Watchdog Nation takes hard look at Flip or Flop HGTV stars’ questionable side business

Man, I am so psyched to meet Tarek and Christina El Moussa of HGTV’s Flip or Flop reality TV show.

The couple’s photo is on the front of the invitation The Watchdog receives to a “Private Real Estate Event” at an area hotel. They sign their names inside.

Wow. I’m going.

As Tarek says on his popular TV show: “We buy the ugliest, nastiest, most rundown houses we can find, and we transform them into beautiful homes.”

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Handsome Tarek swings the sledge hammer. Beautiful Christina handles the redesign of the homes they buy.

When they argue on TV about which crappy house to buy, it’s like watching your next-door neighbors in a spat about whether to turn on the lawn sprinklers. So cute.

Their story is legendary. They were in real estate, and when that tanked, they started flipping houses. They made real money! They sent a video to HGTV and, bang! They got their own show! Legendary!

My favorite episode? Christina is about to have a baby. So Tarek is on his own. He must redesign the kitchen by himself. He’s so nervous. What if Christina doesn’t like it?

At episode’s end, Christina sees the finished house and … she approves. “You nailed it,” she tells Tarek. “So pretty.”

Then she has the baby — beautiful, like them. Oh, and they sell the house for a lot of money.

Yes, I have to meet them.

At the hotel

I go to the hotel. A hundred others are in a ballroom. I see a curtain up front. Bet Tarek and Christina are behind that curtain. Can’t wait.

But a guy named Joe comes out. Where are Tarek and Christina? What’s going on here?

Joe shows a video. In it, Tarek explains, “Due to our busy work and filming schedule, we can’t make all events. But we’ve done the next best thing. We’ve reached out to our network of top real estate trainers.”

Are you kidding me? The closest I’ll get to them are life-sized posters. I take a selfie with a poster.

I’m there for three hours listening to Joe, then Grant, promise to teach us all the secrets that Tarek and Christina use to make money.

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What are they selling? Three things. For $2,000 I can attend a three-day workshop. For $5,000 I can learn how to use tax liens to my advantage. If I do, I can tap the third point of sale: investor money loaned to me to help buy houses.

The words they use to sell are classic hotel ballroom sale-a-thons. From my notes:

This is not for everybody. It’s a ninja strategy. There’s a bonus session. This is done in your kitchen in your pajamas. Go to the back tables. Come on guys, get off your ass and do something. If you don’t do this, I’ll still love you, but we won’t talk anymore.

At the end, I’m worn out. But I don’t buy. I pick up my free gift. An MP3 player with one gigabyte of memory:

Later, I make a few calls.

I call Tarek and Christina’s office, but they don’t call back.

I call HGTV, which sends me a statement that says the network has nothing to do with these hotel seminars.

And I talk to Jim Carlson, the chief executive of Success Path, the company that partners with the couple to put on these seminars. (Coming next, Reno, Bozeman and Winnipeg.)

He explains that those who attend the three-day workshop get further opportunities to buy learning products that cost up to $40,000.

For that, I’d want Tarek and Christina to redo my kitchen.

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I tell the CEO I got fooled by the invitation.

“Obviously, a lot of people there think that,” he says. “We’ve got our marketing reviewed. It’s not false, and doesn’t contain any inaccuracies. We’ve had people who were disappointed.”

Then he shows me what I missed. If I somehow had found their website (I didn’t know the company name before the event), I could have read the Frequently Asked Questions:

“Will Tarek and Christina be at the event?”

Answer: “Tarek, Christina, or one of their team members will attend each event. … Unfortunately, Tarek and Christina are unable to make it to every event.”

Darn. We see what we want to see.

Done in by those pesky, overlooked little details that ruin a good fantasy.

Staff writer Marina Trahan Martinez contributed to this report.

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Watchdog Dave Lieber of The Dallas Morning News is the leader of Watchdog Nation, which shows Americans how to stand up for themselves and become super consumers.

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