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Originally published September 8, 2010 at 8:00 PM | Page modified September 8, 2010 at 8:03 PM

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Real-estate brokerage suspended by regulators

State regulators have suspended the real-estate licenses of Michael Hellickson and his Pierce County firm, charging he engaged in a host of dishonest practices that took advantage of struggling homeowners.

Seattle Times business reporter

State regulators have suspended the real-estate license of a Pierce County broker touted as a national expert on distressed property sales, charging that he engaged in a host of dishonest practices that took advantage of struggling homeowners.

The Department of Licensing last week suspended the licenses of Michael Hellickson; his wife, Tara Hellickson; and their Bonney Lake firm, Hellickson.com, after a 17-month investigation prompted by more than two dozen complaints.

The Hellicksons and their firm, which includes more than a dozen other agents, represent sellers all over the state involved in short sales — sales for less than is owed on the property.

But Michael Hellickson's name has spread far beyond the Northwest. He has appeared on CNBC, Fox Business News and other broadcast outlets to discuss distressed real estate.

Joseph Scuderi, their Olympia attorney, said the Hellicksons deny all the charges and have requested a hearing as soon as possible to get their licenses reinstated.

The licensing department's charging papers said the Hellicksons have:

• Promised to buy clients' homes if they didn't sell within 30 to 90 days, then not followed through.

• Encouraged homeowners to stop making mortgage payments.

• Listed homes for less than the owners or the owners' lenders were willing to accept.

• Misrepresented the contents of listing agreements, including expiration dates.

• Had clients sign blank pages in listing agreements, which the Hellicksons later filled in without further authorization.

• Added language without clients' knowledge to proposed sale agreements steering prospective buyers to specific lenders.

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The Northwest Multiple Listing Service, which handles listings for agents in 20 Washington counties, was in the process Wednesday of removing the Hellicksons' 365 active listings from its database — standard procedure when an agent's license is suspended, said Bob Gent, member-relations manager.

A majority of the listings appear to be in Pierce and South King counties, Gent said.

Hellickson also heads Club Wealth Coaching, which holds training events for agents around the country. A biography of Hellickson on Club Wealth's website says he is "Washington State's (and the entire Northwest's) #1 real estate agent" and "is considered by most to be the #1 short sale expert in the world."

The Hellicksons' real-estate websites were taken down Wednesday, and their office was closed, according to a recorded phone message.

Scuderi, their attorney, said the licensing department should have allowed the Hellicksons to contest the charges before suspending their licenses. The suspensions endanger short sales that are in the process of closing, he said, and could lead to unnecessary foreclosures.

Scuderi said he did not know how many sales are affected.

The licensing department chose to suspend the Hellicksons' licenses now "because the charges are pretty egregious," said spokeswoman Christine Anthony. The suspension order says the Hellicksons' misconduct is "an immediate danger to the public health, safety and welfare."

A bid by the Hellicksons late Friday to block the suspensions temporarily was rejected by a Thurston County judge.

The licenses of other agents working for Hellickson.com have not been suspended, but will be inactive until the agents affiliate with other firms, a licensing spokesman said.

Most of the charges against the Hellicksons are fleshed out in a 44-page declaration filed by Robin Jones, an investigator with the licensing department's Real Estate Investigations Unit.

In the document, Jones provides details of her investigations of a dozen complaints against the Hellicksons.

One homeowner said Michael Hellickson told her her listing agreement was for six months, but actually wrote in an expiration date of 2013, Jones writes.

Another short-sale client said he told the Hellicksons his bank would not accept any offer below $240,000 — but later learned the home had been listed for $175,000 without his permission.

Jones' declaration also notes that the Hellicksons' advertising materials indicate Michael Hellickson is the top real-estate agent in Hawaii and Oregon — but actually he is not licensed to sell real estate in either state.

Eric Pryne: 206-464-2231 or epryne@seattletimes.com

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