Investigation: Seller Beware - Dallas News | myFOXdfw.com

Investigation: Seller Beware

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A Fort Worth woman who thought she was helping the poor is now finding herself in need.

Sharon Spruill placed her faith in a nonprofit organization working out of her church. But she learned the fine print can later be a problem.

"I feel betrayed, really feel betrayed," said Sharon Spruill holding her hands and crying.

Spruill says she trusted her church and she trusted Grant Trevithick.

Trevithick is not talking on camera but Spruill says she can no longer keep quiet. 

"I feel such an obligation to warn people," said Spruill

She wants to warn people about a complicated real estate deal she says put her entire life savings in limbo. Back in December 2011, Spruill decided to sell her Arlington home.The maintenance was getting high. She is 64, single and disabled. 

That is when she met Trevithick at her church in Fort Worth. He was operating a nonprofit called Hope Homes, that helps heal poverty "one house at a time." Trevithick had an office at the church where Spruill had been a member for years. She knew the pastor and his wife. She wanted to help the needy.

"You trusted these people?" Becky Oliver asked.

"Absolutely, absolutely did," said Spruill.

Spruill says she agreed to a deal where Trevithick would help a needy family buy her home, a family who couldn't qualify for a conventional loan.

She complained to the Texas Attorney General and the Texas Department of Savings and Mortgage Lending that the pastor's wife encouraged her to work with Hope Homes. And she understood after 6 months to a year, the buyer would refinance and she would get her money, $87,822.87.

She showed Fox 4 a company brochure that states, "Under Hope Homes refinance program, the buyer is eligible to refinance the mortgage loan once the loan is seasoned: 6 months payments on time, 550 credit score or more."

But as the months ticked by, there was no refinance, no money and the paperwork shows she does not get her principal until the year 2020.

"I had been told 6-12 months over and over again," said Spruill. "I would never have done that, not on what I make a month. I would never have done that."

But she did, on paper. And Spruill also signed off that she understood there were no oral agreements, no assurances that the buyer may ever refinance and she was not under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

"It is incredulous to look at the number of different documents she was required to sign," said Craig Penfold, of Chicago Title Insurance Company.

Penfold is an attorney and a former district judge. He says it would take him at least 3 hours to fully explain Spruill's documents.  He says he has closed more than 10,000 deals and has never seen anything like what Spruill signed.

"If I got a packet of documents with a contract with all of these attachments, it would raise all kinds of red flags to me. I would ask why because that is not the usual way transactions are done in Texas."

Grant Trevithick is the author of numerous self-improvement and spiritual books. Records also show he was busted for child pornography. In 2007, he pleaded guilty and spent more than 2 years in federal prison. He is now a registered sex offender.

"I am not interested, thank you," said Trevithick when Oliver approached him outside the post office in Carrollton. "I have a letter I am sending you right now."

Trevithick sent two letters to Fox 4, one 15 pages long saying, "Owner financing is a legal and acceptable method of purchasing and selling homes." It says he "works hard to ensure that all transactions are conducted with the highest ideals of honesty and integrity" and he "carefully explained the entire transaction" to Spruill, including the "benefits and potential risks."

"It was just at wits end," said Linda Clark.

Clark also sold her home back in 2011.  She had lived there for 21 years but was facing foreclosure. She agreed to a deal with the understanding she'd get the equity, about $7,000, out of the house in a few months. But two years later, nothing. 

"I could use that money now," said Clark.

Clark's paperwork shows Trevithick's company Meta Holdings, agreed to pay the Clarks 20% of the net profits from the sale but the papers signed at closing don't mention any money for the Clarks.  Trevithick's letter to Fox 4 says he did make a "commitment" to pay the Clarks and he will "honor that agreement" if the home is ever refinanced.

"You thought you'd be out of this by now?" asked Oliver

"Yes," said Desiree Mills, another homeowner.

Mills says she agreed to an owner finance deal with Trevithick in 2011. She started to worry when late pays starting posting to her account because the mortgage is still in her name even though the buyers are living there.

"They are calling me 3, 4 times a day, the mortgage is late. It is not paid. I started to stress," said Mills.

It turns out Trevithick's company split and now his former co-workers have her home. That new company blames a third company's technical issues for the late pays but promises to clean up the mess.

"No, I wanted this gone by now. This should be at a close," said Mills.

Sharon Spruill now lives in a small apartment and gets about $380 a month in interest payments from Trevithick. 

After Spruill complained to the church, Trevithick's office shut down and he moved out.  The church sent Fox 4 a letter stating, "Hope Homes in an independent nonprofit organization" and the deal was between Spruill and Hope Homes.

Spruill lives on disability and is struggling both financially and emotionally.

"I've got people saying you better shut your mouth or God is going to shut it for you," said Spruill crying. "You just need to forgive and forget it. How many people would forget a $165,000 investment when I am 65 years old and going into the last part of my life?" Spruill asked.

The Texas Department of Savings and Mortgage Lending told Spruill it has no jurisdiction over these types of transactions. Anyone can hang up a sign and start a real estate investment company. You don't need a license. Craig Penfold of Chicago Title recommends a seller hire an attorney to review all closing documents if the deal is out of the ordinary. He also recommends closing at a title company and getting title insurance.

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