Real Estate TV shows should be viewed with skepticism

Turns out “Flip This House” got flipped. One of the star flippers is nothing more than a con man who had his friends and family posing as buyers and who really didn’t fix or sell the houses he was shown to be flipping on Flip This House. Amazingly enough, the only episode I ever saw of Flip This House was this exact guy, the con man. I remember, watching him close the deal, thinking “that’s not how a deal is closed”. It looked too easy, and sort of fake. I wrote it off a dramatic re-creation, or reality TV hokeyness, but it turns out it was in fact all bogus.

Here’s the story:

‘Flip This House’ Star Accused of Fraud
Associated Press
‘Flip This House’ Star Accused of Fraud and Faking Work on Popular Show

ATLANTA (AP) — On an episode of A&E’s popular reality series “Flip This House,” Atlanta businessman Sam Leccima sits in front of a run-down house and calls buying and selling real estate his passion.

Now authorities and legal filings claim that Leccima’s true passion was a series of scams that included faking the home renovations shown on the cable TV show and claiming to have sold houses he never owned.

“This is, indeed, a con artist,” said Sonya McGee, an Atlanta pharmaceutical representative who says Leccima took $4,000 from her in an investment scheme.

McGee and others say Leccima’s episodes of “Flip This House,” A&E’s most popular show, were elaborate hoaxes. His friends and family were presented as potential homebuyers and “sold” signs were slapped in front of unsold houses. They say the home repairs — the lynchpin of the show — were actually quick or temporary patch jobs designed to look good on camera.

Leccima says he never claimed to own the homes. While not acknowledging his televised renovations were staged, he didn’t deny it and suggested that A&E and Departure Films, the production company that makes the show, knew exactly what he was doing.

“Ask anybody who works in television how a reality show is made and you’ll find that ours was a very typical approach,” Leccima said in a telephone interview.

When it recently learned of the claims against Leccima, the cable network pulled reruns of his episodes off the air and wiped his mentions from its Web site.

Leccima, 36, presented himself as a successful real estate investor during the 2006 season of the cable show, which depicted him buying, refurbishing and reselling Atlanta-area homes for profits of $77,000 and more. But Leccima doesn’t have a real estate license — it was revoked by the Georgia Real Estate Commission in 2005, with the panel ruling he “does not bear a good reputation for honesty, trustworthiness, integrity, and competence.” Now he’s under investigation by the Georgia Secretary of State’s office for securities fraud.

Leccima said his lawyer advised him against talking about the investigation or the claims made by McGee and others. He did say that some of the criticism stems from his high profile.

“I’m a business person and I think I have as many people that like me as don’t like me,” he said. “Anyone who puts their face on national television should realize they’ve signed a Faustian deal of sorts.”

However, Atlanta-area real estate records show Leccima never owned several of the homes he’s been shown fixing up on television.

WAGA-TV in Atlanta, which first aired the claims against Leccima, has shown footage from inside one of the homes, which had mismatched wooden floors and unpainted patched walls that were out of the view of TV cameras on “Flip This House.”

McGee said she attended what was billed as a wrap party at one home. But when the party was shown on “Flip This House,” it was presented as an open house at which someone expresses interest in buying the property.

New York-based Departure Films did not return repeated telephone calls to its offices by The Associated Press. A&E spokesman Dan Silberman said the network has stopped working with Leccima, who doesn’t appear in this season’s episodes.

“We are dismayed to learn of these allegations,” read a statement issued by the network. “A&E Television Networks is not a party to any of the transactions shown in Flip This House and has not received any formal complaints about the properties or sales.”

Silberman said the network — a joint venture of Hearst Corp., Walt Disney Co. and General Electric Co.’s NBC Universal — doesn’t investigate claims made by people on the show, opting to take them at their word.

The Better Business Bureau gives Leccima’s company, Leccima Capital Partners, LLP, an “unsatisfactory” rating, saying four complaints have been filed against it in three years.

One of the complaint was from McGee, who said she considered Leccima a friend — even vacationing in Brazil with him and his wife. She said the Leccimas stopped returning her calls once she started asking for her money back.

Dan Ward, an Atlanta-area youth minister, said he told state investigators that Leccima took about $100,000 from him to invest in real estate, but, as far as he knows, Leccima never developed anything with it. He hasn’t received his money back.

McGee said appearing on the TV show made it easier for Leccima to find such investors: “As soon as that first episode aired, he got phone calls from people saying, ‘I love you. Where can I send you some money?'”

Posted by Steve
9 years ago

Steve is a Real Estate Blogger, Husband and Dad, UT Austin Grad, Runner, Real Estate Broker and owner of Crossland Team and Crossland Real Estate in Austin TX.

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Josh - 9 years ago

There are other inconsistencies in this show. I’m always stunned to see the show throw up some “numbers” on the costs of renovations that are completely unrealistic. Contracted work like full landscaping and resodding are presented as costing, say, $800. New addition to the house? Six grand. I’d like to hire the contractor these people must be using.

Lenny - 9 years ago

what about the costs of doing business?…. they always show cost to purchase and cost to remodel then show profit…. that is gross profit before overhead and owners compensation… figure 40% for costs of doing business… then in addition… the inevitable business busting lawsuit! what goes around comes around

Bill - 9 years ago

TLC actually has a better flip show – either Property Ladder or Flip That House that is much more realistic — showing the problems of doing it at low cost, tribulations of unseasoned flippers, and the actual profit after transaction costs.

TLC’s the Real Deal, which features the folks from the first season of the A&E show, is little more than Marketing for Richard Davis’ company, albeit entertaining to watch.

Eileen - 9 years ago

I agree with Bill that the TLC shows are better, although you are wise to be skeptical even of these programs as well. For a great analysis of Flip That House:

Provides a reality check in all this….

Steve - 9 years ago

Hi Eileen,

John Reed does do a good job of pointing out the obvious problems with the Flip shows. Since I don’t have time to watch TV (or even have Cable TV) the only time I get to see any of those shows is when I’m travelling nad staying in a hotel.

John Reed has also been picking apart the various Real Estate Investment Gurus on his site for many years. He’s an interesting guy, especially that his website is still so 1998ish.

Michael - 9 years ago

More support for the old adage, “If it’s to good to be true, it probably is”. Buyer beware!


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