The disastrous deal ruined their finances and nearly their marriage. But until informed recently by a reporter, they didn’t realize that the homebuilder (Golden West), the dealer (Oakwood Homes) and the lender (21st Mortgage) were all part of a single company: Clayton Homes, the nation’s biggest homebuilder, which is controlled by its second-richest man — Warren Buffett.
Buffett’s mobile-home empire promises low-income Americans the dream of homeownership. But Clayton relies on predatory sales practices, exorbitant fees, and interest rates that can exceed 15 percent, trapping many buyers in loans they can’t afford and in homes that are almost impossible to sell or refinance, an investigation by The Seattle Times and Center for Public Integrity has found.
Berkshire Hathaway, the investment conglomerate Buffett leads, bought Clayton in 2003 and spent billions building it into the mobile-home industry’s biggest manufacturer and lender. Today, Clayton is a many-headed hydra with companies operating under at least 18 names, constructing nearly half of the industry’s new homes and selling them through its own retailers. It finances more mobile-home purchases than any other lender by a factor of six. It also sells property insurance on them and repossesses them when borrowers fail to pay.
Former dealers said the company encouraged them to steer buyers to finance with Clayton’s own high-interest lenders.
Buyers told of Clayton collection agents urging them to cut back on food and medical care or seek handouts in order to make house payments.
To maintain its down-to-earth image, Clayton has hired the stars of the reality-TV show “Duck Dynasty” to appear in ads…
– From the excellent Seattle Times article: The Mobile-Home Trap: How a Warren Buffett Empire Preys on the Poor
In so many ways, Warren Buffett and modern America are the same thing. An idea packaged and marketed so brilliantly, most of humanity unquestionably believes the myth. Warren Buffett and the U.S. both sell themselves as encompassing the very best of human qualities; highly successful, extraordinarily intelligent, yet at the same time, extremely ethical. It’s that last part that’s actually most important to the continued power and prestige of both the man and the nation-state. However, when you look beneath the surface, it becomes increasingly clear that neither of them actually come close to what’s printed on the package.
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