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2 would-be homeowners say listing agent took off with thousands

Two recession warning signs are here
Posted at 5:22 PM, Oct 07, 2019
and last updated 2019-10-07 20:34:49-04

(WXYZ) — Home sweet home? Or, home horror story? That's how two metro Detroiters felt after dealing with a West Bloomfield real estate agent.

They say not only did their deals fall flat, but the agent took off with the cash.

Jarita and Jim are two hard-working people who just want the best for their families. Jarita was searching for a condo in Brownstown Township, while Jim was searching in Sterling Heights.

Both put offers on two locations, and both had them accepted, they tell 7 Action News. Next, it was time to put down the earnest money, which is basically a deposit.

Jim tells us he put $3,000 down, and Jarita put $2,000 down.

Each of them had different real estate agents, but the listing agent for their potential homes was the same person: Mervet Barakat, the principal broker and agent of Real Estate Dreams International in West Bloomfield.

Everything started out normally, until things took a turn.

"The odd thing was that she wanted to hold the earnest money deposit versus my agent holding it," Jarita said.

Experts say that's not unheard of, but it's not the most common practice.

"That was a red flag for your realtor," asked 7 Action News' Andrea Isom.

"Yes, she said normally you don't do this," Jim responded. "This is out of the norm, but if you really like the house, we can move forward with this."

Both Jim and Jarita did just that, that's when the sweet dreams of their new homes quickly turned sour.

For Jim, it was the inspection.

"I found a lot of things that were alarming for me," Jim said.

He found issues with the furnace and the roof.

"Who can buy a home or condo without knowing what the association fees are," Jarita said. "Being that it was 45 days of her holding my earnest money and not being able to produce the necessary documents, my lender would not prove that because it was a lack of information."

Both of hopeful home buyers backed out, and they had every right, according to the stipulations stated in their contracts. Now, it was time for Mervet to return the earnest money.

"It's been a lot of emails, phone calls (and) no response," Jim said. He was only told, "check's in the mail."

Jim has the paperwork that shows it has almost been six months with nothing. Jarita said she reused to give her the money, and she filed a small claims against her and she was served.

On that exact same day, Jarita said Mervet called her and told her to pick up the check. For Jim, his earnest money is still missing, so 7 Action News Andrea Isom made some calls to Real Estate Dreams International.

When she called, she heard on the other line, "The number you have reached has been disconnected and is no longer in service." It's the same number for the company.

Then, Andrea showed up, knocking on the door. There was a lot of mail piled up, and it looks like they moved out.

An email to Mervet requesting a callback went unreturned. 7 Action News also went to a house listed under Mervet's name. A little girl answered the door and she went to tell someone a news station was there, but no one ever came back to the door.

Al Block, the president of the Greater Metropolitan Association of Realtors, said when it comes to getting earnest money back it could be 24 hours, maybe a week, but it's not a hard thing to do.

Jim said that he would consult an attorney, contact the state, or go to small claims court. He has now done all three, and has a legal letter to prove it. Mervet Barakat has officially been served, again, with a court date in late October.

Jarita did say there was good news, and she found another property, purchased it, and moved in.

Jim also found another house that he loves.

According to Jim, the state does audit brokers' escrow accounts. They do it randomly if they are tipped of an issue, and they would look into it further.

He does say that you should always read the reviews of not only the agent you're using but also the agent that is listing the property.