THE TOUGH CUSTOMER- Scam or salvation? What you don't know can hurt

In late May, after the Daily Progress wrote about the increasing number of foreclosures in the area, blogger Waldo Jaquith drew a connection to the ubiquitous "We Buy Houses" signs stuck to poles and fences throughout the region.

Specifically citing one such advertiser, Jaquith wrote, "I'm mystified that no local media outlet has done a story about DMT Properties and their ilk. The business is a scam, their method of promotion is unsightly and blatantly illegal, and yet nobody says boo. What gives?"

Predictably, Jaquith was not alone in his mystification. DMT's president, Dominick Montie, was also mystified– about why anyone would characterize his business as a "scam."

"I am not a scam artist," Montie says. "I suspect the scam artists don't stay in business long, or end up in jail."

Jaquith explains that while he has "zero knowledge" about DMT, he is familiar with the industry in general. "While this industry may be a scam," Jaquith explains, "that doesn't make it illegal. A scam is simply an unequal arrangement in which one party profits from the ignorance or misfortune of another party. This entire transaction is based on unequal parties."

Indeed, some comments on Jaquith's blog characterize Montie as a "predator," Of course, Montie does not see himself that way.

"A predator attacks a weaker prey and forcibly kills it," he says. "I don't do this, and I suspect no other ‘we buy houses'– or any other self-respecting business– does this."

Montie says while he understands how one might have that perception of his business, he is simply an entrepreneur who offers alternative financing arrangements or sales methods to more traditional real estate transactions. People, he says, can freely accept or reject his offers.

So, what gives?

Montie, citing the competition, refuses to identify anyone with whom he has done business. Public records are little help– neither of the two Albemarle County properties offered for sale on Monte's website are owned by Montie, and neither shows evidence of a recent transaction.

But focusing on Montie– or on the largely semantic debate of whether his business is a "scam"– may miss the larger issue: the double whammy of a declining housing market and tighter credit.

All over America, that double-punch is creating problems. According to Peter Loach, deputy director of the non-profit Piedmont Housing Alliance, and Aisha Quarles, a PHA lending specialist, the number of clients seeking their debt-related assistance has more than tripled from last year.

"We used to get one or two people coming in every week," Loach says. "Now it's one or two per day."

According to Loach and Quarles, to homeowners having money problems, the prospect of quick cash from someone like Montie can seem heaven-sent.

But, Loach and Quarles note, the industry is a breeding ground for predatory practices. It's difficult to measure the magnitude of the problem, they say, or easily identify wrongdoers because real estate transactions can be complex, causing predation to go undetected.

But even in the absence of predatory practices, Loach points out that selling a house at or below its assessed value as a way of escaping a load of debt is typically "not the best option you have." There are, in fact, many other alternatives, he says, such as negotiating better loan terms with your current lender.

"Education is the key," Quarles adds, noting that if you do need help, the sooner you act, the better. If you have already lost your house, however, they may not be able to help; legal advice would be the next step.

The Alliance wouldn't mind being your first stop, Loach and Quarles say, for both advice and help. Their phone number is 434-817-2436, and they can be found online at

[In the print version of this story, the last name of Dominick Montie was misspelled; it has been corrected in this online edition–editor.]