This is the first article in what turned into a series. Here is the next article. Each article will take you to the next.
We have a home for sale. On February 10, 2014 I received a call with the caller ID blocked. The caller identified herself as “JJ” and said she was interested in our house. She asked if it needed any repairs. I said, “None that I’m aware of.” She asked for my email address so she could send me an offer. She said she’d get back to me in 2-3 days.
Let’s pause a minute: Caller with blocked caller ID wants to buy a $400,000 house solely based on the fact that the seller claims it doesn’t need any repairs. She’s ready to make any offer.
Are you thinking “scam”, maybe?
A couple days later I get this email:
Date: Thursday, February 13, 2014 6:39 AM
To: Craig Rairdin <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Your Property For Sale (2/10)Dear Craig,My name is JJ. I spoke to you on Monday (2/10) about your property for sale. I’m e-mailing you to inform we’ve researched the property and will be putting an offer in later today. We’re currently putting the offer together and you should receive it this afternoon or evening.Thank You,
Flat Stone Capital LLC.
I googled “Flat Stone Capital LLC” and found www.flatstonecapital.com. They purchase properties with a rent-to-own contract. During the period of the contract they will attempt to sell the property. In the meantime they sublet it.
So I would own a house that is being purchased on contract by a company in Florida and is being occupied by a tenant I’ve never met. At the end of the contract period they either buy me out or I get the house back. If I get the house back, I could be in a situation where I have to evict a tenant from my own home. In either case (whether they move out or not) I could have thousands of dollars worth of repairs to do before I could market my house again.
Will this happen? Can’t say. Could this happen? Sure. That’s one of the risks of this kind of arrangement.
Pros? Money in my pocket today plus monthly income… Cons? Renters I’ve never met could move in and trash my house.
A quick check of the Florida Department of State website showed that Flat Stone Capital was a real company with an owner named JJ Pierce. After reading the FAQs on their website, I concluded this probably was a legitimate business. But I also concluded this deal wasn’t for me.
The FAQs implied that they get a lot of negative reaction from people who think they are a scam. So in the interest of being a Fine Human Being, a Model for the Youth of America, and an All-Around Nice Guy, I replied to JJ’s email:
From: Craig Rairdin <email@example.com>
Date: Thursday, February 13, 2014 7:46 AM
Subject: RE: Your Property For Sale (2/10)JJ,Let me save you some time: I’ve read your FAQ and I’m not interested in an offer with your terms.I see from the FAQ that you must get very negative reactions from people who think you’re some kind of a scam. If you don’t mind some advice, let me suggest three reasons they might come to that conclusion:1) You block your caller ID. I see from the FAQ why you do that, but it’s VERY suspicious to those of us on the other end. How about calling from a number that is answered by a machine that explains that you’re from Flat Stone Capital, that you’re a real estate investment company, and that you’ll be contacting the seller by email if you are interested in the home? That way you don’t have to deal with harrassment and you get past the no-caller-id issue.2) You don’t view the house and don’t ask the right questions about the house. You obviously have someone in my area of the country taking care of your properties; why not have that person visit target properties and ask some better questions? In our case you only asked about needed repairs, which is a weird question in our price range. You went right from there to telling me you were going to make an offer. A buyer who is willing to buy a home sight-unseen on the basis that the seller told her there were no repairs needed raises suspicion.3) You have an AOL email address. ‘Nuff said.Thanks for the call and the potential offer. It was an interesting experience and will do much to prep me for the REAL scams that are sure to come.Craig
Here’s JJ’s response. Bold text is copied (or closely paraphrased) from the FAQ I told her I already read. The point of my email had been to address the issues in the FAQ answers that she’s quoting back to me:
Date: Thursday, February 13, 2014 8:01 AM
To: Craig Rairdin <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Re: Your Property For Sale (2/10) (RJ)In a message dated 2/13/2014 8:46:18 A.M. Eastern Standard Time, email@example.com writes:
1) You block your caller ID. I see from the FAQ why you do that, but it's VERY suspicious to those of us on the other end. How about calling from a number that is answered by a machine that explains that you're from Flat Stone Capital, that you're a real estate investment company, and that you'll be contacting the seller by email if you are interested in the home? That way you don't have to deal with harrassment and you get past the no-caller-id issue.
We’ve come to find that when we’re calling people that have a home for sale with an unblocked number, we then will start getting unsolicited calls to come see the property, they’re having an open house, they’re offering special terms, please buy our house, etc. Which is fine even though we’re not interested in the property, but quite a few bad apples which turned harassing when we told them “No Thanks” has led us to block the number. As you can see, since we have an interest in your property all forms of communication from us have been provided.
2) You don't view the house and don't ask the right questions about the house. You obviously have someone in my area of the country taking care of your properties; why not have that person visit target properties and ask some better questions? In our case you only asked about needed repairs, which is a weird question in our price range. You went right from there to telling me you were gong to make an offer. A buyer who is willing to buy a home sight-unseen on the basis that the seller told her there were no repairs needed raises suspicion.
We’ve seen the outside of it. Everything else we need to know is public record. We know how much you paid for it, how long you’ve lived in it, any improvements made, how much the taxes are, how much rent is going for in the area, how much properties are selling in the area. We would not be living in the property so we do not need to see the inside. Anything that is worth mentioning you are legally required to disclose to us, and everything else our inspection would catch.
3) You have an AOL email address. 'Nuff said.Really? We have @flatstone.com email addresses. However, AOL has by far the best email filing system on the market. If that makes us look suspicious, then only a fool would think that.
Thanks for the call and the potential offer. It was an interesting experience and will do much to prep me for the REAL scams that are sure to come. :-)If you checked our public real estate transactions you would have seen we put over 50% down on every deal we do. So maybe not an ideal offer, but over $200k down on this property would not be something to scoff at like you have, and definitely would not have come with the assumptions, judgements, and unwarranted advice. We very, very rarely get rude and unprofessional replies. Anyone that is suspicious at least has the intelligence to look at the full offer, and once they see what we’re offering their suspicions die. They might not accept the offer, but they definitely don’t accuse us of anything, and if anyone ever did, all it does for us is show us who not to work with. We get way more negative response because of our faith and we incorporate our belief in with our work, not because our offer is suspicious. Maybe that’s why you responded the way you did.Thank You & We wish you well in the sale of your property.
Flat Stone Capital LLC
Only a fool would think that an AOL email address makes a company look suspicious. She must really admire people with Juno email addresses. Look, that’s not just my opinion, that’s the opinion of the Internet. Sending business email from AOL (or gmail.com, yahoo.com, outlook.com, or any other free email service) is like sending out brochures printed on a dot-matrix printer; it is unprofessional, shows a lack of sophistication, and suggests the person is elderly and out-of-touch. No offense to elderly, out-of-touch people; the point is that she should want to put her best foot forward. Hers is shod in flip-flops.
Only an unitelligent person would refuse to look at their offer. She publishes her offer contracts on her website, so I’ve seen her offer, just without the numbers filled in. It doesn’t matter if she’s making a 50% down payment — I don’t want an extended family of smoking cat ladies living in a house that I own and may have to sell in one to three years. It doesn’t matter how much you pay me. I wasn’t being stupid; I was trying to save her the trouble of putting an offer together that I already know I’m going to reject.
Perhaps the cause of my rejection was the clear display of faith and belief incorporated into her work. What?? That had never come up!
Not willing to leave well enough alone, I sent this final response:
From: Craig Rairdin <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: Thursday, February 13, 2014 3:54 PM
Subject: RE: Your Property For Sale (2/10)JJ,Yikes.I was just trying to give you some suggestions from the point of view of a seller whom you contacted. You clearly (and rightly so) take offense when people accuse you of running some kind of scam. That’s not what I was doing. I was just trying to explain how certain aspects of your approach have a scam vibe.I got the distinct impression from the FAQ that being rejected was not a big deal for you, which is why I didn’t expect to be called a “fool”, didn’t expect to have my intelligence questioned, and didn’t expect to be accused of persecuting you for your faith, which I never even saw mentioned anywhere.Once you disclosed who you were so that I could look up some information, I politely saved you the time of preparing a written offer and went so far as to offer some suggestions for avoiding the kind of negative reaction that your FAQ alludes to.I definitely got the impression from your FAQ that you would appreciate a polite, professional rejection in advance of your offer, saving you the effort of putting an offer together. Instead, I’ve been told that I’m not intelligent for not waiting to see the details of an offer that I already know I’m going to reject. Please allow me the courtesy of choosing how to sell my house, as I’m allowing you to choose how you want to purchase. I don’t have any problem with you, your business, or your offer. It’s just not right for me. Whether it’s 50%, 75%, or 90% down — it’s not what I want to do. I would appreciate having the opportunity to make my own decisions without being called a “fool”.I remain thankful for the offer of an offer, and continue to wish you the best in the future despite you doing your best to offend me.Craig
I thought that might bring everything to an end. I stopped at that point and wrote this article (right up to this paragraph) because I found the whole thing amusing. When you’re called a “fool” and are accused of not doing the intelligent thing when all you were trying to do is give some helpful advice, you can’t do much but laugh and share the experience with others.
I was wrong.
Out of the modicum of respect I have for JJ I won’t repeat her entire reply here. Suffice to say she apologized:
I’m going to believe what you wrote, and that your reply and advice was genuine and not that you thought we were a scam and you were replying in anger. You truly wanted to help us, if that’s the case then you will work to peacefully settle this matter…. No matter the outcome, I apologize for responding negatively to your advice. You’ve taught me a lesson to not ever do that again. To not defend myself or my reputation, but, to simply smile, and say “Thanks for your time.”
She went on, however, to ask that I take this post down under the threat of a “slander” suit. (It’s actually libel when it appears in print.)
We’ve spoken to our attorney…. It would be a slam dunk slander lawsuit. I don’t want to take that route. I’m going to peacefully and politely ask you to take down your harsh review of our company. Our attorney told us you wouldn’t, you would claim it’s your right to do and say whatever you want, which would cause this to have to go to court, and since the offer was not presented to you, but that it’s slander we can have the case heard in Florida. Our attorney says you will only take down the blog post is if a Judge orders you to. I’m hoping that’s not the case. I don’t want to make the time or the expense to have to go to court, which I’m sure you’re not going to want to have to come to Florida, but since this is affecting our business we will have no choice in the matter.
Defamation (whether it’s slander or libel) requires that I make a statement that is provably false. Opinion is not defamation. Neither are statements that might be provably false but are clearly rhetorical. I’ll leave it to the reader to decide if I’ve made such statements here.
In the interest of giving the reader a balanced view of Flat Stone Capital LLC, here are some comments from other websites about them.
- Goldie’s Referral for Flat Stone Capital. This is a blogspot.com blog with exactly one entry. It was made on December 10, 2013, over two weeks before Flat Stone Capital LLC registered as an LLC in Florida (see Florida Department of State, Division of Corporations). It’s possible there’s another company called “Flat Stone Capital LLC” that was founded two weeks before JJ’s company, but not likely. It’s more likely that someone created this page for the sole purpose of making people believe it was an unsolicited recommendation. Goldie also has a Google+ page that has no photos, no other info, just a link to her single blogspot.com article.
- Confirmed GOOD company. This is another blogspot.com blog with exactly one entry. It was made on December 12, 2013, two days after the blog entry above. It refers to a former incarnation of Flat Stone Capital that apparently existed in 2008. I haven’t been able to find that corporation so I can’t tell you much about it. But apparently by December 12 the poster knew Flat Stone Capital was an LLC, which wouldn’t be the case for another couple of weeks. Is this another made-up testimonial?
- Flat Stone Capital. This is a wordpress.com blog with exactly one entry. It was made on January 14, 2014. It says Flat Stone Capital sold his house within 8 months, which means the sale happened on or before May 14, 2013, which is before Flat Stone Capital was registered with the state of Florida. It’s becoming clear that these testimonials are all just made up.
- Good review blog about flat stone capital. This is a blogspot.com blog with exactly one entry. It was made on December 4, 2013, about three weeks before Flat Stone Capital LLC was registered with the state of Florida.
- Joe’s Reference for Flat Stone Capital. This is a thoughts.com blog with exactly one entry. It was made on January 21, 2013 and refers to a history of on-time payments, which would mean the transaction must’ve happened before Flat Stone Capital LLC was registered with the state of Florida.
- Flat Stone Capital. This is a wordpress.com blog with exactly one entry. It was made on November 27, 2013 and says they’re eight months into the contract, so the transacton took place on or before March 27, 2013 — a good nine months before Flat Stone Capital LLC was registered with the state of Florida.
- Flat Stone Capital online reference. This is a blogspot.com blog with exactly one entry. It was made on December 4, 2013, about three weeks before Flat Stone Capital LLC was registered with the state of Florida.
- Flat Stone Capital Reference. This is a wordpress.com blog with exactly one entry. It was made on February 10, 2014.
According to the Florida Department of State, Division of Corporations, the registered address for Flat Stone Capital LLC is 52 Riley Rd #172, Kissimmee, FL. A Google search for that address says that it is a UPS Store. A quick call to Eric at the UPS Store revealed that they rent mailboxes and #172 would be a mailbox at their store, not an office suite in the same building. There’s nothing wrong with that; a lot of people work out of their homes or cars and use a post office box or one of these commercial mail boxes to receive mail.
So Flat Stone Capital has nothing but positive reviews online — all of which are blog sites with exactly one blog entry which is a positive review for Flat Stone Capital. At first it was confusing, since many of the blog articles refer to Flat Stone Capital before it came into existence. But then I realized all the blog articles were just fabrications so that anyone like me researching this company would find dozens of positive reviews.
One interesting “coincidence” is a company called Redfield Holdings. Flat Stone Capital is an LLC managed by JJ Pierce. Redfield Holdings is an LLC managed by JJ Pearce. Redfield’s website is very, very similar to Flat Stone Capital’s website. For example:
|Flat Stone Capital||Redfield Holdings|
|Some people have tried to buy a home before and were turned down, this may be a great opportunity for them. With our unique system I may be able to help them get approved. We have some great Flat Stone Capital homes for sale and I’m willing to work with them to make potential buyers into proud owners!||If you’ve tried to buy a home before and were turned down, this may be a great opportunity for you. With our unique system I may be able to help you get approved. I’m willing to work with you to make you the proud owner, at an extremely low price in comparison to all homes like it in the surrounding areas.|
|We found your home through an ad you placed regarding the home. We typically look for a single-family home with at least two bedrooms and within a certain price range and area that I can work with.||We found your home through an ad you placed regarding the home. We typically look for a single-family home with at least two bedrooms and within a certain price range and area that I can work with.|
|Q. What if your offer makes me uncomfortable or I don’t like the offer?A. Honestly, this is a question that I never thought I would have to put in the Frequent Questions, but there are people out there who don’t know how to respond to this offer. First let me explain, this is just an offer. Simply by you requesting more information or asking what terms can be offered does not make it binding to you. It is not set in stone, so if you’re uncomfortable with it or don’t like it, a simple ‘no thank you’ is all I need. If the terms of the offer might not work, then just simply reply back with a ‘no thanks.’ If you are skeptical and question whether the offer is a good one, rather than offensively reply with your thoughts on how this could potentially be a scam or not be a legitimate offer because you either don’t understand, aren’t familiar or want to sell outright; simply reply back to request more information or send me a ‘no thanks.’ That is all I need. I am not high pressure. I make an offer and will do a follow up to see if you have any questions. That’s all I’ll do. If you say ‘no thanks’ it won’t hurt my feelings or offend me. I will just reply back thanking you for your time and consideration.||Q. What if your offer makes me uncomfortable or I don’t like the offer?A. Honestly, this is a question that I never thought I would have to put in the Frequent Questions, but there are people out there who don’t know how to respond to this offer. First let me explain,this is just an offer. Simply by you requesting more information or asking what terms can be offered does not make it binding to you. It is not set in stone, so if you’re uncomfortable with it or don’t like it, a simple ‘no thank you’ is all I need. If the terms of the offer might not work, then just simply reply back with a ‘no thanks.’ If you are skeptical, then a simple ‘no thanks’ is all I need. I am not high pressure. I make an offer and will do a follow up to see if you have any questions. That’s all I’ll do. If you say ‘no thanks’ it won’t hurt my feelings or offend me. I will just reply back thanking you for your time and consideration.|
There are many other similarities between the two sites.
Redfield Holdings’ regsitered address is 3050 Dyer Blvd, Kissimmee, FL, which is a UPS Store that offers mailbox services. Flat Stone Capital’s registered office is also a UPS Store.
A Google search for Redfield Holdings reveals a number of wordpress.com and blogspot.com single-entry blogs singing the praises of Redfield Holdings. But it also reveals an interesting history of complaints to the Florida Better Business Bureau, one of which includes a threat from Redfield that the complaint be removed for making slanderous accusations: “They have breached contract by not allowing the 60 day default before taking action along with making slanderous accusations. Again, payment will be made. I request that these malicious, slanderous and false complaints be removed immediately.”
So are these coincidences?
- Redfield Holdings and Flat Stone Capital have nearly the same website content.
- “JJ Pearce” and “JJ Pierce” are very similar names.
- While a search for my local real estate agent turns up zero single-entry blog sites that include testimonials written prior to him becoming a Realtor, both Flat Stone Capital and Redfield Holdings each have several.
- These two firms with similar websites, operated by two JJ’s with similar-sounding last names, with a long list of single-entry blog site testimonials, are both operated out of UPS Store mailboxes in Kissimmee, Florida.
I think not. But I leave it to the reader to draw his or her own conclusions.
I accept JJ’s apology. I won’t be taking the post down because I still think readers will find the exchange between us to be humorous. And nothing about it is “slanderous”. If you have a house for sale and would like to sell to JJ or someone like her who offers a rent-to-own-style contract, go for it.
And that, my friends, is how you create a real testimonial from a WordPress blog.
Update: Feb 17, 2014
There are 18 testimonials on the Flat Stone Capital website. 16 are attributed to specific people. Of those, according to my research, 4 are people who appear to have never lived in their given city/state and 10 do not exist in the entire country, leaving 2 who are possibly real people. Note that research like this based on limited information could be wrong. There could be spelling errors or name changes that would affect the results. I am merely reporting on the results of my researcher’s efforts. But this would suggest that JJ made up at least 14 of her 16 attributed testimonials.
Update: Feb 19, 2014
Here are some more companies that may have connections to JJ. Some of the connections are circumstantial so I’ll try to describe them the best I can. JJ cuts a wide swath, so it’s not surprising that she leaves a tumultuous wake.
- Mary Jones Projects. Mentions one “Julie Bell”, who, like “JJ Pierce”, graduated from the University of Central Florida. It mentions she has an MBA. Her partner, “Mary Jones”, is said to have “graduated from The Florida State University, respectively” — the same odd wording as on the Flat Stone Capital site in reference to Ms. Pierce. The address of MJ Projects is 14900 E Orange Lake Blvd, Kissimmee FL, which is a PakMail store. Online comments about MJ Properties mention contact with “Helen Joanne Pearce”, whose husband’s name is Matthew.
- JEP Genesis LLC. Owned by Eric Pearce. Complaints mention contact with “Joanne”, who says that “Eric” is a potential investor. Other complaints mention that “Joanne” and “Eric” are middle names. “JEP” could be Joanne Eric Pearce. JEP Genesis has an AOL email address. The mailing address of this company, 52 Riley Rd #231, Kissimmee, is a UPS Store (same one as Flat Stone Capital). An Osceola County court case (2009 CC 003103 EV) names Joanne Pearce as plaintiff and lists her address as the same box at the UPS Store on Riley Rd. Florida DMV reports Florida drivers license for Helen Joanne Pearce bears the same address and box number.
- There are several online complaints that connect these companies to KACW Investments Inc. and contact with “Helen Joanne Pearce”. KACW’s address is 12472 Lake Underhill Rd #143 in Orlando, FL. That address is a UPS Store. Legal documents from Marion County, FL (Case 06-4590-SC) give Joanne Pearce’s address as KACW Investments, Inc, 3854 SW 168 Circle, Ocala, FL 34481, which is a mobile home.
- Dun and King Investments is apparently run by “Neleha K. Dun”. The name “Neleha” is “(a)Helen” backwards. The link is to a fascinating discussion board with comments by Neleha and people she has alegedly scammed. The company has an AOL email address and its mailing address (1926 N. John Young Pkwy #128, Kissimmee) is listed as a gas station but also as a UPS, DHL, and FedEx location.
- Jubilee Property Ventures is mentioned in the complaints about these other companies. It is run by “Jules Scott” who is identified as a woman. It’s address, 2224 W Columbia Ave #109, Kissimmee, is a FedEx location but may have been a Western Union when Jubilee Property Ventures was active. At that time it offered private mailboxes. In 2009, a case was brought against “Jules Scott ℅ Jubilee Property Ventures, Inc. and Joanne Helen Pearce”. The plaintiff was awarded $5000 plus $430 in court costs (Case 09-SC-13075 File #2010168032). If Joanne Helen Pearce is Helen Joanne Pearce, then this connects Jubilee with these other companies.
- “Matt and Helen (Joanne) Pearce DBA In Faith Properties, Inc.” are named as defendants in a Marion County, Florida court case from 2007. This associates Helen with Matt, who was mentioned in connection with JEP Genesis. The address given for Matt and Helen is a house that was awarded to the plaintiff, which they may or may not have actually been occupying at the time. (File # 2007027364).
- FS Capital LLC (New 4/4/14) A reader notified us of Helen’s latest incarnation. FS Capital LLC was registered in Florida on February 19, 2014 — five days after this blog article went up, marking the end of viability for “Flat Stone Capital”. About that same time, I happened to see Flat Stone Capital LLC sign up for LinkedIn, then about a week later the name on that account changed to FS Capital LLC so I believe the two companies are related. FS Capital LLC was registered by Faith Stuart. Its registered address (14900 EAST ORANGE LAKE BLVD, KISSIMMEE, FL 34747) is a PakMail store. Its website is virtually identical to the Redfield and Flat Stone sites.
- Helen J Pearce is named as a defendant in Orange County, FL case 2007-CC-006343-0 and lists a UPS Store (1969 S. Alafaya Tr #125, Orlando 32828) as her address. Judgement was made against other defendants in this case but not Helen. She is listed as being “in possession of premises” owned by the plaintiff. I don’t (yet) have a company name she may have been operating under at that time.
I have still not been served with a summons for a defamation suit, but am looking forward to deposing JJ/Julie/Helen/Neleha/Joanne/Jules/Faith Pierce/Pearce/Scott/Dun/Stuart. By the way, JJ, note that I’m not living at the address we have for sale. So you’ll have to have your process server look up my current address. We’re in the book.
Update: Feb 20, 2014
A closer look at Helen Joanne (JJ) Pearce (Pierce).
Update: Apr 4, 2014
Coincidentally, all the homes sold by JJ also appear on stock photo sites!
Update: Jan 29, 2015
Helen may have crossed the wrong guy. This could be it!