The surprise $70 “application” fee wasn’t so visionary

When Otis Millbrook Jr. applies for a new, low-income home in California, his application is turned down. But not before the company extracts a $70 “application” fee. Is that right?

Question: I have a problem with a company called Visionary Property Management, a division of Visionary Home Builders of California. This parent company and its various divisions purport themselves to be providers for affordable housing for “unserved communities.” They position themselves to be a resource for all things related to HUD housing.

I want you to investigate its application intake and interview process. Earlier this year, my wife and I participated in the so-called “interview” portion of application process in Stockton, Calif.

My wife and I arrived on time for this interview. We brought with us all the documentation needed to verify the information contained in our application packet.

The most troubling thing to us is the $70 fee collected from us. The representative told us it was “company policy” to collect this fee for processing our application. We find this assertion highly questionable as well possibly fraudulent because the company did not “process” anything. All the representative did was collect the money orders she told me over the phone to bring. Nowhere in the application packet is the $70 fee mentioned.

After the representative collected the money, she added our social security income in a calculator and told us we didn’t qualify. We were completely flabbergasted, since we had already provided our income to the company six months before.

Visionary Property Management did nothing to deserve this fee. Can you help me get a refund? — Otis Millbrook Jr., Manteca, Calif.

Answer: That application fee should have been clearly disclosed to you before you set foot in Visionary’s office. I could not find any mention of the fee on Visionary’s website or in the materials you provided when I reviewed your case.

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Springing that $70 fee on you at the last minute was not right, but the way you were turned down was even worse. I agree — Visionary had all of your income information and, based on that, could have told you not to bother to come to the office to fill out the rest of the paperwork. From your perspective, it sure looks like it just wanted to get your $70 in order to tell you “no.”

Finding a real person at the company isn’t too difficult. The contact us page offers several ways to get in touch (I recommend writing). If you’re being stonewalled, you can always go straight to one of its higher-ups. They’re also listed on the site. The email convention is firstinitial+lastname@visionaryhomebuilders.org.

I’d like to believe this disclosure issue was just an oversight on Visionary’s part and that it will fix it for future applications. Knowing all the fees before you apply is a key to keeping existing customers happy and winning new ones.

I contacted Visionary on your behalf and it refunded your $70.


Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or check out his adventures on his family adventure travel site. Contact him at chris@elliott.org. Read more of Christopher's articles here.

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