem consistent with most BuyOwner complaints: hundreds of views, but no calls).
- There is no method to advertise “open houses” online (as promised during the BuyOwner sales pitch).
- There was inadequate factual information on website regarding our home (e.g. compare the information from BuyOwner to that on MLS).
- There is little to no ability for the customer to modify their listing information (beyond price, email address and some 30 word captions under the pictures).
- BuyOwner.com provides no step-wise process (or even basic information) on how a potential buyer should proceed if they want to make an offer.
Directing open house visitors to BuyOwner has caused confusion because there is *no* information for them on how to make an offer.
- Determining how to educate buyers on the “buying process” is left entirely to the home owner to sort out (though this “buyer education” was part of the sales pitch).
- As a result of BuyOwner’s web deficiencies, we were forced to setup our own website (www.creeksideway.com) to ensure sufficient detail.
- We were never contacted by BuyOwner (unless we called them) after they “closed the sale” (though this was promised during the BuyOwner sales pitch).
- As mentioned above, we ask for and were promised a 2nd [Virtual Tour] photo shoot (to correct the washed out problems in our 1st shoot). This was never performed (as promised by the BuyOwner customer service in Las Colinas, TX).
- The sales price of our home (a critically important part of the sale) was merely a guess on the part of the salesperson, but not [professional] substantiated by facts or comps.
- An MLS report was provided by BuyOwner approximately 4 days later, but by then the sales price had been established and printed & distributed on flyers.
- The BuyOwner-provided yard signs are small and arguably unprofessional in appearance when compared with the competition (Re/Max, Keller Williams).
- As a result, we are being forced to invest in our own “custom-made” yard signs.
BuyOwner provided no specific “Open House” signs (only directional signs were provided. We were forced to purchase our own.
Contracts / Forms
- The contract forms provided by BuyOwner are commonly available for FREE from the TREC website (e.g. anyone can download them).
- BuyOwner should not represent “reprinting” FREE documents as an asset of their paid-for service.
The provided contract forms are effectively useless, since they are perforated on the edge with binding holes. This forces the customer to download the same forms to print “clean” copies (for faxing, etc.).
- The BuyOwner’s materials provide little or no direction for filling out required forms (as we were expecting based on the sales pitch).
Texas and most Title companies require certain forms to accompany a completed contract.
- Only one of these forms was provided by BuyOwner:
> Seller’s Disclosure OP-H (provided)
> NOT PROVIDED: Addendum for Property Subject to Mandatory Membership in an Owners' Association 36-3
> NOT PROVIDED: Third Party Financing Condition Addendum 40-1
- We were forced to research and complete each of these our independently.
- There did not appear to be any additional contract support or advice within provided documentation (e.g. how a buyer or seller should fill the contracts out, though this was likewise promised during the BuyOwner sales pitch).
Call History with BuyOwner’s Irving, TX office:
7/5/2005 1:54pm 1:00min From [protected] BuyOwner Office BuyOwner called and left message following our inquiry on their website.
7/5/2005 2:21pm 7:00min To [protected] BuyOwner Office Inquiry for BuyOwner services. Referred us to sales rep Deanna Hall.
7/7/2005 9:52am 1:00min To [protected] Deanna Hall Initial setup for meeting BuyOwner sales representative
7/12/2005 12:37pm 2:00min To [protected] Deanna Hall Left message regarding yard sign sticker and website password.
7/12/2005 1:02pm 2:00min From [protected] Deanna Hall Left message regarding 12:37pm call.
7/12/2005 1:06pm 1:00min To [protected] Deanna Hall Left message regarding dissatisfaction with 360 degree images.
7/13/2005 10:25am 2:00min From [protected] BuyOwner Office Called to discuss Realtor possibly interested in showing the house. Realtor was told by BuyOwner that we may not be interested in working with them. Realtor never returned our message and never showed the home.
7/13/2005 12:21pm 17:00min To [protected] BuyOwner Office Discussed how to access the website (still not provided), dissatisfaction with the 360 images and other [promised] selling information still needed (manual, etc.)
7/13/2005 12:58pm 4:00min From [protected] BuyOwner Office Discussed website access.
7/25/2005 10:04am 7:00min To [protected] BuyOwner Office Spoke with BuyOwner rep (one of the 3, but not Rhonda) regarding our dissatisfaction with the service and possible remedy. Was told that I would have to address this with Rhonda and she would call me back.
7/26/2005 10:13am 1:00min From [protected] BuyOwner Office Incoming call from BuyOwner, but not Rhonda.
7/25/2005 4:00pm 2:00min To [protected] BuyOwner Office Had not heard from Rhonda yet. Left another message regarding my disatisfaction with said service and a request to call me back.
7/26/2005 11:05am 8:00min To [protected] BuyOwner Office Spoke with Rhonda regarding our disbute and possible reimbursement. It was a cordial conversation whereby she informed me any decisions on reimbursement would need to be made "by the president," but certainly the tone of the conversation sounded positive (as if an understanding could be reached).
8/9/2005 11:05am 2:00min To [protected] BuyOwner Office Could not get through to Rhonda. Hung up, tried again below.
8/9/2005 11:07am 8:00min To [protected] BuyOwner Office Spoke with Rhonda regarding reimbursement. BuyOwner's position was decidedly different from our call on 7/26/05. This time, they were inflexible and almost immediately threatened legal action should we not reverse our course of dispute. I informed BuyOwner that if they could 1) address even 1 of our written complaints and 2) produce one compelling piece of evidence that their alleged "services" had been effective, that I would gladly discuss appropriate payment. Rhonda provided no response to my request beyond repeating their "No Refund" policy and reiterating the threat of legal action.
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