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Deerfield based Buy Owner files for liquidation

The Buy Owner broker-free real estate firm, known for its “Thanks, Buy Owner” advertisements, has filed for liquidation as the housing market continues to struggle.

The Deerfield Beach-based company will continue to operate with a reduced staff as a buyer is sought for its assets, which could include the purchase of the firm in its entirety, minus its debt.

“The phones, as far as people interested in the service, remain very active, and we are signing up new clients every day,” said Philip J. von Kahle, managing director for Michael Moecker & Associates, which is the assignee for Buy Owner. “There is still a very valuable core business here.”

Buy Owner president and CEO Scott A. Eckert lives in Boca Raton.

The company filed last month for an assignment for the benefit of creditors in Broward County, which is similar to a Chapter 7 federal bankruptcy but in state court.

As assignee, the Fort Lauderdale-based Michael Moecker & Associates is responsible for maximizing the assets of the company so creditors can get paid.

Von Kahle said the combination of a down real estate market and a large Bank of America loan that recently required payment led to the liquidation filing.

According to court documents, Buy Owner owes about $3.9 million to Bank of America, and $1.2 million in back pay to its executives, including Eckert. It has 33 shareholders.

Buy Owner, founded in 1984, charges fees to sellers based on how much exposure they want on its website, and which features, such as custom fliers or talking yard signs, they choose.

The company has franchises in Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Jacksonville, New Orleans, Orlando, Philadelphia and Tampa.

“I don’t think the company could scale down quick enough because it got so big,” von Kahle said. “It appears to me the loan from Bank of America was the straw that broke the camel’s back.”

A 2009 Florida Realtors report found about 10 percent of homes sold last year did so without the help of a real estate agent.

Leyza Blanco, an attorney with Miami-based GrayRobinson, P.A. who is representing Michael Moecker & Associates, said she has filed a motion to allow for liquidation of the business as a whole, rather than its parts. Because Buy Owner is a service-based company, that could maximize profits, Blanco said.

“There’s not a lot of tangible assets that you can just take apart and sell,” she said.

Creditors have until Nov. 23 to file claims against the company.

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