There was once a middle aged factory worker in Michigan named Mike. Mike lost his job when his factory was shuttered. The same job his dad had worked for 40 years. The job Mike had held since high school. Mike started as a line worker, and eventually worked his way up to foreman. But his employer had installed new machinery in a plant 100 miles away, and it had tripled that plant’s output, so the employer saved money by closing Mike’s factory. That made shareholders very happy. But that didn’t help Mike. Mike had a wife and two kids to feed at home. His only asset was the house he had bought in an okay neighborhood, on his factory wage. The house was mostly paid off, but with no job, and no good prospects, Mike was worried about how he was going to keep paying his mortgage and put food on his family’s plate. He was angry and frustrated, and pretty soon, he was behind on his mortgage.
Then one day, while Mike was looking for jobs online, a man came to the door. The man said he had heard that Mike lost his job, and was behind on his mortgage. “You know, Mike, I’ve seen this happen to a lot of good, hard working Americans. And it’s just not fair. You know where your job went, don’t you? Mexico. Or maybe China. There’s probably a guy named Jose doing your job in Tijuana right now, for $3 an hour. Nobody cares about the little guy anymore. It’s just not fair. But you know what, I think I can help.”
“You own your home, right Mike?” the man asked. “Yes, I do, thank God.” replied Mike. “Well, I’m a very successful real estate developer. I’ve made lots and lots of money building homes and selling them for a profit. I have so much money, that I don’t really need to make money any more. So I’m just trying to help people who don’t have as much. I think I can help people like you, Mike. Do you want to know how?” “Well, mister, I don’t know how you can help me, but I’ll listen to anything at this point,” Mike replied.
The man sat down with Mike and explained how he could buy Mike’s home at fair value and rent it back to Mike. That way, Mike would have more than enough money to tide him over until he got a new job. When Mike got back on his feet, the man said, he would sell the house back to Mike at the same price, and Mike could get a loan from the bank to cover the difference. “I just need to do a walk through so we can figure out a fair value for the house,” the man said. He showed up the next day with a shiny new hard hat on, and Mike walked him through the house.
“Oh boy, these walls have a lot of dry rot,” said the man. “These support beams aren’t thick enough — that’s because they were built a long time ago — and I think you might have termites,” he said. “Uh oh, your pipes are a little rusted. We’ll need to fix that.” The man had something negative to say in every part of the house. “Say Mike, did you have a professional electrician install the wires here? These are a fire hazard. You’re gonna have to replace them if you want to get up to code. You can’t compromise the safety of your family.” “It looks like the paint is chipping here. We’ll need a new coat of paint on everything.” “Hey Mike, do you see this line on the floor in your basement? That means the foundation is going to crack. There was a lot of shoddy foundation work being done when this place was built. We’ll probably have to replace it. That’s an expensive project.” “Does your roof leak, Mike? If not, it’s about to start, maybe the next time it rains. I think it’s time for a new roof, Mike.” “Hey Mike, did you build this fireplace yourself? Boy, it sure looks great. You must have put a lot of work into it, huh? But see here, where the stones are a little off-line? I think we’ll probably have to re-do it. You did a really great job, and it looks fantastic, but you can get gas leaks or discoloration with masonry that isn’t perfectly lined up.”
The man and Mike sat down at Mike’s kitchen table, and went over the numbers. “You know, Mike, I don’t know if I can do this. There’s a lot of problems with this house, and I don’t know that if I buy it, I could sell it back to you in good conscience. What if I sold it back to you in a year, and the electrical system went out or caught fire the next day?” Mike thought the house had been in good shape, but he hadn’t done any work in a few years, and the man seemed to know what he was doing. “Look, I’m gonna have to discount everything for the cost of the work, and I’ll get things fixed here and there — I have some great contractors who can do a really fabulous job much cheaper than anyone you could hire — but you have to promise me that when I sell it back to you, you’re going to do the rest of the work. I couldn’t sleep at night if I thought your kids were sleeping in a fire hazard.”
They reviewed all the work that needed to be done, and the man said “Other houses like this have sold for $300,000, but that was before the factory closed, and those houses didn’t need half as much work done. And this isn’t really even a very good neighborhood. Mike, the best I can do is $200,000. But, remember, it’s only temporary, and you’ll be able to buy it back next year. And while you’re looking for jobs, I’ll be talking to a lot of important people, Mike. We’re going to get that factory re-opened, and force your employer to shut down their Mexican and Chinese factories, and start hiring Americans again. You might have your old job back, with extra pay, by this time next year! And think about it, Mike. We can make this deal right now, but if you don’t, the bank might foreclose on you. A lot of people are saying the banks have been foreclosing very fast. It’s this terrible economy. Factories are closing everywhere, and there are a lot of people who are getting left behind. It’s really unfair. You don’t really have a lot of options here, Mike. If you go to a real estate agent, they’re just going to sell it as cheap as possible, and take a huge percentage of the profits for themselves. And that’s if they can sell it at all. Really, real estate agents and other so-called ‘experts’ are just out to fleece you. Lucky for you, I don’t even want to make a profit here. I’m just trying to help you out.”
It was a lot to process, but Mike was very worried about the bank foreclosing. He asked the man if he could sleep on it and discuss it with his wife. “That’s a great idea, Mike, but there’s a problem. I have the cash in the car outside. And I can only do the deal today, Mike. I have to head back to work on another project tomorrow, and I won’t be able to come back for a while. If you wait, it might be too late. And, if the bank forecloses while you’re thinking about it, there’s nothing I can do to help. Think about your kids, Mike. They can’t go live in a hotel.”
Mike thought very hard. He was convinced he could get more money for his house if he sold it on the market. Or maybe he could go to the bank and get some money out by refinancing. But the bank was the one that would foreclose on him. And who knows what would happen if he put the house on the market. If people saw the cracking foundation, and the shoddy electrical work, and the dry rot, no one would want to buy it for half what it was worth. At least this way he could get some money now, keep living in the house, and once he got a new job, he could buy the house back for the same $200,000. It was too good of a deal to pass up.
“Mister, you’ve got a deal. I really appreciate you helping me out here. I sure hope you can get those Chinese and Mexican factories shut down so I can get back to work. I never asked for anything unfair, just a steady job with steady pay, so I can raise my kids right. I promise I won’t forget what you’ve done for us. My wife and I will be praying for you and your family this Sunday in church. God bless you.” “It’s my pleasure, Mike. We’ll get the lease and re-sale agreement set up next week. God bless you too, and thank you for what you have done for America. We need more hard working men like you, and we need to make sure America treats you fairly.”
Mike signed the contract the man handed him, and took the $200,000 in a cashier’s check. He went to the bank to cash the check. The cashier said, “oh, look Arlene, another one! Goodness, that man has written a lot of checks recently. Honey, this will take about seven days to clear, but you can take out $500 now.” Mike took out his $500.
When Mike got home from a job interview the next week, he saw a for-sale sign on his lawn, with a website address. He ran inside and typed in the web address.
“Quaint home in hot up-and-coming neighborhood. Excellent craftsmanship throughout. Plumbing and electrical like new. Sturdy foundation. Hand-crafted fireplace. This is the perfect home to raise a family! Built when homes had strong foundations and thick support beams, this home will last forever. Priced to sell at $375,000!”
Mike’s calls to the man went straight to an answering service. He brought his contract to a lawyer and asked how he could get out of the contract. “There’s nothing you can do, Mike. You sold the house to this man fair and square.” “But, what about the lease? At least he has to rent it to me for the next year, right? And don’t I get to buy it back?” “That isn’t in writing, Mike. I’m sorry, but there’s nothing you can do about it.”
The next day, Mike got an eviction notice. He tried to fight it in court, but his $200,000 check hadn’t cleared — the bank had put a 90-day hold on it because of some suspected fraudulent activity. He tried to fight that in court. But the only answers he received were from lawyers for the man who had bought his house. They denied everything, and told Mike he would never be able to win against them in court. The contract was binding, and he should have known better.
Mike and his family moved back in with Mike’s parents. Mike later settled his lawsuits against the man for $50,000. That check, fortunately, cleared.
One day, the man, the real estate developer, happened to walk by a store where Mike had found a temporary job. Mike went to confront the man and asked “Why did you do this? You lied to me. You said you were going to help me. You said America needed hard working men like me. You even understood that it was unfair that my job had been shipped to Mexico. You said you didn’t even need any more money, and that you would sell me back my house. Why did you do this to me and my family? I even let you in to my house!”
“Oh shut up, silly man,” said the real estate developer with a grin
“You knew damn well just what I was before you took me in.”