Las Vegas Sun

July 24, 2014

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Neighbors claim they’re being pressured to sell

The homeowners say they were told to sell their houses or else.

Or else they will be surrounded by the rubble of their neighbors' homes - torn down after the sales go through.

Or else they will walk away from the highest price they could ever get for their homes.

Or else they will hold up the sales of all the homes on their end of the street, and cost their neighbors a chance to strike it rich.

Those are the pressure tactics that homeowners in the Las Vegas neighborhood of Richfield Village say they are getting from real estate agents trying to buy up the entire neighborhood - on behalf of anonymous business interests.

Some homeowners have lived there for decades.

"My son says just to sell and take the money, and what's the big deal," said Pauline Kennedy, who has lived in the working-class neighborhood next to Palace Station since 1971. "But I say if they can do this to us they can do this to you, and you could be next."

Kennedy hasn't been approached by anyone interested in her home, yet. But as is true of many of her neighbors, she's expecting a knock on her door sooner or later.

In addition to business cards and offer sheets, at least one Richfield resident got a map of the neighborhood from Robert Howarth, one of three real estate agents who neighbors say are working together.

That map is labeled, "Howarth's Target Area as of May 31, 2006," and a circle is drawn around the entire neighborhood, which is bounded by Sahara Avenue on the north, Palace Station and Interstate 15 on the east, Milo Way on the south, and Rye and Yardley streets on the west.

"We just want to know what's going on and how to stop it," Kennedy said. "This is a good neighborhood, with half-acre lots, and we all have trees and lots of grass."

While some of Kennedy's neighbors are now familiar with the real estate agents who have visited the area in recent months, the buyers remain anonymous.

A letter sent to homeowners said the homes purchased would be "boarded up and torn down for redevelopment purposes." But it said nothing about the nature of the new development.

When called by the Sun this week, the real estate agents declined to identify their employer.

Some homeowners suspect that Station Casinos is involved because its Palace Station sits in the northeast corner of the neighborhood.

Asked by the Sun about possible involvement, Station's spokeswoman Lori Nelson said, "Because we are a publicly traded company, our policy is not to comment or speculate on any possible land acquisitions."

Station recently bought an apartment complex in the neighborhood . That transaction was done through the limited liability partnership Wyandotte Holdings, which public records show is managed by Station.

The recent purchases of single-family homes in Richfield were done by the limited liability partnerships LV Asset Holdings, LV Residential Holdings and Southern NV Rental Holdings. Those three limited liability partnerships have combined to purchase at least 12 homes in the neighborhood so far.

A homeowner who sold to LV Asset Holdings said the transaction was made directly with Howarth and another real estate agent, Virginia Arroyo. That same partnership purchased six Richfield homes adjacent to the Station property earlier this year. It also bought a mobile-home park next to Station Casinos' Boulder Station in February 2005.

A business card from Howarth said that he worked for the Focus Property Group, the residential development giant behind Mountain's Edge. But questioned by the Sun, a Focus representative and Howarth strongly denied that he had any current business relationship with the company.

"He is not representing Focus Property Group in this acquisition, and we have no knowledge or involvement in this whatsoever," Focus spokeswoman Lynn Purdue said.

Howarth and fellow real estate agents Arroyo and Jason Rapoport are working together to buy up the homes .

Rapoport told the Sun that he and Howarth are "working together ... to purchase homes for a company I represent." He wouldn't identify the company.

Some homeowners say that Arroyo gave them Howarth's Focus business card with her name written across the top. Also, homeowners who had been speaking with Arroyo later received letters and offers from Howarth.

So far, the efforts seem targeted at the streets on the southern end of the neighborhood. But the map Howarth left with a homeowner has led others to believe it is only a matter of time before the real estate agents are knocking on their doors, too.

Arroyo started visiting Paul and Faye Roberts late last year. The couple had been living at 2821 Wyandotte St. since 1963, and weren't looking to sell.

"I didn't think there was any pressure," Faye Roberts said. "They just said that if we didn't sell, they wouldn't buy the others because we're in the middle of the row.

"So we gave them a price we thought they wouldn't match because it was so high. But they did, and so we sold the house because it was such a good deal for the other neighbors."

The Robertses wouldn't disclose the sale price of their home. Clark County records show the Robertses' home was among six purchased for a total of just over $2.1 million.

Just down Milo Way from the Robertses, the Sheely and Aldaba families were also being visited by Rapoport or Arroyo.

Don Sheely, a retired engineer, said Rapoport started applying pressure. "He said you'll want to sell when you're the only house left and there are bulldozers all around you."

His wife, Frances Sheely, said Rapoport "told us we would lose all our money, and they would tear down all the houses around us and we'd be living in rubble. I said I'll live amongst the rubble before I sell to you."

On June 13, the Sheelys were offered $285,000 for the home they've had for 25 years. They were given three days to respond, and didn't.

Fellow Milo Way homeowners Alvaro and Maria Aldaba have been dealing with Arroyo.

"She called me two times and knocked on my door last Wednesday," Maria Aldaba said. "She said that if I didn't sell my house right now, the value would go down. "

At various times, Howarth stepped in to help with some deals, even holding a meeting with neighbors after some homeowners started complaining about Rapoport and Arroyo. The two said they haven't bullied any of the homeowner s.

"I've never said anything like that to any homeowner over there," Rapoport said.

"I never threatened anybody," Arroyo said.

Howarth said, "I worked in a limited capacity with Virginia and Jason, and if they in any way offended any of the homeowners, I apologize."

The Sheelys and the Aldabas have complained to the Greater Las Vegas Association of Realtors, and are expected to file complaints with the state, too.

The association's code of ethics says Realtors "shall avoid" exaggeration and misrepresentation. Disciplinary action from the Realtors association can range from a letter of reprimand to expulsion from the association. Rapoport and Arroyo are both members .

Bruce Alitt, an investigator with the Nevada Real Estate Division, said that "real estate agents are supposed to be honest," even if it means delivering bad news. "If what they're saying is 100 percent true, they may not be in violation."

If an agent is found to be out of line, the agency can issue penalties including a letter, a fine, suspension or revocation of their real estate license.

"If they are misrepresenting something, if they are using scare tactics," Alitt said, "we can deal with it."

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