Reality TV star Armando Montelongo bills himself as the "most sought out real estate expert in the world," and he's offering to share his secrets to success at a series of seminars in the Charleston area this week.
But critics and the Better Business Bureau have urged people to be wary of the pitch at Montelongo's "Mega Millionaire Round Table Live," which begins a three-day Holy City run on Wednesday.
The "Flip This House" star's seminars promise to help consumers "learn to make cash" with no money or credit by reselling properties purchased for "pennies on the dollar." His website talks of achieving "total financial freedom" and making up to $60,000 per month flipping homes.
Dozens of consumers in other states, however, have complained to the Better Business Bureau about the seminars, saying the events fell short of providing the real estate information they expected, the BBB stated. Some customers also requested the BBB's help in getting their money back, the agency reported.
Montelongo defended his seminars when contacted Friday. He said he offers a solid education in real estate investing and only a small minority of attendees have filed complaints. "People do walk away from our free seminars with valuable house flipping information," he said.
Not so, said Pennsylvania resident Mike Pergolin, who attended one of Montelongo's free seminars in Philadelphia earlier this year.
Pergolin, a 44-year-old landscaper, said he went there in search of new opportunities. The event, however, offered little beyond steering people to another three-day Montelongo seminar that costs $1,497, Pergolin said.
Pergolin said he went to the longer event as the guest of a friend with whom he split the admission price. But that event offered little concrete information about the real estate business, he said. Instead, presenters pushed people to sign on for additional Montelongo events and materials that cost tens of thousands of dollars more, Pergolin said.
Pergolin said the seminars were run by Montelongo's staff and he never saw the self-styled real estate guru at either event.
"It was just a circus," he said. "Now, I'm in the hole for $750 and I learned absolutely nothing."
Very similar complaints have been filed with the Better Business Bureau and various consumer websites. Such complaints prompted the Austin (Texas) BBB to issue a warning on May 20 advising people to think twice about attending upcoming Montelongo seminars in that city. The BBB noted that 60 complaints had been lodged against San Antonio-based Armando Montelongo Worldwide Inc. in the past 36 months, 16 of which have been ignored.
The business watchdog said it contacted Montelongo's company in June with concerns about the company's advertising and the pattern of consumer complaints. The company waited until May 5 of this year to respond, saying it had changed some of its advertising claims. The BBB, however, has withheld a rating for the company pending additional information.
Montelongo said he was disappointed by the BBB's warning letter to consumers. He also noted that complaints had been filed by just .04 percent of the 120,000 people who had attended his company's seminars in the past year, and that the majority of those complaints had been resolved.
"We are fully committed to our students and their educational success, and work each day to ensure a positive and valuable experience with us," Montelongo said.
It is unclear if Montelongo will be in attendance at the three different events in Charleston, Mount Pleasant and North Charleston, as he is scheduled to host other seminars simultaneously in California this week. When asked directly if he intends to come to the Holy City, he said simply that it is not feasible for him to attend every live event his company holds. He added, however, that his "right hand men and women" are in place to teach his strategies and tactics to students should his presence be required elsewhere.
Charleston's Richard C. Davis, the creator and former host of "Flip This House," said he is troubled by how some of his successors on the show have used his brainchild as a platform to market "get-rich-quick" books and tapes. Davis said his original intent was to show how challenging it is to flip houses and disabuse people of the notion that this was easy money.
Davis parted ways with the show after the first season and later won a $4 million verdict against the A&E cable network in a dispute over profits from the venture. He said he's never met Montelongo but he knows it's "mathematically impossible" for everyone attending the house-flipping seminars to get rich in that line of work.
There's just too much to know and too much competition from pros, Davis said. To tell people otherwise is to give them false hope.
"This is difficult work," Davis said. "You might make money, you might not, but you don't have a shot if you don't do this all day every day."