Longform

Miami street signs that promise to change your life

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"Is that a deal or what?" Juan Carlos quizzes me. "And the best part is that once you're paid off, you can use our products and services for the rest of your life."

I tell him I'll get back to him. There is a romantic flair to the phonetic pronunciations that could come in very handy if I find my soul mate on echatepaca.com.

The following day, I call Juan Carlos and take a pass on Hablando Inglés by speaking to him in perfect English. He is quite surprised how quickly I have mastered the language. That's when I tell him I've been speaking English for 31 years. "Well now I feel like a pendejo," he says, bursting out laughing.

Next, I call the number on the "Handyman Special." It leads me to a two-bedroom, one-bath, single-story residence at 1210 NW 125th St. in North Miami. The house could use a fresh coat of exterior paint to replace the drab light-pink color scheme. Tall weeds and overgrown bushes have devoured the front yard. The roof looks like it needs work. And the windows are boarded up. But for $48,500 it's a steal, Dean gushes when he answers the phone. He tells me I don't necessarily need all the cash to buy the house. "If you can come up with 40 percent and closing costs, we can get you a hard-money loan," Dean explains. "But to be honest, $5,000 to $10,000 is not going to be enough."

Dean claims to be a real estate investor residing in Albuquerque, New Mexico, but buying and selling properties in Miami-Dade. He is among dozens of land hustlers whose roadside signs troll for customers. All of them are looking to capitalize on the recession. Some act as middlemen for banks hoping to unload their housing inventory from the record rash of foreclosures in Miami-Dade.

Dean, who declines to provide his surname, boasts he earns $10,000 to $15,000 on each of his real estate transactions. He asks me if I am looking to buy the North Miami abode as an investment. "You may want to do a mentorship program with me," Dean suggests. "I can teach you. Making one deal will pay back your investment. And you can do it from anywhere in the world. All you need is a phone and a computer."

Basically, he would generate sales leads for me and give me access to his hard-money lenders to start closing deals. "You have access to my information and my connections," Dean offers. "You have access to my inventory. If I have seven, eight properties to show investors, so do you."

Essentially, Dean tries to sell recently foreclosed properties owned by banks and lenders to real estate investors looking to buy houses at drastically reduced prices. In the case of the North Miami home, it used to be owned by a man named Jean Carlo Adrasse, who took out a $210,000 mortgage to buy the property in 2007. He stopped making payments a year later. In 2009, his lender, Countrywide Home Loans Service, filed a lawsuit against Adrasse to foreclose on the residence. According to court documents, Adrasse owed $210,000 plus late charges and attorney fees.

When the house was sold at auction last September 28, Countrywide bought it back for just $20,300. Dean is now marketing the property at more than double the bank's purchase price. And that's how the real estate cycle renews itself over and over.

"This is a great time to be selling to investors," he brags. "You can make $8,000 on one deal. Do three or four a month, and you're doing pretty good. I've even made $30,000 on just one deal."

A graduate of Miami Beach High, Dean says he moved to New Mexico a few years ago when his wife landed a job with the government. He doesn't specify which agency. "I enjoy teaching people my business," he says. "I taught my uncle, who is still in Miami. He was literally broke. Now he's making close to $150,000 a year."

A six-figure salary would certainly increase my chances of finding a date on echatepaca.com, I ponder. I had set up a profile on the dating service two weeks ago and still hadn't met any women. In fact, I couldn't even get a conversation started in the chatroom. No one understood the English Juan Carlos taught me.

Dean assures me his business model would get me laid and rich at the same time.

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Francisco Alvarado was born in Nicaragua and grew up in Miami, giving him unique insight into the Magic City and all its dark corners. An investigative reporter with a knack for uncovering corruption, Alvarado made his bones as a staff writer at Miami New Times and remains in dogged pursuit of the next juicy story.