The Villages’ lawsuit against rogue former sales agents has pulled back the curtain on the inner workings at Properties of The Villages.
Top producers Chris Day and Jason Kranz set off a bombshell Dec. 16 when they emailed their colleagues to announce their sudden departure from Properties of The Villages. The pair set up KD Premier Realty, incurring the wrath of The Villages which soon came out swinging in court.
Day, Kranz and other former personnel were deposed in the case and those depositions are casting Florida’s Friendliest Hometown in an unflattering light.
Kelly Shipes was working at Commercial Property Management in The Villages and went to her boss, Bobby Hoopfer, seeking a raise and a promotion. When Hoopfer denied her request, she inquired about a job at Properties of The Villages. She was hired in 2013 and began a 12-week training course.
“The first nine weeks was simply training on the community itself. We had both in-class training as well as we would get on trolleys and different managers would drive us around and give us the history of The Villages,” Shipes said in a June 24 deposition.
She was also given scripts to memorize, including one for the “duck tour” at Lake Sumter Landing.
“The managers took us around the square and told us verbatim what we had to say in each corner of the square before walking back into the sales office. And you then had to go out with a manager by yourself and you had to keep going around the square until you said it exactly how they wanted it,” Shipes said.
And at one point, Shipes had to sign the now infamous independent contractor agreement, at the center of the lawsuit against Day, Kranz, Shipes and others.
Properties of The Villages’ executive Mike Berning was asked if changes could be made to the independent contractor agreement.
“And Mike Berning laughed and said, ‘Well, sure you can. But I’ll just bring you a fresh copy to sign. And if you don’t sign it, you can’t work here,’” Shipes said of Berning, who also chairs the powerful Sumter Landing Community Development District Board.
When questioned during the deposition about the seriousness of Berning’s remark, Shipes stood firm.
“That was verbatim,” said Shipes, who was fired as The Villages Charter School volleyball coach when she ultimately left Properties of The Villages. “That was a quote.”
Shipes participated in mandatory “continuing education” every Thursday in the third floor conference room of the Lake Sumter Landing office.
She said it was “very scary,” according to her deposition.
“You basically had to do whatever they asked,” she said.
There were mandatory meetings and trolley rides. A big part of the trolley ride was the visual it created.
“So that it made a good show for the sellers and the other people that lived in the neighborhood,” Shipes said.
The Tap Report, the bond and the Lifestyle Preview Plan
Cynthia Hughes worked in real estate in New York before moving to The Villages in 2004. The Buffalo, N.Y. native had an interview with Properties of The Villages on the day she and her husband closed on their house. In January 2005, she began working as an hourly guest coordinator and later that year signed an independent contractor agreement as she moved into a sales representative role. She left Properties of The Villages earlier this year to join KD Premier Realty.
In her deposition, she described the Tap Report, a monthly synopsis that documented the performance of Properties of The Villages representatives from top to bottom.
“It shows how many sales you’ve had total, how many are new homes, how many of preowned homes, how many — it shows all of your statistics,” Hughes said. “It shows your personal market share percentage. It shows everything. It shows by rank how your — what your tenure is.”
She said sales people who didn’t meet their quota were let go.
Former Properties of The Villages sales representative Angie Taylor, said it bred a toxic culture.
“They really encouraged pitting each other against each other,” she said in her deposition.
“It was definitely a caste society. The running joke was, it was the mafia, but there were no bodies in the trunk, but you weren’t really sure about that either,” said Taylor, who followed her mother Jan Hickerson from California to The Villages and ultimately to Properties of The Villages.
She said that Properties of The Villages managers were very specific about explaining the bond to potential buyers.
“The bond is — is a large issue for buyers, because they’re trying to get their arms around the entire cost of their home. And a lot of our competing neighborhoods outside of The Villages don’t have a bond. So when people show up to investigate The Villages, they have done a lot of research, typically online, and one of the things that always comes up is ‘the bond.’ So as soon as they can get in your car and feel like that you’ll give the straight scoop, they want to know, what’s the bond all about? And you really — you have to tell it — tell them what the bond is. So you obviously want to put it in its most positive light,” she said.
Taylor, who later defected to KD Premier Realty, said in training she learned it was “heavily” discouraged to encourage people to pay off the bond.
“I could see a reason for The Villages to not want me telling them that because the interest rate, to the best of my understanding, is paid back to The Villages. Which is the train of thought, looking back on it now, why they would have encouraged us, as sales representatives, to tell people not to pay the bonds off,” she testified in the deposition.
She frequently guided potential buyers through the Lifestyle Preview Plan and because she was commission only, her goal was to get them to “fall in love with The Villages” and ultimately sell a home.
“So the phone calls would start weeks or months in advance. And The Villages wanted us to be the ones at the info center, or where the shuttle dropped them off, to meet them, greet them, put them and their luggage in my car. Because most — a lot of times these people did not rent cars because they would call to make the reservations, and it was never really made clear, you need to get a car. It was more, like, oh, we have got these golf carts. You’re going to love buzzing around The Villages in a golf cart.”
She said that even though her livelihood depended on making the sale, she approached the job with the heart of a concierge
“So people would get here after flying from all over the country, no car, get dropped off. And Angie turned into not only, you know, the cruise director, but also the free Uber, and the skycap, putting luggage in my car,” she said.
Taylor had been strictly told not to make the sales pitch look like “a time share presentation.”
Meanwhile, she said the guest coordinators were not screening out people who simply wanted to use the Lifestyle Preview Plan as a vacation.
She said 65 to 70 percent of the visitors were abusing the Lifestyle Preview Plan.
In response, Properties of The Villages representatives began to “dig in their heels” and resist Lifestyle Preview Plan work.
“It was a general consensus among a lot of representatives that it was a waste of time,” she said.