Complaint Review: Luke Smith, Crystal Investment & Real Estate
Luke Smith, Crystal Investment & Real Estate, Deception, reported to ActionFraud, Harlow, UK Essex
*Author of original report: Abusive texts and threatening voicemails
*REBUTTAL Owner of company: The Truth
Reported to ActionFraud
Our horrendous experience with Luke Smith of Crystal Investment and Real Estate started January 2012. Our plan was to invest in a property, something that would generate an income and hopefully capital growth for 5 years then sell it to pay for the kids university fees. We had scoured the internet and thought we had researched fully. We came across Crystal Investment and Real Estate via The Move Channel. We were attracted by their claims of
- High rental yields
- 1 year guaranteed income, held in escrow account
- US bank account
- Massively below market valuation
- Fully managed
- Fully tenanted
These claims still appear on their website, but in our experience none of these claims have any substance. What has happened is that Crystal’s lack of due diligence, dealings with a well known fraudster, gross unprofessionalism and lies have cost us all our money. As moneyweek.com states “if you go to an area in Detroit with a 20% return, you’re going to need a handgun to collect the rent”.(http://moneyweek.com/american-property-be-careful-what-you-buy-58634/)
We were assured that this was a ‘hands free investment’, that we didn’t have to do anything as Crystal had everything in place with Premier Management Company in the US. We completed the sale on a property in Detroit in February 22nd 2012 and were sent an e mail from Matt Bridgman of Crystal Investment and Real Estate saying....
“It will take a few weeks for the hard copies of the title deeds to arrive by recorded post, but there is no more involvement required by yourselves. The first rental payment will credit your US bank account by 10th March.” We were also assured that we would receive a log in to the property management company website so that we could monitor payments and expenses whenever we wanted. The management company would also introduce us to a US tax consultant to deal with any taxable income and submissions on our behalf.
By the 22nd March, still no word from Crystal or the developer Tom Smith in Detroit, more of him to follow. Lots of phone calls/emails to Crystal followed in which we were given assurances that all was well and that there was no need to worry. By April 2012 we had still not received our bank account details, no rental, had not received our log in from the property management company nor had we received our title deeds. I e mailed Luke Smith to say that this was not instilling confidence despite his assurances that he was ‘onto it’. Then in May 2012 we received an e mail saying that the law had changed and non US citizens can no longer open bank accounts. This is untrue, you just have to go with a competent company, more later.
Further e mails to the property management company in Detroit went unanswered, phone calls followed, chasing title deeds, chasing our log in number, as by now we have received no rental income, once again lots of assurances from Luke Smith that any issues “should all be sorted by next week and then will be nice and smooth from then on”. In June I received an e mail from Crystal asking how did I want to be paid the outstanding rent as Tom Smith had cheques on his desk for us. This rental income was supposed to have been paid into an escrow account, not lying on a desk. I asked for the balance of our account, no answer at all, despite yet more phone calls and e mails. We confronted Luke Smith, saying that we felt that we had been misled and were deeply unsatisfied with the service. Not only had we found this company to be very unprofessional but then the lies started, with Luke Smith saying that he told me face to face that the title deeds ‘take months”, this did not happen and completely contradicts the e mail from Matt Bridgman, above.
Eventually after numerous e mails and phone calls every day and the threat of calling in lawyers, we received a rental payment - in October - 7 months after our purchase. This was also the last payment we received. Whilst all this was going on I had texts from Luke Smith saying that he was going to change the management company for us but that he needed paperwork from Tom Smith before he could proceed. Our experience had been awful so we readily agreed to his advise to change. However this did not happen. Every time I phoned to ask when was the change happening so that we didn’t go through this nonsense again I was placated with empty promises that he - Luke - was chasing Tom Smith for some paperwork that needed to be completed before the change could happen. Novembers rental never got paid. Decembers rental never got paid. We again had to phone several times a day to find out what was happening, we did all the chasing and despite the promise of returned calls, this never happened. Eventually I received an e mail from Luke Smith saying that he was “in the process of sorting everything for you”. It was early October 2012 that Luke Smith was instructed to change management companies, in January I was still receiving e mails from him saying that he was waiting for Tom Smith to get back and provide details to him. When I spoke of how worried/anxious I was about all this, his reply was ‘Not sure why you find this so worrying’ . Unbelievable.
Absolutely fed up with this, we then wrote an e mail to Luke detailing our grievances with Crystal Investment and Real Estate, that none of their claims held true. We never received a response from them. From then on they simply stopped picking up the phone to us.
We contacted a lawyer, who informed us that we she had done some research on Crystal and found that they had an atrocious credit rating and it was unlikely that they were doing as well as they claimed as they had recent CCJ’s (county court judgements) against them. Out of the blue Luke Smith contacted me via e mail to say that he was flying to Detroit to sort out the issues with Tom Smith and to ‘watch this space’. Apart from lawyers letters that was our last direct contact with Crystal. Our lawyer wrote to Crystal Feb 2013 to say that we would be making a claim against them for Breach of Contract and Misrepresentation but would be open to discussing settlement without going to court. This letter was ignored. Our lawyer wrote a further 2 letters before receiving a response from Crystal, April 2013. In this letter Crystal denied any wrong doing (of course). They have since ignored any further letters.
This is where things became really interesting.....
Mean while, back in March, I contacted a property management company in Detroit, Garners, and asked them what the process was if I had a property rented with one management company and wanted to change it to another management company. Very easy, simply instruct both companies that this was your wish and the new company would draw up a new tenancy agreement. The process takes a matter of days or quicker and was not dependent on the previous management company releasing any paperwork, as claimed by Luke Smith. I instructed this company to take on the property and to inspect it asap. This they did and reported back. The location of the property was in a ‘very poor area’, the property was vandalized beyond repair, they took pictures and sent them to us. This house was looted, set fire to, graffiti in every room etc. It was Garners opinion that the property had never been tenanted given the condition. I asked them for a sale valuation of property in this area. Between ‘$700 - $1500 for a good one’. When I told them what we paid, $40,000, the agent audibly gasped and said that no property in the area was worth anywhere near that amount and that she was ‘fed up with hearing about investors getting ripped off’. She put me through to a lawyer and I told him our story. His response was “ Tom Smith is a well known fraudster who should be doing jail time, he was declared bankrupt on 7th Feb 2012 (before we completed on our property) I have so many cases against him but it will cost $25,000 as a deposit as he is so slippery” So there you have it. Crystal did not carry out due diligence on Tom Smith, the property they sold to us was in a very deprived area, it was ludicrously overpriced so the claims of being massively below market valuation with strong capital growth are baseless, even if it were to increase by 30% over 5 years, as speculated by Crystal, it would still not reach anything near the price bought at. The money was not securely held in an escrow account, the title deeds have never been received - more than 18 months on. The promise of a US bank account did not materialize, there was no tenant, there was no property management company.
As recently as 10th September 2013 we had access to their credit report via our lawyer who noted that ‘the company is no longer even rated owing to the fact that they have failed to file a financial statement. I do not suppose that it will be long before Crystal go into liquidation.’ Two recent CCJs are dated May 2013.
We bought another US property, not in Detroit, through a company that is registered with the AIPP (Association of International Property Professionals). The difference in professional conduct and competency between this company and Crystal Investment and Real Estate could not be further apart. This company opened our US bank account without a problem, our rental income is paid on time, we were given an account log in to monitor our balance of income and expenses without delay, our correspondence is answered promptly in a businesslike manner. We were immediately put in touch with a US tax consultant, who has also taken on the task of sorting out the Detroit property as a loss. There is no hope of selling the Detroit property, we even contacted charities to give it away, nobody will take it on due to the level of repair required. We are left with nothing, but still have the hassle of filing tax returns.
The amount of time involved in dealing with Crystal has taken many, many hours, at times it has been a full time job, not just the numerous phone calls/emails to them but the subsequent time and expense in calling the US, finding a new management company to take on the property and find out what the hell was going on, speaking with tax consultants, lawyers, real estate agents etc. The stress and anxiety of our involvement with Crystal Investments and in particular Luke Smith has caused many sleepless nights. Crystal have no duty of care, do not provide a competant after sales service and in our experience have conducted themselves in an appallingly unprofessional manner. They have not responded to our lawyers letters so we have passed our files to ActionFraud. We shall also be informing the AIPP and other relevant agencies of our findings.
Further reading, the management company that Crystal chose to work with http://www.scamexposure.com/scam-report/nathan-a-white-nathan-a-white-hudson-white-pllc-fraud-deception-c36885.html
Another experience with Tom Smith http://detroitproperty.co.uk/?p=45
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