Saturday, February 21, 2009

VENA Jones - Goddess of Real Estate Rants Against Unethical Practices

I can't tell you how much I appreciate Ms. Jones for the following rant. She's been in this industry a long time and practices what she preaches... This is particularly applicable to my blog, as I'm sure that I've purchased some of the information passed along as useful that really isn't...

Anyway, here is Vena's rant:

My official rant against the current state of the real estate education industry
Vena Jones

I’ve Had All I Can Take of This…

For years now, I’ve been very restrained in sharing my opinion of the real estate education industry and the precipitous decline in quality and sharp increase in cost of the information available.

Hypocrisy alert: a big part of the reason for this uncharacteristic hesitation to share my opinion on this topic has been a sort of self-serving desire to avoid burning bridges in the “guru community”. I can guarantee you that the very act of writing this article is going to get me banned from events, webinars, and other opportunities that could potentially make me a lot of money. As it happens, I tend to sell a lot of courses to the students of some of the gurus that I’m about to blast, because the fact that I actually TEACH and have actually DONE DEALS is such a change of pace to their customers that the flock to the back of the room to buy from me. I am guessing that these words will literally cost me hundreds of thousands of dollars in sales in the next few years, and perhaps a few students who don’t agree with me, and will certainly earn me widespread and open criticism from the folks who are doing the things I talk about here.

Another reason for my silence has been a desire to avoid the whole, “she’s just saying this to torpedo her competition” backlash. I fully understand that there will be some who view this as a self-serving attempt to draw people away from other instructors and to me—and yes, I happen to think that I provide a higher quality of education (and certainly a higher standard of service) than many of my “competitors”. Otherwise, I’d just retire and be done with it.

But despite all of this, I’m breaking my silence, and here’s why: the fact that I am a provider of real estate education does not obviate the fact that I am also a consumer of it. I literally receive and review more than 30 new courses every single year. I learned real estate the same way you are—by depending on people who’d been there first, made all the mistakes, and had a system that worked to guide me. I love real estate education and the way it can make a real, long-term difference in people’s lives. I continue to learn new strategies primarily from other people, because I’m smart enough to know that reinventing the wheel is stupid. Given my extensive experience as a student, I have a pretty good idea of what a quality course looks like and what it doesn’t.

Plus, thanks to my “behind-the-scenes” look at what really goes on at seminars, webinars, bootcamps, etc, I am in a unique position to explain and critique things that you aren’t even aware of about the education business.

And frankly, a lot of what I see makes me ill.

If you could overhear the cynical, predatory way in which many gurus talk about their customers…if you were constantly approached by students of these gurus who can’t understand why they can’t get a return call from the salespeople’s office after spending $4,000 on a bootcamp…if you understood the total focus on “sales per head” as opposed to providing quality product…you’d be as sickened by it all as I am. So *deep breath* here goes.

I believe that real estate education can and should be a wonderful resource. And trust me, I have absolutely no problem with charging for it. People who’ve learned the ropes, developed a system, and have the ability and desire to teach others to do the same are amongst my favorite people. When, in addition to being great teachers with great information, they also hone their sales skills to the point where they can also pitch well, I think that they should charge whatever the market will bear to make others rich.

However, I also believe that the education industry has been overrun by vermin. Yep, vermin. “Gurus” who have done 5 deals using someone else’s system, who then repackage it and present themselves as experts even though they have almost no experience to back it up, who have nothing new to say, who are selling courses that cost thousands of dollars just because they can, should be ashamed of themselves.

I’m talking to you now, vermin: if your most pressing concern is how many dollars per head you can sell instead of how detailed and informative your product is and how useful it is to your students, please get the HELL out of my business.

If you’re one of the many “gurus” I meet who can’t explain a land contract, or doesn’t know what fair housing is, or actually believes that it’s OK not to study and grasp your own business, you shouldn’t be able to pitch real estate education and sleep at night. I don’t care how many people you sucker into buying your garbage.

I don’t care how many millions of dollars your last launch made. Yes, you make more money than I do selling courses—I get it. I don’t care. You’re preying on people’s desire to get rich, and you can’t back it up with information they can actually use. You tell them what they want to hear from the stage, then give them inadequate information that makes THEM feel like THEY’RE stupid for not being able to generate the big, fat checks you’re showing them on the screen.

If you reach deep into your heart and find out that you don’t actually care about your students lives or their success, please do them the favor of getting a job as a used car salesman.

I believe that you should know the truth about how the money in the real estate education industry works. You know how every week you get 30 emails from 15 different gurus offering you the same course (with different bonuses) and letting you know that you’re going to die/fail/lose your hair if you don’t buy it?

That’s called a joint venture, and here’s how it works. Guru “A” contacts all of his guru friends and offers a 50% cut of every course the Guru A sells. Gurus B-Z then send out professionally prepared emails to all of their students personally recommending A’s course as the be-all and end-all for your future success. A JV “partner” (that’s B thru Z) with a sizable list can stand to make tens of thousands of dollars (plus possible win the “top partner” prizes, which range from Rolexes to Hawaiian vacations) for sending out a few emails to their customers.

Again, I’m a good capitalist. I have no problem with this arrangement on the surface. The problem is, THE JV PARTNERS HAVE OFTEN NOT SEEN OR REVIEWED THE COURSE IN QUESTION, or, in some cases, they are actually aware that it sorta sucks!

Now tell me, if I were to send out an email saying that I had made tons of money with this course, and you needed to get it, too, and I had never even seen the course, wouldn’t that make me…a liar?

I have had enough experience with these people and enough conversations with the JV “partners” to know that the whole “my friend A has this great course” thing is largely bull. They aren’t friends, the JV partner hasn’t made any money from the course (other than by selling it, of course!), it’s all meant to play on YOUR loyalty to guru B. Pathetic—and the reason you’ve never seen a JV email from me. And if you ever do, it will be because I’ve read and used the course in question and actually believe in it.
Oh, and ditto the financial arrangements in a live event or webinar. While the host is standing at the front of the room raving about how great the next speaker is, you need to think about the fact that 50 cents of every dollar you spend on said speaker’s product goes into the pocket of said host, and take all the over-the-top praise with a little grain of salt. Yes, even when the next speaker is me: I’ve been introduced as “close friend” and even “partner” of people I never laid eyes on as of 10 minutes before going on stage. And I can usually give my presentation anyway, after I throw up just a little in my mouth.

I believe that there are certain terms that, when we hear them come from a guru’s mouth, should send us running for the hills. “Virtual Investing” is one. I’m sorry, I know the internet is a powerful tool for finding deals, buyers, and money, but the idea that you’re going to sit at your computer all day and make deals on properties you’ve never seen, then sell them to people you never talk to, is a pipe dream. A CRACK pipe.

Trust me, I get emails on a daily basis from people who’ve bought into this crap, and my general response is, “Dear Idiot, the property you’re trying to sell me for $25,000 is one that I offered $16,000 for a year ago when it HADN’T been sitting vacant for 12 months. And it doesn’t need $3,000 in work as the seller reported to you, it needs $50,000 in work. And the tax appraisal that you based your ARV on is 2 years old AND was too high even then, because it was based on the illegal flip that sent the seller into foreclosure in the first place. Do not waste my time pitching me on properties you’ve never seen.”

REAL ESTATE IS A PEOPLE BUSINESS. If you’re going to be successful, you have to talk to someone, at some time. If you hate people, buy a course on how to deal with them, not one on how to avoid them.
Oh, yeah, and let me put “turn key” and “done for you” into the same category. Surely we are not so desperate in this country as to believe that “something for nothing”. Yes, some INVESTMENTS can be turn key—buy a property from my friend Missy McCall Hammonds (yes, she really is my friend, we had breakfast together on Tuesday) if you want to own a property without management. But no BUSINESS—which is what buying and selling properties is—can be “done for you”! YOU have to do it! And anyone who tells you otherwise either doesn’t understand his own business, or just nakedly wants your money and is willing to say anything to get it.

I believe that promoters and REIA groups need to take some responsibility for the explosion of bad education. Every week, I see that some of my most respected guru colleagues and some of the best REIA groups in the country are giving a stage to some of the worst “flavor of the month” speakers around. Guys, I get it—they sell a lot, and we all need the money in our coffers. But whether we’re association board members or seminar promoters, we all owe it to our members and customers to put QUALITY educators in front of them. They depend on us to do SOME level of screening of these gurus, because, frankly, many of them are too inexperienced to have a frame of reference to sort out the bull from the good stuff for themselves.

It is NOT ok, in my opinion, to put a speaker on your stage wholies, or who sells garbage, or who doesn’t give refunds or who doesn’t fulfill mentoring or any of the other numerous sins that a lot of these people are known for, no matter how well they sell. Your buyers should not have to beware of people that are on your stage. “Caveat emptor” certainly applies online, where most of these folks seem to primarily reside, but an attitude that says, “hey, he sells well, people want it, who am I to judge?” is all wrong. We talk to each other all the time. We know who has good stuff, so why are we discussing who sells well?

Don’t get me wrong, I want speakers who can sell, too. And it’s not that I’ve not had some fairly significant missteps in this regard—I can think of at least 3 presenters that I’ve booked on the recommendation of others, only to watch horrified from the back of the room as they claimed to have done 3,000 deals in 5 years (I kid you not) or as they discussed their new breast implants with the audience (again, not kidding) rather than teach anything. But for heaven’s sake, I don’t BRING THEM BACK. Ditto if they don’t honor refunds or don’t return calls from students or any of the dozens of other front of the room or back office atrocities some speakers are known for.

I can tell you for certain that if you see a speaker on MY stage, or hear one on MY webinars, it’s because I’ve vetted them AND their product AND researched them with other promoters and on the web, and that I think that their strategies are very workable for the average Joe, and that I will not say I’ve personally used them if I haven’t. and if I screw up (it happens—speakers that I’ve worked with in the past sometimes change their programs or develop fulfillment problems as they become more successful), I’ll say so.

I believe that undisclosed “forced continuity” programs are immoral, and are going to land some people in jail—and when they do, I’m not even going to send soap on a rope. If you’ve been a victim of one of these programs, you know what I’m talking about: you buy a course, then find that your credit card is being charged $19 a month or $39 a month or $99 a month and you don’t know why.

Again, I feel obligated to say that there’s nothing wrong with the programs themselves. My Inner Circle is a continuity program, and I happen to believe it delivers incredible value for the price. And my program isn’t “forced”—when your membership expires, we don’t just grab your credit card number off the order form and start charging you! You have to proactively say that you want to join.

The problem with some speaker’s programs, though, is that they neglect to mention that you’ll be charged for them at all, and they bury the permission you’re giving them to do so in the fine print of the order form. The theory is that most people don’t look at their credit card statements carefully enough to notice a little charge like that every month, and that one can make a fortune just off the people who don’t cancel for months on end because they don’t notice it. And it’s a workable theory—just one that is pissing off a LOT of customers these days. Check out the chatter on the internet about this: many people are saying they can’t even get the guru to stop charging them when they ask, until the customer finally runs a chargeback on their credit cards.

I’m telling you, this is exactly the kind of business practice that prosecutors love to get their hands on. And in this case, rightly so. It’s wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

I believe that it’s up to the consumer to have a little sense about this stuff. There’s a reason for all of those old saws about money and success… “You don’t get something for nothing”. “There’s no such thing as a free lunch”. “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.” When did we lose our grasp on the idea that success=work? When did we start believing that there WAS such a thing as “get rich quick”? Why is it that so many people thank me for “revealing” that real estate is a business that requires investments of time, effort, and money, and yet buy from the guy who says that it’s all done for you?

Here’s the deal: if you’re looking for someone who tells you what you want to hear, shows you 5 figure checks that his students have earned, and makes the real estate business sound like it’s all beer and skittles, I can point you to dozens of gurus who will be happy to fulfill your need to be lied to. But if you’re serious about knowing the warts and all, and you don’t need hype to be happy, and you’re willing to work hard to be rewarded in an extraordinary way, stick with the people who aren’t willing to blow smoke up your skirt in order to sell you a course.

Your gut will tell you when you’re in the right place.

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