This story shows just how vulnerable people can become when they are facing a foreclosure. Many of these people have not only signed away their homes, they paid a company to take it from them.
Arnel Reyes remembers the day he signed over the deed to his house to United Investments of Hayward. His wife had just lost her job and the couple was facing the foreclosure of their home in Bay Point.
"I couldn't afford a mortgage plus the other bills that we had, at that point I just wanted to save my credit," said Reyes.
United Investments charged Reyes $2,000 to take possession of his home. He claims the company told him it had a potential buyer and could do a short sale. The contract made no guarantees a foreclosure could be prevented, but Reyes figured by signing up he could save his credit, if not his house.
"They said if they couldn't save it, they would foreclose on it under their name and not our name," said Reyes.
Hayward resident Lorenzo Lawson answered an ad on Craigslist from United Investment offering to rent out the Reyes home. Lawson said the company told him he might eventually be able to buy it.
"If they want to have me stay there, maybe I could rent to own," said Lawson.
He paid $2,000 to United Investments before moving in and before he knew it, he found a foreclosure notice on his door. Lawson was forced to leave the home and the lender foreclosed on the Reyes' property. Reyes says he felt deceived.
"They said on the web site or on the interview we had in their office, that they would actually, you know, help us save our credit, and they would foreclose on them instead of us. But it didn't work out that way," said Reyes.
It didn't work out that way for a lot of other people too.
7 On Your Side checked public records. United Investments, also known as CAA International, has taken over the deeds of 15 properties since 2008 in Contra Costa County alone. Nine of the homes have already been foreclosed; foreclosures are pending on five of the remaining six properties.
California Attorney General Jerry Brown wouldn't talk about this case, but says these types of schemes are suspect.
"Actually, getting people to sign over their title out of some story the scam artist tells the homeowner, I don't know how prevalent it is, but if we find it, we'll certainly turn it over to the local district attorney for prosecution," said Brown.
7 On Your Side went to the offices of United Investments for some answers. The company's president is Carl Renowitzsky, the man both Reyes and Lawson say they dealt with. 7 On Your Side showed up at his office several times in an attempt to see Renowitzsky.
Renowitzky was nowhere to be found, but 7 On Your Side did find a cease and desist order against Renowitzky in 1999 from the state Department of Real Estate.
The order accused him of operating without a license. The Department of Real Estate said he was involved in at least 10 real estate transactions at this time. 7 On Your Side found the records for five of those transactions, and once again, United Investments talked homeowners into signing over the deeds of their home.
Four of the five transactions 7 On Your Side tracked, ended in foreclosure.
The fifth house belonged to the Johnsons of Richmond. They avoided foreclosure, but were surprised when they found out United Investments wasn't paying off their mortgage.
"They were collecting the rent from the tenant, but half the time not making the mortgage payment," said Cecilia Johnson.
The name on United Investment's door now says Property Group. A spokesman told 7 On Your Side by phone that United Investments is no longer in business, but when it was, everything was fully disclosed to its clients.
Adding a bit of irony, 7 On Your Side found two homes listed in Renowitzky's name and both are in foreclosure.
Meantime, the Alameda County District Attorney's Office has launched an investigation of United Investments.
If you had any dealings with United Investments, e-mail 7 On Your Side here: Contact 7 On Your Side