I love free stuff but hate wasting time. Today I came up FAIL on both counts.
I was recently cold-called by some real estate seminar promoters. These people probably got my phone number from the usual lists. They were pitching a free seminar that I knew would be a tease for some huge rip-off. This free seminar came with a twist: A free book and digital camera, plus an appearance by a TV business personality, were part of the deal.
Who's the TV personality? He won the first season of a reality TV competition and spent a couple of years under contract with the network as a shill for a blowhard real estate developer and his charities. Now he's married to another entertainment talking head, completing his transformation from legitimate entrepreneur into soulless media package.
I wanted the free stuff, so I said yes, plus I really needed to amuse myself. A week later their call center followed up by pitching me a "VIP seating" package that I politely turned down. No way was I paying one stinking penny for what I consider to be free entertainment. I hadn't even walked in the door and they were already trying to find a way to get my money. They later sent me a confirmation email stating that the TV personality would appear by "remote linkup," and the real presenter was someone else. Boy, was I in for a treat.
The momentous day of the seminar was today (actually, it was a day in April 2010, but remember this is a repost) at an airport hotel near San Francisco. This particular hotel has been the scene of a few other free seminars I've attended, with the likes of two other shills pitching their garbage.
Who's one of those shills? He's a self-promoting personal improvement guru whose amateurish sweat lodge retreat caused the deaths of three participants in October 2009. His company can't pay any legal claims because it spent every penny customers had prepaid for future events that are now cancelled. Brilliant!
Who's the other shill? You know him as the author of one series of books about a rich parent who probably never existed. I'll let you read what others say about the person's real estate knowledge so you don't waste your own time or money.
The time I spent waiting for the registration table to open gave me some entertainment. A disheveled man carrying a ratty bookbag and wearing a shirt that looked like it hadn't been changed since 1979 asked me if this was the right place for the seminar. I said yes, but I didn't want to break his heart by breaking the news that the TV celebrity would only be present electronically. "My relatives all think I'm crazy for coming here," he said. I wasn't about to argue with him. During the seminar he actually started talking to himself. I guess I didn't have to argue with him at all, since he was doing it for me.
I sat in the back of the seminar room because I suspected I might be making a quick exit, free stuff or not. I asked one of the speaker-dudes if I could get my free digital camera now. Unsurprisingly, he said "No, I have some things to teach you first." Some young chick I crossed paths with asked me if we were supposed to do anything with the registration letter we got in the mail. She chuckled when I said, "Of course not." The suckers who were dumb enough to pay for VIP seating were sitting up in the front two rows, sectioned off with . . . wait for it . . . masking tape. There were at least eleven of these idiots up there, soon to be separated from more of their money by the shysters running this carnival.
The guy next to me admitted he only wanted the free camera too. "I have to get my wife a birthday present, and this looked like the best way since I'm unemployed and have no savings." Wow. I was mentally going through the items I remembered from a publicly available Real Estate Artist B.S. Checklist and all of the signs were appearing as predicted. The audience members were all definitely the dregs of society, sloppily dressed and ugly. Two guys even came wearing slippers.
The main event started. The TV personality appeared all right, not via "remote linkup," but by a digital recording that looked like it had been edited from a Skype session. He gave a generic introduction that mentioned no target audience, so it was obviously designed to be used repeatedly on the road. I honestly believe that most of the people in the room were dumb enough to think he was speaking to them live. Mr. TV Dude, I'll tell you right now, being associated with this promotional scheme is going to come back to haunt you when the whole thing collapses from lawsuits.
The main pitchman leading off was some guy I had never seen before. He's pitched similar seminars for the blowhard real estate developer; the TV personality's recorded intro mentioned him as a former blowhard associate and triathlete. I only knew him as the guy who told me I had to "learn something from him" to get a free camera at the end. Both learning something and getting that free camera were looking increasingly unlikely.
The first 30 minutes of the seminar told me everything I needed to know about what the promoters thought of their audience's intelligence. More signs from the B.S. checklist appeared. The pitchman dropped hints at a luxurious lifestyle by showing pics of a huge development he claimed to have some part in finishing. The rubes in the VIP seats must have been suitably impressed.
I decided to leave after two slides insulted my intelligence. The first was a chart that looked like a standard distribution of real estate foreclosures. The obvious problem (to my MBA-trained mind anyway) was that the timeline on the graph ran from 2007-2012 but a box imposed on the chart - split down the middle - said the bulge of foreclosures would be 2010-2011. In other words, a two-year timeline was symmetrically imposed on a six-year timeline even though they both had different midpoints. It was also a perfectly symmetrical distribution, which for a timeline makes no sense at all. The statistically illiterate people in the audience probably missed that one.
The next insult was too much to bear. The platform pitchman said that banks don't like holding foreclosed properties because they don't want to manage real estate. Fair enough. Then he said this whopper: "When the bank forecloses on a mortgaged property, it's no longer an asset for the bank. It becomes a LIABILITY." That's complete BALONEY. A home owned by a bank is still an asset; it's just not producing any income, from mortgages, rents, or otherwise. It does not move from one column of a balance sheet to another, although it does change asset categories and can be written down in value significantly. Analysts like yours truly know this; idiots and suckers wearing slippers to seminars will never know it.
I couldn't take any more. I left after exactly 40 minutes of this circus. I wasn't going to wait around for another six hours in the hope of getting the TV personality's free book, some free digital camera that was probably junk, and whatever free lunch they mentioned. It was probably going to be a baloney sandwich. I'd had my fill of free baloney for the day.
I hope you all enjoyed this blast from the past. It's almost five years old and I still think it's funny. All that I have read about this particular real estate promotion since I wrote this article in April 2010 convinces me that they have not changed their ways. I will not name names because I don't need a reprise of the legal liability they threatened to throw at me a few years ago. The reprise of the article, stripped of identifying information, is enough.