Anyone can get rich. All you need is a positive mindset and a few quid to hand over to a self-styled ‘guru’ who will teach you the secret to financial freedom.
And who better to instruct you than billionaire Donald Trump? Well, that’s what a bunch of wannabe millionaires in the US thought anyway. They paid up to $35,000 (£28,000) for courses at Trump University (entry requirements: cheque book) where Trump’s ‘hand-picked’ instructors would reveal the ‘secrets’ of real estate (or the property market as we call it in the UK).
When the secrets failed to materialise, three lawsuits alleged that Trump University defrauded students by using misleading marketing practices and engaging in aggressive sales tactics. The president-elect eventually settled the cases out of court for $25 million, claiming he was ‘too busy’ to fight them with, you know, having a country to run and everything.
But it’s not just in the US that desperate people are handing over their hard-earned money to learn how to make their fortune from property. The world of ‘property investment education’ is alive and kicking in the UK too.
Despite radical changes to the buy-to-let tax regime severely affecting landlords’ profits, a number of smooth-talking experts are keen for new investors to pile in.
Progressive Property, for example, repeatedly emails me suggesting ‘turn your house into a hotel’. This will result in 500 per cent more profit than a normal buy-to-let apparently. A click through to the company’s website leads to more dubious claims and a strange obsession with capping up every word in a sentence.
‘Exposed! How Beginners with No Previous Experience are Breaking the Rules, Shocking Professional Investors, Beating Property Price Rises & Making Over £5,000 per month Cashflow,’ it says.
A delve around the website leads me to a course entitled ‘Beginners Property Secrets’ costing £990 plus VAT. Or I can buy a 10-CD audio set telling me all about ‘The Imminent Buy To Let Boom’ for just £139.
But whereas I’m sure Rob and Mark at Progressive Property aren’t in it for the money – they simply want to share the secrets of eternal riches with some deserving folk – the property education industry has seen a number of scandals, court cases and bankruptcies.
Take Phil Martin, for example. He spent several years speaking at various property networking events and running his ‘Millionaires Together’ mentoring course, branding himself ‘the approachable property expert’. The trouble is, you’ll need a prison visiting order to approach him now – he was sent down for seven years in May for a range of fraud and forgery offences.
And then there’s Ben Rogers. He was another high-profile figure in the exciting world of property education. When I interviewed him in 2013, Rogers was selling ‘insider secrets’ to ‘buying houses for £1’ and described himself as ‘one of the UK's niche experts in this way of controlling property for profit’.
It didn’t wash with me and last year my suspicions were proved correct when Rogers went bankrupt for £1.9 million. Some of the debt was owed to people who attended his courses and, rather than learning lucrative insider secrets, were persuaded to lend money to Rogers on the promise of big returns. Inevitably the returns failed to materialise and some people never saw their money, or Rogers, again.
Almost all these property education experts bandy around a raft of dodgy terms: rent-to-rent, below market value (BMV), other people’s money (OPM), multi-let cashflow, and lease options. The list goes on.
Some of these experts offer a ‘joint venture’ in which you provide the cash, they offer their experience, and together you invest in a nice little earner. Of course, this begs a rather obvious question: if they’re so successful, why do they need your money?
Anyway, ignore me. I’m just being cynical. There is, of course, a quick foolproof way to financial freedom. Listen carefully and, under my guidance, I’ll have you cruising round the Caribbean in a yacht by this time next year. All you have to do is pay £497 for my one-day course, £1,497 for the three-day accelerator, or £14,497 for my mentoring programme and I’ll tell you.
Emma Lunn is a freelance personal finance journalist