An attractive couple recently tried making me rich. Their scheme involved flipping houses, and I even got to meet a guy who used to work for Donald Trump. The only catch: For any of that to happen, they wanted me to give them around $2,000. Here’s what I was able to remember after breaking free from their spell…
First I hear the real estate overlords, Tarek and Christina El Moussa, advertising their Flip Advantage seminar on a local radio station. Because it’s an exclusive soirée and all, I call a week in advance to register, and within days I receive my complimentary “50 Ways to Find Your Next Flip” CD and a promise: “This could be the best decision you’ve ever made!”
The night before the seminar, I receive a text reminder from one of those five-digit alert numbers. The morning of, an email: “See you Today …” I had better arrive 30 minutes early, they warn, to “secure the best seat!” Despite the seemingly high demand, last-minute guests are still welcome.
Upon arriving at the Sheraton I’m sent up to a ballroom on the second floor. I wait in line, approach a sign-in station, and stick a name tag on my shirt. A man in a suit gives me a snack pack with a cardboard granola bar and some cookies.
Inside the ballroom, The Script’s “Hall of Fame” plays from a speaker facing roughly 250 folding chairs on a brown carpet with blue and orange patterns. This is now officially a hotel seminar. The room smells like duct tape. The sound: random conversations and people peeling open snack packs.
Looking around, I lock eyes with more than 50 hulking binders, each emblazoned with close-ups of the beautiful Tarek and Christina, stars of the HGTV show “Flip or Flop.” There’s also a life-size banner of the power couple adjacent to the entryway, plus two additional, identical banners on each side of the mini-stage.
Tarek and Christina are everywhere … except actually here. Instead, we get an opening video of them sitting on a couch, expressing their regrets for not being able to join us. Tarek preaches:
“We went from driving used cars to Bentleys, Range Rovers, Escalades, and trucks … We were in your exact seat four years ago … We would like you to end up in our seat, and be super successful.”
Before she cuts out, Christina instructs us to brace for the most important two hours of our lives, and introduces the man of the hour, Mark Chapman. With silver platinum hair, and wearing a gray sports coat, glasses, and a blue button-down with a black and yellow tribal-pattern tie, the guy looks like he’s ready to boogie. Some background: Chapman previously worked for a guy named Donald Trump, and for something called Chase Manhattan.
He asks who came to make money, and only three-quarters of the people raise their hands. Guess I’m not the only journo working undercover.
Chapman then shares a guiding mantra: “Make the most amount of money in the least amount of time.” After making us repeat this lesson, he bestows the holy trinity of house-flipping advice on us in a PowerPoint: One: “You have to believe it’s possible.” Two: “Think like the wealthy think.” Three: “Take action.” Sounds easy enough.
From there, Chapman asks everyone to share the reasons they attended. No surprises there: “safe retirement,” “learn how to create wealth,” “pay off debt.” Still, it’s a diverse crowd: Kids as young as 14, adults in their sixties, all kinds of races.
Then comes Chapman’s big hypothesis: Soon, there will be no middle class! Which leaves us with just one question: “Do you want to be rich or poor?”
Half the crowd responds “Rich.”
Not so fast. Such life-changing events won’t happen here at the Sheraton, but rather in a subsequent three-day training class. Only there, we’re told, will the secrets to success be revealed.
Chapman repeatedly urges us to put the Flip Advantage course on a credit card, claiming that’s what he and his wife did years ago, when they took a different life-changing house-flipping course. His wife, by the way, is obsessed with shopping, and Chapman is obsessed with using her as the butt of his jokes. He says he has a “lovely, but very expensive family.”
Short on cash or light on plastic? No problem! “We have no regard for your credit,” says Chapman, offering various payment options for the $1,997 opportunity. “We get the recession happened. We could care less about your FICO scores!”
Working more of his magic on us, Chapman shows the crowd a picture of his big-ass house, located on five acres in Florida. He then shows us his “favorite office,” which is a beach. Laughs ensue as he touches on his love of skiing, golfing, and Hawaiian getaways.
“Get yourself out of debt!” Now Chapman is shouting. People, he says, need “courage and belief.” He then instructs us to sign up for the binder, and half the room swarms to the tables, while the other half stays put.
I slip out the back, no richer than I was when I walked in, but no poorer either.