Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It is playing as we file into the Stephenson suite in the basement of the Hilton London Euston. Thirteen of us have come here to learn the secrets of investing from England and Liverpool football legend and – we’re told – “property magnate” Robbie Fowler.
Adverts for the Robbie Fowler Property Academy picture Fowler and promise wannabe investors they will learn how to “build a property portfolio without the need of a footballer’s salary”. Fowler became so well known for his reputed property empire that Manchester City fans used to sing “We all live in a Robbie Fowler home” to the tune of Yellow Submarine. The former striker, however, is not going to be sharing any of his personal insight. He isn’t here. The adverts point out in the small print: “Robbie Fowler will not attend these events”.
Instead lessons are delivered by a trainer with Legacy Education Alliance, a transatlantic training company that owns the Robbie Flower Property Academy and also promotes its property investment courses using BBC Homes Under the Hammer presenter Martin Roberts, Olympians Roger Black and Steve Backley and US personal finance guru Robert Kiyosaki.
The trainer explains at the beginning of the session that he is “obviously” not Fowler, “but I’m here on behalf of Robbie”.
The first thing he wants to do is “congratulate every single one of you guys”, because we have done what “99% of the population are unwilling to do: invest in your financial education”, and we should applaud ourselves. The second, is to make sure we don’t have any cameras or recording devices because everything he is about to teach is “copyright myself and Robbie”.
Once that’s out of the way the acronyms come thick and fast. In order to make money in property the two most important things to remember are BMV and OPM, he says. That’s below market value, and other people’s money.
“This is not a get rich quick scheme,” the 20-something trainer tells us. But if you do want to get rich quick, he says, borrow other people’s money to buy properties at below market rates, then “flip them” (sell them on quickly for more money), and repeat.
“Write this down,” he says. “Money in, money out, asset for free, income for life.” On the screen he flashes up examples of investors who have followed his advice and made hundreds of thousands, or even a million pounds, and secured their “financial freedom”.
The big money, he says, comes from more acronyms-based strategies. A favourite, he says, are “HMOs” (houses in multiple occupancy). “That’s buying a house and splitting it up into rooms and letting them individually.” The ROI (return on investment), he says, can be “infinite”.
The trainer is also a fan of repossessed homes. But, he says, there are bigger profits to be made by finding people at risk of repossession. “I target repossessions before the people are repossessed,” he says. “I take out ads in the local paper: ‘Are you facing repossession? Call your local landlord [the trainer].”
He promises to teach us how to run a tax efficient business because he “hates the taxman … doesn’t everyone”. Other methods include “creative finance”, which he promises means even potential investors with no assets and bad credit ratings can borrow money to start their property empire.
He then suggests that those in the room with poor credit-ratings could offer their friends, or even strangers in pubs, 20% interest to borrow £100,000 to pump into schemes. “Even if they want 50% [interest] you can still do it and make money. You should be able to make money in any market – up, down, sideways,” he says, adding: “I can’t tell you what to do, I’m not a financial adviser.”
Noticing some scepticism in the room, the trainer then demands “100% energy, focus and commitment” and emphasises his point with a demonstration that involves throwing a glass of water on the floor. “Don’t worry the hotel will send me the bill,” he says.
About half-way through the promised two-hour free-session, he reckons we have now learned enough to declare ourselves property investors. It’s official. “By the power invested in me by the Hilton Euston, I now declare you all professional property investors,” he says.
But property investing is complicated, and he can’t possibly tell us all the secrets used by Fowler and others in only two hours. To learn all the “strategies” we are encouraged to sign up for a three-day weekend course. It costs £1,994, but included in that price is a “home study toolkit” worth £497 and a 20-minute “strategy planning call” with a property adviser evidently worth £250.
Ali, one of the potential investors in the room, let’s out a shocked “cor blimey” as the prices are flashed up on screen.
The trainer replies: “Look you don’t know me, but judge me on these people [Fowler, Black and Roberts]. Their name is their brand.” And he says the BBC had to “vet” the course before Roberts could lend his name to it.
Legacy Education Alliance has not been endorsed by the BBC, according to a BBC spokesman, adding that Roberts is freelance and not a member of BBC staff.
Roberts’ wife, Kirsty Withyman, who represents him, said: “He feels the courses offer a good insight into the world of becoming a property investor, and that those who go on them have a better chance of success as a result. His own marketing states that the contents of the courses are not endorsed by the BBC, but the BBC are obviously aware that Martin takes part in them.”
Fowler, Black and Backley did not respond to requests for comment.
Legacy Education Alliance, which is based in Florida, said: “In relation to the accusation regarding property repossessions, this has been taken out of context. Strategies and techniques that are taught are compliant and legal and do not encourage or endorse exploitation of vulnerable individuals.
“Many thousands of students have been taught and mentored by Legacy Education Alliance Inc the world over, during the last 15 years. Many of these success stories opt to give back and help others through crewing, training and mentoring the next generation of professional property investors.”
Back in the Euston Hilton, there is a special offer for those who sign up today. The home study toolkit is free, the planning call is free, the course can be picked up for £997 and students can bring a friend – but only if they get their credit cards out now. The weekend course, according to online reviews, appears to be a precursor to other courses that can cost £30,000.
The lecturer wants us all to build our own property empire so we can give up our jobs and devote our time to what’s really important in life. Because of property, he says, when his best friend was “in the hospice dying” he could be there at her bed side even when her husband had to go to work. “Last week Tuesday she passed away,” he said. “And it was property that allowed me to be there.”
A half dozen people walk to back of the room with their credit cards out and sign up for the weekend course, and the speakers pump out the Black Eyed Peas’ I Gotta Feeling. “That tonight’s gonna be a good, good night,” the lyrics go. “I got my money, let’s spend it up”.