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5 Signs Your Real Estate 'Guru' Might Be a Rip-Off



As the housing market heats to a boiling point, so does people's interest in real estate investing -- and that means a proliferation of seminars that promise to teach you how to get filthy, stinking rich by flipping properties. And yeah, some of these instructional workshops can indeed offer skills and insight to help you navigate the crazy, tightrope-walk of real estate investing.

But let's get real: Far too many of these seminars are a waste of valuable time, oxygen, and (most important) money. Some of them are all-out scams.

So how do you separate the helpful from the hype? Keep an eye out for these red flags that a self-professed real estate "guru" may not be all that. For starters, who the hell calls himself a "guru," anyway? Aside from that, here are some less obvious warning bells.

They flaunt a celebrity connection

From Donald Trump (whose now defunct Trump University has drawn governmental scrutiny) to a slew of HGTV stars, there's no shortage of real estate celebrities attaching their names to investment seminars. Don't get starstruck!

In most cases, the celebs don't make personal appearances at the events, and their involvement is often minimal. More important than a celebrity endorsement is a referral by folks who've been through the workshop and can vouch for its usefulness.

"Ask for the names of two or three people in your county who can talk about how they've used the advice in your local market," says Ed Magedson, founder and editor of RipoffReport.

And just in case they're friends of said guru faking rave reviews, ask them what properties they've bought and, if possible, cross-reference to make sure they're legit.

They promise you'll 'get rich quick'

Real estate is a (relatively) long-term game that comes with a lot of risk and often requires a significant financial investment. Those who are most successful are experienced pros who put in long hours. So know this: Learning the ropes is generally not quick or easy.

You should avoid anyone with a whiff of "get rich quick" in his sales pitch, as well as "no down, low down" buying strategies.

Also beware of any course in which the material seems to skirt practical advice and veer more toward hackneyed motivational mantras. "Anyone can do it if they believe in themselves?" Uh, yeah right.

They don't pass a basic background check

Before signing up for a seminar, do some due diligence and Google the company or people who'll be running the seminar. Please.

You're looking for someone with demonstrable success making money from real estate -- not just seminars.Then check sites such as Scams Galore and ConsumerAffairs to see if the company has good (or bad) reviews.

A few negative write-ups are OK, but if they outnumber the positive ones or all the criticism focuses on the same flaw in the program, take note.

There's no money-back guarantee

The most reputable programs will offer a money-back guarantee to consumers who are unsatisfied with the services they received. Once you see that a company offers such a guarantee, check the Better Business Bureau to see whether consumers complain that the company hasn't followed through on that promise.

They're focused on the upsell

If you do sign up for an introductory course because it's free and only an hour long, beware of instructors who spend that hour talking up the merits of their advanced course -- which costs a whole lot more. If they're really shady, they'll try to get you to sign up and pay for the next class before leaving the first one.

"Don't be pressured into signing something on the spot," says Katherine Hutton of the Better Business Bureau. "If it's that good of a deal, it will be there tomorrow."