True Story of How my First Real Estate Investment was a Scam
When I first made the decision to start investing in real estate, it was for the purpose of gaining financial freedom and helping my family live and have a better life.
I wanted to connect with local investors in the Chicago area, and I heard Wendell de Guzman speak as a guest on the Bigger Pockets podcast. I began to follow his blog on BP, signed up for his newsletters and also started to attend his meetups online and in person. I felt the information he was presenting provided great value. There was no hype, and he would always say "I am not a guru. I am here to do deals and partner with you to make money." It appeared through his blogs and his interview on BP that his goal was to provide value and gain partners in the community.
I reached out to Wendell, and although he never took me up the offer to meet in person, we were able to converse over the phone and email correspondence.
With all his experience, knowledge and value he was presenting I decided I wanted to partner with him. I thought this would be a great way to get started in real estate investing. I asked him if there was something we could work together on.
He said his partner in Cincinnati, Garrett Stevenson of Equity Max Network LLC, whom he has been working with since 2005, had a property that was a great deal and asked if I would be open to investing out of state with his partner.
He said, “I trust him with my life”.
Wendell proposed that I would purchase the property, Garrett would do the rehab, and after we had a renter I could refinance, and repeat. I was hesitant at first, I didn’t know of his partner Garrett Stevenson but I heard him on Wendell’s presentations, and he came across as very experiencee and knowledgeable.
It took me awhile to think about Wendell’s proposal. I was extremely scared, and my gut was churning over whether or not this was safe, or the right thing to do. At first I said no, that I was not comfortable with the deal. Wendell and Garrett both countered that this would be a great deal, and Wendell was offering to even lend me the money for it.
I made the decision to purchase the property, and I closed on December 5, 2015.
After that, my worst nightmare began.
At first, Garrett would update me with emails and texts as to the status of how things were going. The first couple of months went by, and I had no reason to be concerned.However, as time went on, something did not seem right. I started to get a bad feeling.
As the end of May approached, it had been six months since my purchase. The property was supposed to be completed, and we were looking for a renter. When I contacted Garrett he would respond that he had interest and we should be able to find a renter soon. Something was not right.
I began to fear for my initial investment, and started the refinance process. Garrett began to contact me asking for more time, that he still needed to get some things finished on the rehab, but I told him that I wanted it appraised and refinance out of the property.
The appraiser had difficulty with setting up an appointment with Garrett to see the property When the appraiser began trying to contact Garrett, he would let me know that Garrett was never responding or answering his phone, and he had been unable to reach him.
At that moment, in the pit of my stomach, I knew I was the victim of a scam.
I knew, but I didn’t want to believe it was happening. I kept playing my part in this sham “partnership”, trying to get updates on the “rehab project”. Garrett answered me by texting and emailing excuse after excuse. His daughter broke his leg, he lost his phone, his computer was broken, he was tied up in meetings.
Finally, the appraiser was able to access the property. He took pictures and sent the appraisal. The property would not appraise.I reviewed the appraisal and the pictures. The pictures said it all. It would not appraise because as the pictures showed, it was uninhabitable.
I contacted Wendell Guzman, who, you will recall, trusted Garrett with his life, to let him know everything that was going on, and I let both Garrett and Wendell know that I was done with the deal and wanted a buy out. They tried effortlessly to keep me in on the deal.
Wendell would say things like "This is not the Garrett I know. I will make this right."
I told him that I just wanted my money back, and that I was done with the partnership with Garrett. I asked Wendell to buy me out of the property, and he agreed. He stated that his company PCI, LLC would be the purchaser.
I felt some sense of relief that this would all finally be over. I was told that the buy out would happen within 60-90 days. I didn’t know why it would take that amount of time, but didn’t ask because for some reason I still trusted Wendell, or at least knew he was the only one who could get me out of this situation, that he had gotten me into.
90 days passed. Garrett told me he found a renter that had signed a contract to move in in July. He sent the contract to me to show me she had signed it, and the amount of the rent.Okay, I thought, at least I will be getting rent while we wait for the close date.
He sent me the purchase contract in September, but when I continued to email, call and text about when the close date would be he rarely responded or he would say “next Friday”.
4 more months passed, and every Friday we were supposed to close. I desperately sent Wendell continued emails, that were met with more and more lies or no responses at all.
Eventually I could not contact Wendell on the phone, nor Garrett.
After many days and sleepless nights spent shaking and crying, I knew I had to take matters into my own hands.
I made the decision that I was going to fly to Cincinnati to see the property myself.
I contacted Garrett and asked him to overnight me the key, because I would be flying in from Chicago to Cincinnati, to see the property this or next Friday. He gave me the contact number of the “renter”, “Kyara”, and told me to call her first.
He also told me that “Kyara’s” hours are long, so she might not get back to me right away.
I called and texted “Kyara” that I would be coming to inspect the property, and to call me back. I never heard from her until two days later. She texted me “are you coming?” I replied back “yes”.
The morning of my flight, I started receiving email andtext blasts from Garrett and Kyara at 6 AM. They were telling me the key they “overnighted” (that I had never received) wouldn’t work because she changed the locks, and that I needed to contact her because there were kids in the house. She added she was going to get me a key during her work break and mail it to me.
Meanwhile, Garrett was frantically texting me, “Can you cancel your flight?”
“She has kids on the house, the key won’t work”
And on and on, in a desperate attempt to try and get me not to see with my own eyes that in twelve months, there was no renter, and no work had been done on the property.
My responses to their messages were either brief or non-existent. I knew what was happening, and I had to make sure Garrett thought I was only threatening to come to the property, that I was bluffing.
I got on the plane that morning.Shaking, nervous, tears rolling down my face.
Fear, anger and every emotion and thought that you can imagine going through my mind. My kids, my husband, my family. How could I have let this happen?
I knew my entire “partnership” with Garrett was all lies.
I got off the plane, hopped into my rental car and drove through the city of Cincinnati to the property. I pulled up and saw that there was a red Ford in the driveway ,with no license plates.
I didn’t want to knock on the door in case someone was home, so I waited for the locksmith I had set up an appointment with earlier in the week. I called him and he came in 30 minutes. I waited in the parking lot of a nearby Target, out of fear for my safety.
The locksmith met me at the property. He was a kind young man. He asked me if we needed to call the sheriff, because “he has seen a lot of things”. Jesus, I never even thought of that. I showed him proof of ownership and my id. He proceeded to open the lock, he opened the door.
When he opened it and I stepped in I asked him to give me a moment.
My first site was of an empty living room, a chaotic mess of dust and construction material. I began to cry for my expectations were confirmed. I was scammed.
I walked through the house crying, taking pictures. It was freezing as there was no heat.My body was trembling and my fingers were frozen. The doors and windows were covered with cheap drapes to hide that there was no one living there. The side door was boarded up.
I told the locksmith to go ahead and change the locks. He offered me a hug because of how distraught I was. I told him to never trust a single soul in his life.
Once the locks were changed and I paid the locksmith $300.00, I called a Cincinnati area realtor I had been in contact with to meet me at the property. He said he would be there.
I drove back to the Target parking lot, and completely broke down.
I bawled. Just kept bawling. Asking God why? Still hoping that I was in a nightmare and was soon going to wake up from it.
I drove back to the property, and met the realtor. I told him that if I started to cry not to be surprised and told him a quick synopsis of my story.
I just hoped that he wouldn’t run away and prayed that he could help me in some way.
I let him inside the house to show him around. He gave me an offer $15,000.
I looked at him, tears swelling in my eyes and said “I will take it, I want to be done, I need to move on.”
I handed over the keys, shook his hand and drove away with tears rolling down my face.
I drove back to the airport. My head was pounding from the day, the tears, not having gone to the bathroom or eaten anything in past 6 hours.
I received his contract shortly after, and signed it hoping and waiting for this all to be over.
I also contacted a lawyer in the Cincinnati area, who did a background search on Garrett Stevenson, the man Wendell Guzman had been working with for 11 years, that he trusted for his life.
The lawyer informed me that Garrett Stevenson had over 40 civil judgments against him.
The final day for the closing is tomorrow. December 21st. Four days before Christmas. I will have absorbed a loss of at least 42,000 after all that was spent trying to recoup the property.
Why am I writing this? Why am I sending this to you, or posting it everyone for all to see?
I want everyone to know what kind of people Wendell de Guzman and Garrett Stevenson are. I hope I can prevent a person from working with these individuals.
I take responsibility for not doing my due diligence on Garrett and Wendell. There are a lot of things looks back that I should have done, but all I can do now is learn from my mistakes and move forward.