Signs advertising interest in purchasing homes, aka “We Buy Houses” signs, have come under intense scrutiny lately.
The signs have been with us for a long time, and Pennsylvania General Attorney Josh Shapiro released a notice in March 2019. He called the characters a con and cautioned Pennsylvanians to keep clear since businesses might offer less than what their house may be worthwhile, leaving customers subject to foreclosure. “These scammers are attempting to exploit Pennsylvanians in vulnerable financial situations, and my Bureau of Consumer Protection isn’t buying it,” Shapiro said at the time.
Allegheny County Council recently passed a decision calling on state lawmakers to regulate wholesale property transactions and called the signs “deceptive” and “predatory.”
In Lawrenceville, the signs and wholesale home-buying efforts have come under such criticism that the community group Lawrenceville United is willing to have creative to incentive others to take down the “We Buy Houses” signs.
Bright yellow signs with black text reading “We Buy Any House” once filled the leading seat of Lawrenceville United executive director Dave Breingan’s car. In a tweet on June 16, Lawrenceville United offered prizes to those who make variations of the “We Buy Houses” spotted in neighborhoods around Pittsburgh.
Breingan admits that Lawrenceville United’s initial offer was “somewhat tongue-in-cheek” but says the group is eager to give prizes to those who make signs. While no, you’ve got them through to their offer yet, Breingan promises that Lawrenceville United can provide compensation for items they have lying across the office. Just what the award is going to be, however, “is a surprise to even us!”
The signs, in many cases, are posted illegally since it is illegal to post signs in people’s right of way or attach them to trees, utility poles, fences, and outdoor benches. It can be unlawful to put signs on the property without the master or agent’s permission.
Breingan says it’s the town of Pittsburgh’s responsibility to remove illegally placed signs, and if people wish to have the city take them off, they could call 311 if the characters are not on private property. But folks who desire a prize could take signs to Lawrenceville United offices at 118 52nd St., Suite 2026, Lawrenceville.
“That is one little bit of a pattern of practices that often specifically target older adults and low-income homeowners in a warm market like Lawrenceville,” says Breingan. “And they [companies posting signs] can prey on long-time residents who may have obtained their property cheap quite a while ago and aren’t alert to the amount their property may be worth these days.”