Reel Estate

Reel Estate: 99 Homes takes real estate scamming to a whole new level—and reminds us of a scam that happens in NYC, too

By Virginia K. Smith | September 17, 2015 - 2:45PM

When a movie or TV show is set in New York City—and if the people making it are savvy—real estate becomes part of the story itself. In Reel Estate, we look at some of the more memorable domiciles to grace the screen.

In case you needed a further reminder of the horrors of the housing crisis—or validation of your suspicions that developers and banks legitimately are out to get you—well, have we got the movie for you. 99 Homes—which opens in limited release next Friday, the 25th, and just picked up the Grand Prize at the prestigious Deauville American Film Festival—follows a Florida construction worker, Dennis (Andrew Garfield)  who's desperate enough for cash that he starts working for the same shady broker/developer/flipper, Richard Carver (Michael Shannon), who unceremoniously evicted Dennis' family from their home.

Yes, this film is set in Florida, not NYC. But still, there are lessons all of us should learn, whether we already own our own apartment, or are hoping to, someday. (Aren't we all?) We like to think of ourselves as reasonably real estate-savvy, but a screening this week staggered us with the sheer number of scams going on here—evictions on shaky (or totally falsified) legal grounds and stealing parts from homes to get Fannie and Freddie to pay for their replacements, to name just a couple. (And Michael Shannon will immediately go down as one of the skeeviest brokers in film history.)

While it's not the exact same scam, the sight of people getting illegitimately booted from their homes reminded us of a scary deed-theft phenomenon that's recently been rearing its head here in the city. A man is due in court this October, accused of allegedly stealing a house in Queens using a falsified deed, according to a story published in the Daily News. The paper says "the city's new Finance Commissioner Jacques Jiha told news outlets earlier this year that when he took the job, he was surprised to learn how easy it was for thieves to steal homes by registering phony deed transfers with the registrar's office." DNAInfo also reported on a similar case in Hamilton Heights. Per the website, "between July 1, 2014, and April 30, 2015, the sheriff’s office received a total of 755 complaints of suspected deed thefts — with the Finance Department sending 597 of them."

Besides being a good reminder to keep watch over your property deed (and know your rights), 99 Homes also acts as an interesting counterpoint to The Queen of Versailles, the 2012 documentary that followed the stalled development on a billionaire couple's 90,000 square foot estate. 

Check out the trailer below, and catch the full film in theaters next week:


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