Warren Buffett, Slumlord – Predatory Loans, Kickbacks & Preying On The Poor

Tyler Durden's picture

Submitted by Mike Krieger via Liberty Blitzkrieg blog,

The disastrous deal ruined their finances and nearly their marriage. But until informed recently by a reporter, they didn’t realize that the homebuilder (Golden West), the dealer (Oakwood Homes) and the lender (21st Mortgage) were all part of a single company: Clayton Homes, the nation’s biggest homebuilder, which is controlled by its second-richest man — Warren Buffett.

 

Buffett’s mobile-home empire promises low-income Americans the dream of homeownership. But Clayton relies on predatory sales practices, exorbitant fees, and interest rates that can exceed 15 percent, trapping many buyers in loans they can’t afford and in homes that are almost impossible to sell or refinance, an investigation by The Seattle Times and Center for Public Integrity has found.

 

Berkshire Hathaway, the investment conglomerate Buffett leads, bought Clayton in 2003 and spent billions building it into the mobile-home industry’s biggest manufacturer and lender. Today, Clayton is a many-headed hydra with companies operating under at least 18 names, constructing nearly half of the industry’s new homes and selling them through its own retailers. It finances more mobile-home purchases than any other lender by a factor of six. It also sells property insurance on them and repossesses them when borrowers fail to pay.

 

Former dealers said the company encouraged them to steer buyers to finance with Clayton’s own high-interest lenders.

 

Buyers told of Clayton collection agents urging them to cut back on food and medical care or seek handouts in order to make house payments.

 

To maintain its down-to-earth image, Clayton has hired the stars of the reality-TV show “Duck Dynasty” to appear in ads…

 

- From the excellent Seattle Times article: The Mobile-Home Trap: How a Warren Buffett Empire Preys on the Poor

In so many ways, Warren Buffett and modern America are the same thing. An idea packaged and marketed so brilliantly, most of humanity unquestionably believes the myth. Warren Buffett and the U.S. both sell themselves as encompassing the very best of human qualities; highly successful, extraordinarily intelligent, yet at the same time, extremely ethical. It’s that last part that’s actually most important to the continued power and prestige of both the man and the nation-state. However, when you look beneath the surface, it becomes increasingly clear that neither of them actually come close to what’s printed on the package.

Screen Shot 2015-04-05 at 2.21.00 PM

Incredibly, Mr. Buffett has proven far more successful in maintaining and nurturing his own personal myth, than America itself has during these post crisis years. While more and more people domestically, and especially internationally, have come to acknowledge the hypocrisy of U.S. foreign and economic policy, it continues to be something marginally short of cultural blasphemy to harshly criticize Warren Buffett. This provides a fertile environment for him to continue to doggedly and ruthlessly expand his ubiquitous economic and political empire.

This is not an empire built simply on cheeseburgers, cherry coke and ice cream cones. As you will see in the following article, his empire is also dependent on predatory lending to the poor, kickbacks, market domination, lobbying and opacity, via Berkshire Hathaway’s mobile home company, Clayton Homes.

Clayton Homes was previously mentioned here at Liberty Blitzkrieg a year ago in the post, With 1 in 3 Homes Unaffordable, Freddie Mac Prepares to Enter the Trailer Home Loan Market, but an excellent deep-dive article recently published by the Seattle Times provides a great deal of additional and extremely disturbing information.

Here are some excerpts, but I strongly suggest reading the entire article:

Billionaire philanthropist Warren Buffett controls a mobile-home empire that promises low-income borrowers affordable houses. But all too often, it traps those owners in high-interest loans and rapidly depreciating homes.

 

EPHRATA, Grant County — After years of living in a 1963 travel trailer, Kirk and Patricia Ackley found a permanent house with enough space to host grandkids and care for her aging father suffering from dementia.

 

So, as the pilot cars prepared to guide the factory-built home up from Oregon in May 2006, the Ackleys were elated to finalize paperwork waiting for them at their loan broker’s kitchen table.

 

But the closing documents he set before them held a surprise: The promised 7 percent interest rate was now 12.5 percent, with monthly payments of $1,100, up from $700.

 

The terms were too extreme for the Ackleys. But they’d already spent $11,000, at the dealer’s urging, for a concrete foundation to accommodate this specific home.

 

Kirk’s construction job and Patricia’s Wal-Mart job together weren’t enough to afford the new monthly payment. But, they said, the broker was willing to inflate their income in order to qualify them for the loan.

 

The disastrous deal ruined their finances and nearly their marriage. But until informed recently by a reporter, they didn’t realize that the homebuilder (Golden West), the dealer (Oakwood Homes) and the lender (21st Mortgage) were all part of a single company: Clayton Homes, the nation’s biggest homebuilder, which is controlled by its second-richest man — Warren Buffett.

 

Buffett’s mobile-home empire promises low-income Americans the dream of homeownership. But Clayton relies on predatory sales practices, exorbitant fees, and interest rates that can exceed 15 percent, trapping many buyers in loans they can’t afford and in homes that are almost impossible to sell or refinance, an investigation by The Seattle Times and Center for Public Integrity has found.

 

Berkshire Hathaway, the investment conglomerate Buffett leads, bought Clayton in 2003 and spent billions building it into the mobile-home industry’s biggest manufacturer and lender. Today, Clayton is a many-headed hydra with companies operating under at least 18 names, constructing nearly half of the industry’s new homes and selling them through its own retailers. It finances more mobile-home purchases than any other lender by a factor of six. It also sells property insurance on them and repossesses them when borrowers fail to pay.

 

Berkshire extracts value at every stage of the process. Clayton even builds the homes with materials — such as paint and carpeting — supplied by other Berkshire subsidiaries.

 

Former dealers said the company encouraged them to steer buyers to finance with Clayton’s own high-interest lenders.

 

Buyers told of Clayton collection agents urging them to cut back on food and medical care or seek handouts in order to make house payments. And when homes got hauled off to be resold, some consumers already had paid so much in fees and interest that the company still came out ahead. Even through the Great Recession and housing crisis, Clayton was profitable every year, generating $558 million in pre-tax earnings in 2014.

 

The company’s tactics contrast with Buffett’s public profile as a financial sage who values responsible lending and helping poor Americans keep their homes.

This is the key to Buffett’s continued success. A public profile that is basically a myth compared with reality.

Berkshire Hathaway spokeswoman Carrie Sova and Clayton spokeswoman Audrey Saunders ignored more than a dozen requests by phone, email and in person to discuss Clayton’s policies and treatment of consumers. In an emailed statement, Saunders said Clayton helps customers find homes within their budgets and has a “purpose of opening doors to a better life, one home at a time.”

 

In 2013, Clayton provided 39 percent of new mobile-home loans, according to a Times/CPI analysis of federal data that 7,000 home lenders are required to submit. The next biggest lender was Wells Fargo, with just 6 percent of the loans.

Of course, Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway is the largest shareholder in Wells Fargo.

Clayton provided more than half of new mobile-home loans in eight states. In Texas, the number exceeds 70 percent. Clayton has more than 90 percent of the market in Odessa, one of the most expensive places in the country to finance a mobile home.

 

To maintain its down-to-earth image, Clayton has hired the stars of the reality-TV show “Duck Dynasty” to appear in ads.

It’s all just a show, yet Americans remain completely awestruck by this clever oligarch.

“Home purchases should involve an honest-to-God down payment of at least 10% and monthly payments that can be comfortably handled by the borrower’s income,” Buffett later wrote. “That income should be carefully verified.”

 

But in examining more than 100 Clayton home sales through interviews and reviews of loan documents from 41 states, reporters found that the company’s loans routinely violated the lending standards laid out by Buffett.

 

Clayton dealers often sold homes with no cash down payment. Numerous borrowers said they were persuaded to take on outsized payments by dealers promising that they could later refinance. And the average loan term actually increased from 21 years in 2007 to more than 23 years in 2009, the last time Berkshire disclosed that detail.

 

Many borrowers interviewed for this investigation described being steered by Clayton dealers into Clayton financing without realizing the companies were one and the same. Sometimes, buyers said, the dealer described the financing as the best deal available. Other times, the Clayton dealer said it was the only financing option.

 

Kevin Carroll, former owner of a Clayton-affiliated dealership in Indiana, said in an interview that he used business loans from a Clayton lender to finance inventory for his lot. If he also guided homebuyers to work with the same lender, 21st Mortgage, the company would give him a discount on his business loans — a “kickback,” in his words.

 

During the most recent four-year period, 93 percent of Clayton’s mobile-home loans had such costly terms that they required extra disclosure under federal rules. Among all other mobile-home lenders, fewer than half of their loans met that threshold.

 

A couple of years after moving into their new mobile home, Kirk Ackley was injured in a backhoe rollover. Unable to work, he and his wife urgently needed to refinance the costly 21st Mortgage loan they regretted signing.

 

They pleaded with the lender several times for the better terms that they originally were promised, but were denied, they said. The Ackleys tried to explain the options to a 21st supervisor: If they refinanced to lower payments, they could stay in the home and 21st would get years of steady returns. Otherwise, the company would have to come out to their rural property, pull the house from its foundation and haul it away, possibly damaging it during the repossession.

 

They both recall being baffled by his reply: “We don’t care. We’ll come take a chainsaw to it — cut it up and haul it out in boxes.”

 

Nine Clayton consumers interviewed for this story said they were promised a chance to refinance. In reality, Clayton almost never refinances loans and accounts for well under 1 percent of mobile-home refinancings reported in government data from 2010 to 2013. It made more than one-third of the purchase loans during that period.

 

Carroll has since sold belongings, borrowed money from relatives and cut back on groceries to make payments. When she was late, she spoke frequently to Clayton’s phone agents, whom she described as “the rudest, most condescending people I have ever dealt with.” It’s a characterization echoed by almost every borrower interviewed for this story.

 

Consumers say the company’s response to pleas for help is an invasive interrogation about their family budgets, including how much they spend on food, toiletries and utilities.

 

Denise Pitts, of Knoxville, Tenn., said Vanderbilt collectors have called her multiple times a day, with one suggesting that she cancel her Internet service, even though she home-schools her son. They have called her relatives and neighbors, a tactic other borrowers reported.

 

After Pitts’ husband, Kirk, was diagnosed with aggressive cancer, she said, a Vanderbilt agent told her she should make the house payment her “first priority” and let medical bills go unpaid. She said the company has threatened to seize her property immediately, even though the legal process to do so would take at least several months.

 

Practices like contacting neighbors, calling repeatedly and making false threats can violate consumer-protection laws in Washington, Tennessee and other states.

 

The government has known for years about concerns that mobile-home buyers are treated unfairly. Little has been done.

 

MHI spent $4.5 million since 2003 lobbying the federal government. Those efforts have helped the company escape much scrutiny, as has Buffett’s persona as a man of the people, analysts say.

 

“There is a Teflon aspect to Warren Buffett,” said James McRitchie, who runs a widely read blog, Corporate Governance.

Personally, I never thought twice about the Warren Buffett myth until I noticed how much he pandered to the government for Wall Street bailouts. Bailouts, which clearly in retrospect, funneled enormous wealth to the super rich, while leaving everyone else out to dry.

My most popular post on the subject of Mr. Buffett was published all the way back in 2011, and titled, A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing. Here’s the opening paragraph:

Anyone that has read these pieces for a while knows where I stand on Warren Buffett.  Namely I can’t stand him.  It has nothing to do with the fact that he has so much money.  I am not an envious person and moreover I think having wealth anywhere near his is more of a curse than a blessing.  The reason I can’t stand him is because he is a fraud.  While he may have been a great investor at one point, he is more of a great actor than anything else.  Here is one of the richest people in the world.  He sits there in Nebraska, chuckling, drinking his cherry coke and eating hamburgers in this pathetically obvious attempt to convince the masses he is “just like us.”  The term wolf in sheep’s clothing was invented for guys like this.  Like most people out there I don’t like bad guys.  The trick; however, is that the most dangerous bad guys don’t come out and tell you they are bad guys and how they are going to fleece you.  What they do is pretend they are the good guys.  Pretend that they are on the side of the little guy or working for the “collective good,” which is a preposterous statement because there is no such thing.  Human desires and notions of what is a good life are as varied as the stars in the sky.  Once we start allowing officials or rich people to define “collective good” you can be sure we are finished.

With all of that in mind, take a look at one of the pictures used in the Seattle Times article:

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The man to the left is Kevin Clayton, CEO of Clayton Homes, and the man to the right is, of course, “Uncle” Warren Buffett, clutching his characteristic ice cream pop. Take a close look at the expression on the face of Kevin Clayton. This isn’t a look of admiration, respect, or even love. It’s a look of worship, of undying cultish fervor. The only thing missing is a tongue hanging out of his mouth and a blob of drool on his tie. If you ever see me looking at anyone with this sort of expression, immediately put me out of my misery.

One thing that’s crystal clear, is there’s no doubt regarding the intelligence of Warren Buffett. We don’t need to discuss it, or express admiration for that here. On the other hand, many questions need to be asked about his supposedly ethical business practices. To me, he seems to represent the consummate personification of the saying “do as I say, not as I do.” At the end of the day, I think the secret to his continuing success is more about his acting skills than his intelligence.

As I noted on Twitter recently:

That, more than anything else, is the Oracle of Omaha’s secret weapon.

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ukspreads's picture

Fuck you Warren - Must be as old as Granpa Walton

Beam Me Up Scotty's picture

Pay your taxes, Warren.  And how about you give your secretary a raise too, you greedy cocksucker??

Occident Mortal's picture

Well when he's gone he aint taking his money with him and he didn't spend that much of it.

 

He should have earned a little less and lived a little more.

KnuckleDragger-X's picture

But everybody loves dear uncle Warren and you have to admit he has one of the best PR spin machines in existence.....

RaceToTheBottom's picture

Vertical Integration resulting in one path for money to flow from the poor to the pockets of Uncle Warren.....

new game's picture

soon we will all be able to celebrate one of the richest fucks on the face of the earth, soon...

hint, rip(not).

BurningFuld's picture

The biggest take away for me is that people are surprised by this. 

Not Goldman Sachs's picture

Oh, but think of the jobs he creates.  Part of the narrative of trickle down. Without Uncle Sugar the economy would be tits up (I have been dying to work that in at some point) and we would be "serfin" already. Now we are just on glide path to oblivian.

Son of Loki's picture

It's not secret the ONLY way [most] people get new house loans now is thru the builder's lender who will loan money to anyone who fogs a mirror. Best yet, is many of these are now zero-down again!

 

The new home sales person who lives down the street said prob 90% to 95% of their buyers would not be able to buy the traditional way with 20% down.

Muh Raf's picture

And of course Buffet has been exposed as a pedo in at least one book but the US prosecution service hasn't noticed this fact. And the pigs ignored the complaints of his victims. It's all very Jimmy Saville. 

Fun Facts's picture

Warren Buffett likes ice cream cones, Coca Cola and puppies.

Infinite QE's picture

I can only imagine what he has stored in the multitude of sub-basements he has in the shack in Omaha. And I'm not thinking puppies.

Dr. Richard Head's picture

If it was not for the bailout in 2008/09, this mother-fucker would have been naked as the tide went out on his AIG exposure alone.  Fuck these oligarchs.  Fuck them right in their ass.

Seek_Truth's picture

Warren_Buffett,_Molech_worshipper,_eats_babies.

seminal1's picture

The Berkshire Hathaway chairman and CEO gave the maximum amount allowed to a super PAC in support of Hillary Clinton running for president in 2016. 

http://www.ibtimes.com/warren-buffett-gives-money-hillary-clinton-2016-c...

 

 

marathonman's picture

How much money has Uncle Warren gotten for shipping crude oil via the rail company he bought because Obama blocked the Keystone XL?  I think you can guess the answer.  Warren is the worst kind of crony capitalist.

thunderchief's picture

When does a greedy old man like that have enough?

When he is dead I guess.

KnuckleDragger-X's picture

There is never enough and must always win at all costs....

blowing winter's picture
blowing winter (not verified) ukspreads Apr 7, 2015 12:37 AM

Start working at home with Google ! Its by-far the best mixed bag of goods I've had. Last Thursday I got a trademark new Bmw since getting a check for $6474 this - 4 weeks past. I began this 8-months ago and immediately was coming with house at least $77 per hour. I work through this connection, go.to tech marker for work detail.... www.globe-report.com

LawsofPhysics's picture

So, back to fuedal time it is...   ... "shocked" just "shocked" I tell you...

KnuckleDragger-X's picture

Great for the Lord's, not so hot for the serf's and peons....

NESD's picture

I am no Buffet fan but he did not put a gun to the head of the peons and make them sign the documents or make them bite off more than they could chew.  At some point peon personal responsibility enters into the equation.  They had the freedom to make poor decisions and fail.  It would appear many did.

garypaul's picture

If you read the article you will see that people were offered one rate then switched to a higher one, the appraisals were fraudulent, etc. etc. What are you having trouble understanding?

Itchy and Scratchy's picture

D'oh! Grandpa really tricked my with his ukelele seranade!

Dr. Richard Head's picture

Becky was bathing him at the time, from what I recall. 

Chuck Knoblauch's picture

His disowned granddaughter could have told you this years ago.

My grandpa has two faces.

LOL.

Bob's picture

Yeah, an interesting movie, too. 

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0819791/

It's on netflix.  Uncle Warren is one real twisted prick.

p00k1e's picture

Nah, Buffet eats Popsicle’s and smells like Aspen chips (hamster bedding). 

Warren Buffet is Americana. 

giggler321's picture

You know Michael Jackson liked to give some folks, kiddy ice cream in his theme park.  Not many more steps for mr buffet to reach the same height, albeit a trailer park

i_call_you_my_base's picture

"Billionaire philanthropist Warren Buffett..."

Philanthropist. Yeah, right. The media protects these fuckers like it's their job. Oh wait, it is.

NoVa's picture

Nobel Peace Prize nominee ?

 

Itchy and Scratchy's picture

My personal fav is how he owes the IRS US$1b in back taxes - yet desperately wants to pay more than his secretary!

onewayticket2's picture

as long as he keeps dancing their dance, the IRS will be told to look the other way.

doggis's picture

i will second that - FUCK YOU BUFFET! YOU ARE A DISGRACE TO THE GAYS!

Itchy and Scratchy's picture

Snake oil salesman made a fortune using derviatives in the credit collapse while denying using them because they were too complicated!

Stoploss's picture

rapidly depreciating homes.

Shitty credit quality...

 

Who knew?

Atomizer's picture
Warren Buffett (1962) talks about a brief stock market drop

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=REhg_bv7srM

Grandpa's sharper years 

Fukushima Fricassee's picture
Fukushima Fricassee (not verified) Apr 6, 2015 10:24 AM

Inside trading criminal , Obama supporting crony son of a bitch.

Berspankme's picture

Hate this fucker and everything he stands for. Criminal. Daddy was a senator, learned to fuck the taxpayers at a young age. Fuck you and die warren you cockbreath cunt.

new game's picture

thanks for that, should be all upvotes...

Itchy and Scratchy's picture

His legend began decades ago when he claimed to live in his marriage bungalow while driving a 12 year car  - while forgetting to mention his 20k sq ft beachfront palace in the Hamptons where he cultivated his 'young' interests! ;)

PTR's picture

In addition to buying up a real estate firm to get skim from churning mortgage properties...

 

dirty uncle warren owns car dealerships now.  I think it's around 25 or so.  Only heard anecdotal from a family member, but I'm leaning towards it being on the mark.

 

 

Itchy and Scratchy's picture

Central Bank directed sub-prime auto lending.

praps's picture

Just like that tv show Undercover Boss, which portrays company managers as being surprised at finding out how difficult life is for their employess.  And handing out a few sizeable morsels to make life for a few of the worst off employees temporarily better.  Great marketing of compassionate CEO's.  That's the way to do it.  Take a lot from your employees very quietly and give a ltlle bit back very noisily.  

Same as the rich attending these big charity events.  Take a lot very quietly and hand a bit back very noisily.    

Dr. Engali's picture

Warren Buffet is a piece of human excrement who ads nothing of value to society yet he is worshiped by the masses. It just goes to show you how stupid and controlled the Merkan public has become. These fucking predators seem to live on forever.

Dr. Richard Head's picture

I was exhibiting at a trade show recently and during the lull my booth neighbor and I were talking about stawks and such.  I said that I don't play that game anymore.  She claimed to follow Buffet's buy and hold strategy.  I commented on what a corporate welfare queen that fraud of a man is.  She didn't understand, so I directed her to google "Buffet AIG bailout" and get back to me.  She literally turned white while reading.  I did my good deed for that day. 

JustObserving's picture

He made billions from his inside knowledge that the Fed was about to bailout Goldman Sachs.  An expert tactician of corrupt, crony capitalism masquerading as a sage of Omaha.

Itchy and Scratchy's picture

His massive score was on Burlington Northern Rail. He got the EPA and all their 'environmental' buddies to drag their feet on pipeline construction while shipments by rail exploded by 30k%! Masterful insider influence business plan while passing higher costs & risks to everyone! He is cutie 4 sure!  

Dazman's picture

Here's "An idea packaged and marketed so brilliantly" that I've been thinking for a while now - I'm defaulting on everything and F the creditors. I'm going to live outside the credit system. Already halted payments on my BMW 650 convertible - about 20 days overdue on a month already. Don't care if they repossess - you'll find me in Europe or Asia guys.

I guess this is the marketing part of that idea.

PS. Go fuck yourselves beaurocrats in Washington.